British Lobbying in Newspaper and Parliamentary Discourse, 1800-1950

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Lobbying is a significant component of the modern politics industry in Britain, but we know relatively little about its historical origins and evolution. This article draws on parliamentary debates and three databases which together account for 51 newspaper titles, in order to explore how lobbying was discussed in parliament and the media between 1800 and 1950, and to gauge the growing professionalisation of lobbying. Perceptions of lobbying became somewhat less negative over the period; there are relatively few reports or allegations of corruption associated with lobbying; and lobbying by the railway industry seems to have been less substantial, while public sector lobbying was more significant, than is commonly supposed. Direct advocacy with policymakers is overwhelmingly the dominant tactic used by lobbyists of the period, with few reports of coalitions or grassroots campaigns. Particular concerns were expressed about the influence of lobbying around private bills. While lobbying backbench MPs and parliamentary committees (rather than ministers and civil servants) accounted for over 80% of the activity revealed across the whole period, there are signs by the middle of the 20th century that the focus of lobbyists is beginning to turn away from Westminster and towards Whitehall. The article paints a detailed view of the scale, scope and significance of lobbying as it was developing into a national and systematic industry.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)226-249
Number of pages24
JournalParliamentary History
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished (in print/issue) - 29 Jun 2018


  • Lobbying
  • lobbyist
  • 1800-1950
  • United Kingdom
  • British parliament
  • newspapers
  • parliamentary debates


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