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Issue 2- How did Britain became more democratic between

1867-1928?

Context:
 Beginning of 19thC authority was in hands of landowning wealthy men – they believed change
was unnecessary and wanted to maintain their power over the middle and working classes.
 One of the first important steps toward democracy came in 1832 (Great Reform Act)
 Growing economy was producing a wealthy middle class who resented being excluded from the
political system. It was then argued since it was the middle class who had produced the wealth
of the country through their work, they should have a say in its government.

The Right to Vote:


• The right to vote was given to more and more people following the Great Reform Act of
1832. This process is called the extension of the franchise and without it, people cannot
influence political decisions.
• 1867 Reform Act: most skilled working class men living in towns (boroughs) given right
to vote. The vote was given to any man who owned property above a certain value and
lodgers paying rent above £10 a year, the vote was later extended to skilled working
men who could afford to live in property above required value also. Therefore Britain
became more democratic because nationally, this reform was to double the number of
men who were entitled to vote.
• 1884: this was the next extension to the franchise, this time allowing men living in the
counties to be given vote on same rules as men in towns. This made Britain more
democratic as it allowed more men who previously had no say in how their country was
run have the right to vote for the first time.
• 1918: Representation of the People Act gave the vote to another 13 million men and 8
million women over 30 years of age. As a result Britain could be considered more
democratic.
• Not until 1928 did men and women aged 21 or over get equal political rights. This made
Britain more democratic as it meant that both women and men both had equal rights
when it comes to voting.

Fairness:

 Whilst the 1867 Reform Act helped Britain become more democratic, the voting was still
open to bribery and intimidation. In order for Britain to be democratic, voters had to be
free from being influence when voting.
 Secret Ballot Act 1872: allowed voters to vote in secret polling booths. As a result,
voters were able to vote for who they specifically wanted to voter for, rather than be
pressured into voting for someone or something, hence this made Britain more
democratic.
 Corrupt and Illegal practices Act 1883: this Act limited how much political candidates
could spend during election time and it also banned activities such as the buying of food
or drink for voters as a method of bribery. This helped make Britain more democratic as
it made the election process fairer as no one person was able to spend more on their
campaign and MP’s were not allowed to bribe voters, meaning they could vote honestly
and no political party dominating a constituency because of its wealth. HOWEVER, some
middle class people took advantage of the bribery (despite it being banned) during
elections but did not vote for who bribed them, necessarily.
 Britain divided into constituencies – areas of the country that send one MP to
parliament-In the 19thC the population spread across Britain had changed a lot.
Consequently, the seats were re-arranged and-as a result- new laws were put in place in
1867, 1885 and again in 1918 tried to make distribution of MPs fairer by giving the right
to send more MPs to parliament in busy areas and taking the right to have an MP away
from depopulated areas. The redistribution of seats attempted to make political
representation fairer (across Britain as it hoped that more widespread representation
would mean more people would be represented in government) which is an important
part of a country being considered democratic.

Choice:
 It is a fact that a country cannot be considered democratic if voters have little or no
choice in elections. Despite many working class men gaining the vote in the 1880s, there
was no national working class party for them to vote for.
 In 1906 the Labour Party had been created to campaign for working class interests, the
first of its kind to represent the working classes interests. Hence, with the addition of
the Labour Party as an option for elections, the British public- specifically the working
and middle classes who were not represented previously- now had representation and
this made Britain more democratic because with more options, comes more interests
represented.
 The development of the Labour Party came as a result of a series of different alliances
between socialist groups and trade unions that realised it could be useful helpful to have
a political voice in parliament to look after the interests of the working classes. As a
result of Labours alliances with different Socialists and trade unions, Britain became
more democratic because more and more workers and organisations were given
representation in British government which they previously did not receive.
 However, it can be argued that not all working class men voted for Labour during
elections, but the creation of the Labour party itself provided voters with more choice
which is an essential ingredient in a democratic society.
Access to Information:
 For people to make a real choice they must have information about their candidates.
Therefore, literacy is important in a democracy so that people have the ability to access
information on which they base their choice on.
 By late 19thC, basic literacy was quite well established in Britain as a result of the
Compulsory Education Act of 1880- this gave the middle and working classes who were
previously uneducated the chance to learn literacy skills and about politics. The Secret
Ballot of 1872 and extension of franchise also contributed in creating a voting
population who were eager for news and information on the government, MP’s and
policies they were voting on. This resulted in Britain becoming more democratic,
because the middle and working classes wanted to learn more about what they were
voting for, and by giving them access to that information, Britain was become fairer.
 Development and spread of railways spread info quickly to all parts of the country
quickly. Therefore, more and more voters had more access to information from across
the country, rather than just their own local areas, which they could use to base their
opinions on and this also made Britain more democratic as more political awareness is
important for any democratic society.

