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100 years ago: Peace at the polls

18 November 2022

November 17th 1922

APART from Dundee and the East End the election has been as peaceful as a Church parade. It cannot be said that the abnormal placidity follows from the sweet reasonableness of the leaders. The political leaders have piped vigorously, but there have been few to dance. Mr Lloyd George alone has evoked bursts of enthusiasm at railway stations, but in spite of it his followers will be few in the House. The Morning Post tries to find an explanation of the general apathy in the female voter; election politics, it argues, have become decorous out of respect for women. There may be something in the argument, but not, we think, very much. Certainly the experience of the past does not altogether bear it out. The participation of women in political struggles, as, for example, in the Fronde and in Republican Ireland, has generally added to their ferocity. A more probable explanation may be found in the great size of the present electorate. Democracy has been described as power split into fragments, and when the fragments are very small no fragment can feel greatly excited about its place and influence in the whole. The great elections of the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries were elections in which there were very few voters, and in which every voter counted for a good deal. As late as 1880 the average poll of the successful candidate in a county constituency was probably smaller than the majority in the same constituency will be today. If our explanation be correct, the prospects of democracy are not rosy, unless the whole basis of politics can be changed. Another explanation may be that names have largely lost their meaning. A Liberal who stands for Prohibition can hardly appeal to the ancient English love of freedom. A Tory who is Puritan can hardly awaken the enthusiasm of the Cavalier. It must be added that most of the election cries have appealed to the lower side of human nature, and that the leaders in the main are not persons for whom either hearts or heads are likely to be broken.

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