Primrose League

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Primrose League. Victorian Conservative organization. Founded in 1883 by Lord Randolph Churchill and John Gorst, the Primrose League was intended to enable the Conservatives to adapt to the extension of democracy. The Tory leaders feared that any popular organization would eventually challenge their authority. However, the league avoided this problem because it was not officially part of the Conservative Party, and because it made no claim to influence the party's policy.

The key to its success lay in combining political propaganda, often in the form of lantern slides, with a regular programme of social activities. These included music-hall, dances, teas, summer fêtes, train excursions, and cycling clubs, all available very cheaply. Though derided by opponents as a ‘matrimonial agency’, the league benefited greatly from its social role. By 1886, 200,000 members had been enrolled, and by 1891 over a million, of whom half were women. This made the league the largest political organization in Britain in its heyday—the late 1880s and 1890s. Thereafter it suffered a steady decline and after 1918 its membership was largely absorbed into the official party structure.

Martin Pugh