The Growth of Democracy “How Democratic” Essay
Plan: We will examine the legislation that was passed under the following headings: • Widening the Franchise • Fairer Elections • Equal Votes/Constituencies • Representation/Participation
1948 The end of plural voting STEPS ON THE ROAD TO DEMOCRACY 1928 All men and women over 21 get the vote 1918 Women over 30 get the vote 1911 MPs to be paid 1884 1885 The unskilled male worker gets the voteRedistribution of Seats Act 1872 1883 The ballot is secretCorrupt & Illegal Practices Act Limits what spent at elections 1867 The Skilled workers get the vote 1832 The Middle Class get the vote
1. Widening the Franchise • 1832 Electoral Reform Act – enfranchised (gives vote to) better off middle class men – eg. Doctors and Lawyers. Roughly 1 in 6 of the male population could vote. Number of voters in Scotland rises from 5,000 to 40,000.
1867 Representation of the People Act – enfranchised better off and better educated working class men – eg. tradesmen, skilled workers like carpenters. Roughly 1 in 3 of the male population could vote. Roughly 2.5 million voters.
1884 Representation of the People Act – enfranchised most working class men. Roughly 2 in 3 of the male population. BUT not poorer men, lodgers, sons living at home, women. Roughly 5 million of the adult male population could vote.
1918 Representation of the People Act – enfranchised nearly all adult males over 21 but only some women aged 30+.
1928 Representation of the People Act – enfranchised nearly all adult males and females over 21. Although Britain was not a true democracy as there were some voting anomalies – eg. plural voting as students and businessmen had 2 votes – one at home and one at University/business address.
Franchise Analysis The analysis is very simple when discussing the franchise: • Look at the end date of the question e.g. 1914 • All you have to do is say Britain was more democratic as 2 in 3 men had the vote after 1884, however Britain had a long way to go before it was a true democracy as 1 in 3 men did not have the vote e.g. servants, soldiers etc who did not pay rent or rates and worst of all, women were still denied the vote.
2. Fairer Elections • 1872 Secret Ballot Act – stress that this was viewed as one of the most important steps towards democracy by many people at the time as: • Avoid bribery and intimidation at elections at open hustings. • Voting in secret meant breaking power of big landlords in rural areas.
Hustings • A platform erected at the place of an election - usually in the county town or a large town. • Candidates addressed the assembled voters. This could sometimes be a difficult task in a large urban constituency, where unpopular speakers might be shouted down. • At the conclusion of the speeches, a show of hands was taken. This was an informal indication of the opinion of the voters and no official record was kept of how many voted for a particular candidate.
1883 Corrupt and Illegal Practices Act – backed up the secret ballot by making it a criminal offence that was punishable by a fine, suspension from parliament or even imprisonment to try to bribe voters. Candidates now had to limit spending and account for spending during campaigning.
Analysis - Fairness • The Secret Ballot Act 1872 & the Corrupt and Illegal Practices Act 1883 were important for democracy for a number of reasons: • They allowed the new Working Class voters the ability to cast their votes for whoever they wished without fear. • After 1883 corruption in British elections was much less and so Britain became more democratic as it was no longer controlled by rich men.
3. Equal Votes/Constituencies • Aim – trying to make the number of voters in each constituency roughly the same so that no constituency is more important than another. • Corrupt constituencies known as ‘pocket’ or ‘rotten’ boroughs still existed where the local landowner nominated the MP. • 1832 – tried to get rid of worst of “rotten” or “pocket” burghs like Old Sarum. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rotten_borough
“Rotten” and “Pocket” Boroughs • An election district having only a few voters but the same voting power as other more populous districts. • Previously these boroughs would have had large populations but due to urbanisation had dramatically reduced in size. • Old Sarum, in Wiltshire, only had three houses and a population of fifteen people. With just a few individuals with the vote and no secret ballot, it was easy for candidates to buy their way to victory. • Pocket borough – a constituency with a small enough electorate to be under the effective control (or in the pocket) of one major landowner.
1867 – continued to get rid of pocket burghs. The 1867 Reform Act got rid of rotten burghs, but there were still big inconsistencies in the size of constituencies e.g. the under populated Highlands and Scottish Borders had 8 MPs each, yet a growing city like Glasgow had only 3 MPs. • 1885 Redistribution of Seats Act – moved a lot of MPs from rural areas to the new industrial cities – eg. Glasgow increased to 7 MPs. Tried to make constituencies roughly 50,000 each – however, still a lot of overrepresentation in depopulated rural areas – eg. Highlands and Borders still had 8 MPs each.
Equal constituencies really did not come until 1918 Representation of the People Act, which made all constituencies roughly equal with 70,000 people. At this time the number of MPs in Glasgow increased to 15. • However plural voting still existed which allowed certain people more than one vote e.g. a businessman who lived in Motherwell and had his business in Glasgow could vote in both areas or students could vote in their home constituency and university constituency.
Equal Votes - Analysis Equal voting was important to ensure fairness but was a long slow process: • The 1885 Redistribution of Seats Act helped to make all areas roughly an equal size and did give the big industrial cities like Glasgow more voters however serious problems still existed e.g. rural areas like the Highlands still had too many MPs, unfairness of plural voting etc. • 1918 Reform Act was more democratic as it set firm boundaries for constituencies of 70,000 each and stripped rural areas of their excess MPs which were awarded to the big industrial towns and cities. However plural voting still existed and would not end till 1948.
In fact, equal constituencies is even a ‘hot topic’ today… http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-14898736
4. Representation/Participation • Aim – elected representatives should be representative of the voters. • Before 1867 voters were wealthy landowners or middle class in towns and so were most MPs. Half of all MPs were the children of the aristocracy.
It was also thought that MPs should not be paid so that they would be the right type of person – eg. self-sufficient and not in politics for the money. • It was also felt that the landowners and upper classes in the House of Lords had a right to speak out or block new laws from the elected House of Commons.
1911 Parliament Acts - Tried to allow poorer men to become MPs by paying them £400 per year, which allowed more of the working class to become MPs. Example – Keir Hardie was the illegitimate son of a Lanarkshire miner.
1911 Parliament Act also severely limited the powers of the unelected House of Lords. House of Lords could no longer outright reject a money bill (new law to do with taxes or spending). Could only delay non-money bills 2 years (cut to one year in 1949).
Analysis – Representation/Participation • Now there was pay for MPs – now possible for the working class to stand for election but examples like Keir Hardie from Holytown in Lanarkshire were few. • Although the powers of the House of Lords became more limited – the House of Commons still had to pass a vote in the unelected, and therefore undemocratic, House of Lords. As the Lords were made up of wealthy men they rejected laws that did not benefit them.