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Reviews197 G.R. Searle, Entrepreneurial Politics in Mid-Victorian Britain, Oxford: Oxford UP, 1993. viii + 346. £40. Who ruled in mid-Victorian Britain? Was a capitalist middle class effectively in control because its laws were executed by governments even though Parliament and Cabinet were still dominated by the landed class? Marx held this view and assumed that die capitalists had merely delegated authority to Whig politicians who acted as a kind of board of directors whilst real power resided widi die bourgeosie. To a certain extent Harold Perkin was echoing this view when he wrote of the 'triumph of die entrepreneurial ideal'. However, it is possible to see diese matters quite differently. Instead of class triumph, did die middle decades of die nineteenth century mark die class failure of industrial capital? This alternative scenario has die bourgeoisie eidier 'gentrified' in die image of landed society: a sell-out of die 'entrepreneurial ideal' (Anderson, Wiener et al), or split by a separation of financial/commercial from manufacturing capital, a situation in which die former represented what might be called 'gendemanly capitalism' and the latter, markedly less wealthy, was marginalized in die structures of state power (Rubinstein, Cain and Hopkins). A productive area of this debate has been in die field of local politics on the premise that it was at the level of die 'local state' (municipal council, voluntary societies, magistracy, boards of poor law guardians, police force) diat bourgeois power was most effectively located (Morris, Garrard, Gattrell). Searle's study is designed to complement this concentration on local affairs with an investigation of what he calls 'entrepreneurial politics' at die national level, defined as "the struggle of new business groups, especially die northern industrialists, to achieve political influence and social status commensurate widi their economic power." Entrepreneurial Politics in Mid-Victorian Britain examines the ideas and values of M.P.s from business backgrounds from the 1840s to the 186Os, focusing on their contributions to debates in key areas of reform: finance, commerce, the civil service, die franchise, education and trades unions. He concludes that a main impediment to die achievements of die entrepreneur in politics was less the seductions of 'gendemanly' lifestyles and more die absence of any clear sense of what they were trying to achieve. Divisions within die entrepreneurial ranks were deep, bodi strategic (policy disagreements abounded) and at die level of ideology. Searle endorses the well-established view that political economy alone was never die ideology of die middle class. Instead, it enjoyed an uneasy coexistence with other values such as Christianity (especially evangelicalism) and paternalism. The purist radical ideology of Richard 198Victorian Review Cobden did not strike deep even into die breasts of those businessmen who followed him into Parliament. Cobden's railing against the conservatism of die class he purported to lead and those errant politicians who combined a rapid rise to office widi a notable restriction of their radicalism (Searle makes hay widi die likes of GJ. Goschen) has a marked resonance widi latter-day Marxist indictments of a British working class which has consistently failed to equate its 'real' interests widi revolutionary politics. In truth, Cobden required a resistant feudal order to mobilize the level of class hostility necessary for the complete victory of his ideals. In die event die landed class compromised to save itself and middle-class politicians, including prominent figures like John Bright, went in die direction of Gladstonian Liberalism and class compromise rather than class hostility. In electoral terms die ultimate beneficiary of this rightward drift of die business class was to be die Conservative Party. Despite die negativity of this picture, Searle provides evidence to suggest that reports of die death of Manchester School politics in 1857 were exaggerated and that Cobdenite radicalism continued to 'flourish' in die 1860s, losing its ways in die debates over parliamentary reform, education and die labor problem only to resurface in new forms with Chamberlain in die mid-1870s and with Lloyd George a generation later. ALANKIDD Manchester Metropolitan University ...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1923-3280
Print ISSN
0848-1512
Pages
pp. 197-198
Launched on MUSE
2015-10-07
Open Access
No
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