Labour History Review

Thomas Slingsby Duncombe, the ‘Member for All England’: Representing the Non-voter in the Chartist Decade

Labour History Review (2015), 80, (2), 109–134.

Abstract

Building on new interest in the Chartists’ attempts to elect their own representatives to Parliament, this essay analyses the methods and strategies through which a Member of Parliament might adopt, and virtually represent, a non-voter constituency. While in many ways Thomas Slingsby Duncombe fits the mould of the gentleman leader in popular politics, unlike many other MPs whose careers briefly intersected with the agendas of the Chartists and other working people, Thomas Slingsby Duncombe explicitly called himself a Chartist. He served his non-voter constituency, Chartists and members of the working classes, by acting as the recognized conduit to Parliament for their petitions and ideas, by travelling the country participating in dialogic communication with non-voters, by maintaining a consistent voting record on issues of interest to the working classes, and, most intriguingly, by crossing class boundaries to serve as a physical representative to the National Central Registration and Election Committee and the National Association of United Trades. Although Duncombe’s service to his non-voter constituency (which might, ironically, have undermined the claim that working people were not represented, had anyone thought to make the allegation) has been underappreciated by many historians, his transformation into a Chartist celebrity earned him a seat in Parliament for life.

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Author details

Bronstein, Jamie