The issue of the secret ballot in the Cambridge and Oxford Union Societies, c.1830 72: an extension of the nineteenth-century parliamentary culture of debate
Haapala, T. (2015). The issue of the secret ballot in the Cambridge and Oxford Union Societies, c.1830–72: an extension of the nineteenth-century parliamentary culture of debate. Parliaments, Estates and Representation, 35 (1), 66-83. doi:10.1080/02606755.2014.976435
Published inParliaments, Estates and Representation
© 2014 International Commission for the History of Representative and Parliamentary Institutions/Commission Internationale pour l’Histoire des Assemble´es d’ Etats.
Summary. In this article, debating societies are considered as an inherent part of the formation of a parliamentary culture in Britain. Despite the fact that the nineteenth-century Cambridge and Oxford Union Societies were considered to be ‘training grounds’ for statesmen, their debating practices have not been systematically studied in relation to national politics. This is largely due to the fact that the role of debate has remained understated in studies of parliamentary history, even though it is one of the fundamental political features in the Westminster system. Nineteenth-century parliamentary debate did not just occur for its own sake, rather it had a constitutional and political dimension that was related to procedure. This article focuses on the significance of the debate culture in nineteenth century British parliamentary politics. It shows that there was an interchange of ideas and concepts between the House of Commons and the Cambridge and Oxford Union Societies that enabled the extension of parliamentary procedure and terminology outside Parliament affecting the way that political activity was understood. It discusses the extension of parliamentary culture to Union Societies during the period between the 1830s and the 1870s. Its main argument is that ‘debate’ was a major political feature of parliamentary politics, which was reflected in the major discussions on reform, for example, in the case of secret voting. It is shown that the Union Societies did not merely follow the lead of the House of Commons, but that they actively contributed to the debate on reforms and, at the same time, to the formation of the debate culture of which the main principle to follow Walter Bagehot (1826-77), was that putting an issue on the political agenda was itself an admission of its controversial and unfixed character. ...