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Stanley (then known as the Honourable Edward Lyulph Stanley) contested Oldham, in the Liberal interest, at elections in 1872, 1874, 1880 and 1885. He only won the 1880 contest and served in the House of Commons during the 1880-1885 Parliament. He was appointed a Privy Counsellor in 1910.
Stanley was a member of the London School Board from 1876 to 1885 and also from 1888 to 1896. He wrote a book Our National Education (1899).
Stanley married Mary Katherine Bell, daughter of Lowthian Bell, on 6 February 1873. They had eight children: