chapter  16
Pages 10

For the overwhelming majority of Edwardians, politics offered the most obvious means of collective action for social change. Even during the crisis of the pre-war years, although physical force was increasingly advocated, very few rejected parliamentary politics. It was the belief that electoral victory offered a real hope of social transformation which sustained that significant minority of Edwardians for whom politics was a faith: the chapel members with a social conscience who were ‘confirmed in Liberal principles’, the former Liberals and Conservatives who were ‘converted’ to socialism, and also those men and women who offered their own suffering in the cause of votes for women. We began this book by asking whether there had been rewards from their political faith. In a wider sense, we shall find the answer in our concluding chapters. Political action, perhaps most clearly of all our instruments of change, provided an essential indirect thrust behind changing class relationships, the rising living standards of the working classes, and even changes within the family. Political influence on the social attitudes and work of an individual family could also be diffuse. Among our Edwardians, we could point to the Bensons: and especially the Richardses, one of the two families with whom we shall conclude. Here, however, we have a more limited task. What were the direct rewards of politics? The answer, we shall discover, will be unspectacular. Was this because the political system was less favourable to change than Edwardians believed? Was politics, perhaps, better designed to control social change than to generate it; a means of collective action commonly as defensive as trade unionism, for all its formidable potential?