How the Liberal Party in Eastleigh grew through the 1970s

Following on from his two previous volumes (one, two), Martin Kyrle’s The Liberals in Hampshire – a Part(l)y History: Part 3 Eastleigh 1972-81: the thorn in the flesh bursts into flower takes the story of the Liberal Party in his part of Hampshire through to years of growing political success.

Martin Kyrle’s volumes add vital colour to the political historical record, featuring the sort of detail of politics at the grassroots that is vital for understanding how the overall political system really works but which is often not preserved in the historical record. Even the leaders of local councils, let alone the charismatic first councillor from a party or their demon-organising election agent, frequently leave very little trace behind in the historical record and although social media means there is more data for future historians to mine, the decline of local media coverage cuts the other way. Obscurity continues to beckon for the personalities who played a key role in shaping the long-term politics of communities. Unless, that is, local histories such as this one preserve them.

But it is not only the people who tend to be forgotten. So too the changes in electoral tactics which tell a broader picture about how the operation of elections was changing in the eyes of voters.

The shift from politicians only doing much to contact voters at election time to (outside of safe seats) having to be active all year round has been a major shift in how politicians spend their time and how voters interact with politicians. It is also a shift that gets only little attention, and even less detail, in more general political histories. It is only local histories such as Martin Kyrle’s and A Flagship Borough: 25 Years of a Liberal Democrat Sutton Council which help record and explain this shift in a way that many grander political histories from professors completely miss.

This volume of his is more a scrapbook of useful information for other historians and interested political activists than a conventional history in its own right. The book is dominated by appendices full of past election leaflets (often reproduced in colour), election results and other scraps of information (including how the Conservatives ended up paying his election expenses in one general election).

There are plenty of names and events here to be enjoyed by those whose memories stretch back to some of these times, and also plenty for future historians to make good use of. There is rather less of the prose retelling of events than in earlier volumes, but the wealth of detail provided by the leaflets and other information means the story is still clearly there to be seen, enjoyed and learnt from.

If you like this, you might also be interested in Graham Tope’s A Life in Politics.

Note: a review copy of this book was provided to me by the author.

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