Accountability
 Means that parliament reflects the wishes of the voters and is answerable to them. Prior
to the 1900’s, the British government was dictated by the unelected House of Lords who
possessed more power than the democratically elected MPs. Therefore, in order for
Britain to be democratic, The House of Lord’s powers had to be reduced substantially.
 The Parliament Act 1911 was an important step on the road to democracy as it reduced
the power of the House of Lords which now had no say over budgets and could no
longer veto or block bills (laws) passed by the House of Commons, prior to this change;
the House of Lords (not a democratically elected role) had the power to veto ideas from
elected MP’s and make final decisions. The House of Lords could almost be considered a
dictatorship prior to 1911 as they had such power over the democratically elected
government, for Britain to be democratic, this had to be reformed.
 Parliament Act also reduced the maximum length of time between general elections
from 7 to 5 years and provided payment for Members of Parliament, thereby allowing
men of the working class to consider standing for election as an MP. By making elections
more regular, it meant that the public could vote out those MP’s they are unhappy with
and elect new representatives easier and with less time to wait, more regular elections
also meant more voting opportunities which is an important factor in any democracy.
Participation/Opportunity to become an MP:
 In a democracy, people who want to be involved in politics should be able to participate;
whether it is by joining a political party or standing for election as an MP themselves.
 When political power was singlehandedly in the hands of the wealthy upper-class, the
issue of payment for MPs never arose because they felt it was their duty to serve their
country as MP’s. They were also wealthy enough to spend time in parliament with no
other means to make money without worrying about payment because of their own
wealth.
 On the other hand, the middle and working class men who wanted to become more
involved politically as MP’s- despite legally being allowed to take part from the mid
1800’s when the property qualification was lifted- because they simply could not afford
to give up working and having an income and still be able to provide for themselves and
their families. Therefore, in order for the working and middle classes to be able to take
advantage of their opportunity to become MP’s, there had to be some kind of assurance
that they would still be able to sustain themselves.
 For Britain to become more democratic the chance to become an MP would have to be
opened to everyone, and in 1911 the Parliament Act introduced payment for MPs,
thereby allowing ordinary people greater access to the political process. Thus resulting
in more people being able to be more politically active in Britain and this was one of the
final crucial steps in the process of making Britain more democratic.

Conclusion Example:
To conclude, for Britain to become more democratic between 1867 and 1928, Britain
needed to undergo several different reforms and changes in socially and politically in
order to extend the franchise from 18% of the adult population in 1883 to 67% by 1918
alone. On the one hand; the extension of the franchise and the improved, fairer, voting
system were both important factors for the growth in democracy because it increased
the electorate and reduced intimidation during elections substantially. On the other
hand; by giving the public more choice in political parties, access to information on
politicians and policies they could base their political opinions on and the opportunity to
become MPs are equally important in Britain’s crucial development from being a non-
democratic country run by the wealthy to a far more democratic Britain. Although it can
be argued that Britain did not become fully democratic until 1969- when the franchise
was extended to men and women aged 18- it is arguably one of the largest cornerstones
for Britain’s development of democracy.
Topic related quotes:
 “The British constitution is the best that ever was since the creation of the world, and it
is not possible to make it better” (Lord Braxfield, 1793)
 “Britain is land. It is therefore the land owners – those who own the land of Britain –
who deserve the right to govern” (The Duke of Wellington, 1829)
 “I support this (reform) because I am sure it is our best security against revolution…we
must admit those it is safe to admit” (Thomas MacAuley, 1831)

 “The class which hitherto ruled this country had failed miserably. It revels in power and
wealth, whilst at its feet…lies the multitude of that it has neglected.” (A. Briggs ‘The Age
of Improvement’)
 “Some advocates of the secret ballot had expected this to end bribery, but in practice
the secret ballot often enabled voters to receive payments from both sides instead of
one!” (Historian Professor Martin Pugh)
 “(The House of Lords) were men with no training, no qualifications, no
experience.….were simply those whose sole qualification was that they were the first
born of persons who had as few qualifications as themselves.”- (David Lloyd George)
 “The power of the aristocracy was ended.”- (Lloyd George)
 “A way must be found, and a way will be found by which the will of the people,
expressed through their MP’s will be made to prevail.”- (Liberal PM Sir Henry Campbell
Bannerman)
 The 1867 Reform Act, “was never likely to be more than a temporary expedient to meet
the needs of the government of the day.” (Prof. M. Pugh)
 “Parliamentary reform was largely a reflection of changes in the economic and social
structure of the country.” (D. G. Wright ‘Democracy and Reform’)