Nick Sellen

This used to appear on which was all about a bike tour I made around the UK in 2011/2012.

Reading: Parliamentary Reform 1785-1928

31 October 2011

I just finished reading Parliamentary Reform, 1785-1928 by Sean Lang and this is approximately what I learnt (some if it I knew before to some extent).

The book itself is intended as a study guide for A-Level History students and has questions and worked answers.

1832 – Reform Act

Around this time Democracy (everybody having a right to vote, universal suffrage) wasn’t the aim of our political system – it was supposed to represent everybody’s views, which didn’t necessarily mean everybody having a vote themselves; they merely needed to be represented somewhere in the system (franchised).

The 1832 Reform Act increased the range of people that were franchised (like the new industrial towns that were almost totally unrepresented) and removed many of the “rotten boroughs” (Dunwich which had actually fallen into the sea was still represented in parliament). It was put through under a Liberal government by Earl Grey.

The actual manner it was put through is perhaps even more significant than the details of the Act itself – the Lords was (as it is now) dominated by Tory’s who would have opposed it, Grey threatened to flood the Lords with Liberal Peers to ensure the bill would be passed (King William IV consented to this being in a weak position). If this were to happen it would permanently skew the dominance of Tory’s in the Lords so instead they agreed to pass the bill.

It is the first significant time that the House of Commons managed to force through a Bill without the House of Lords really wanting it to go through and set an important precedent.

1867 – Second Reform Act

There were still many people not franchised and this Bill increased it significantly for working class men (women’s vote was still a distant thought).

This act was put through by the Tory Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli – it is an unusual Bill for a Tory as their normal position at this time would be to protect the dominance of the aristocracy and landed classes. It followed several attempts by the Liberals to put through reform bills which all failed.

The Liberals had been in power for 20 years and the Tory’s were not in the strongest position and perhaps keen to put through a bill of substance. As Disraeli had opposed to Liberal reform bills his own one actually ended more radical. There is a complicated set of reasons why which I only partially understand and isn’t space to go into here.

The Bill introduced the franchise for all households – this still filters out the lowly immoral males that might not be entrusted with the vote. This vastly increased the number of voters and is signifies the start of the modern parties as they now needed to become a lot more organised to reach the increased number of people.

1883/4/5 – assorted reforming acts

Further refinements around this period to balance the rural constituencies with the urban ones, the move to one MP per constituency, add campaign spending limits.

1911/1949 – Parliament Acts

These Bills put the Lords in their (current) place – prior to 1911 the Lords had been blocking various of Liberal Primte Minster Herbert Asquith’s Bills much to his frustration. The 1911 Act reduced the power of the Lords such that they can only delay a Bill, not actually block it outright. The 1949 Act reduced the amount it could be delayed (the 1911 Act was used to force this through).

1918/1928 – The women’s vote

(Getting tired and so briefer)

The decade or so before the World War 1 (1914-1918) features the growth of campaigns to give women the vote. The most notable campaign was the Pankhurt’s Women’s Social & Political Union (WSPU) due to their use of violence but there were others – Millicent Fawcett’s National Union of Woman’s Suffrage Societies (NUWSS) which took a political lobbying approaching.

All their activities were halted by the onset of war in which women did a lot of jobs that might have been done by men had they not been out fighting. Women (aged 30+) got the vote after the war (1918) and there are various viewpoints on the relative significance of the campaigns versus their war efforts.

The book suggests that the militancy of the WSPU held back the cause as the Asquith could not be seen to giving in to violence (particularly in the context of the current Irish troubles).

They finally got equal voting rights to men in 1928.

(Head nearly on keyboard now…)