'The best governed city in the world' was the accolade conferred on Birmingham by the journalist Julian Ralph writing in the New York publication, Harper's Monthly Magazine, in 1890. Ralph was remarking on the range and quality of public services in Birmingham, provided, managed and financed by the City Council. Birmingham, like other great British cities in the period under review, existed in a semi-autonomous relationship to central government. With Renaissance Italy consciously in mind, the civic elite aspired to the status of 'city-state'. The degree of autonomy enjoyed by cities such as Birmingham fostered a fierce civic patriotism which manifested itself not least in the sometimes violently partisan support accorded to a string of political leaders who were mandated over the years to represent Birmingham's interests in Parliament. Such a firm basis of local support enabled political leaders, from Thomas Attwood to Neville Chamberlain, to exert leverage in national politics. No provincial city had a greater influence on the shaping of British democracy and on the governance of the British state than Birmingham.
The greatest and perhaps the most notorious of Birmingham's leaders was Joseph Chamberlain. The unique status he acquired as 'city-boss' was founded on the remarkable mayoralty of 1873-6. The charismatic Chamberlain wrenched the Birmingham electorate away from their previous allegiance to Radicalism and forged Birmingham 'exceptionalism': an over whelmingly industrial and working-class city re-positioned itself on the political Right. For a further generation the Labour movement could make little headway in Birmingham as Chamberlain handed on his hegemonic status to his sons, Austen and more especially Neville. The fascination of historians with the career of Chamberlain has tended to obscure the roles of many other remarkable and intriguing figures - local men like Joseph Sturge, George Dixo.
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(235mm x 165mm x 10mm)
Phillimore & Co Ltd
Publisher: The History Press Ltd
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