Democracy in Britain

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“By 1928, the essentials of democracy had been achieved”. How far would you agree? Democracy, the ideal that all the citizens of a nation determine together the laws and actions of their state: a government ‘for the people, of the people and by the people’, was necessary in Britain, as Aristotle once said, ‘man is by nature a political animal’. Franchise is the right to be able to vote and in 1830, only one out of ten adult males could vote; by 1832 it was a privilege of the landed elite and by 1928 it was a right of all eligible adults (over the age of 21). By 1928, Britain was almost democratic but not entirely so. Before 1850, Britain had a rule of aristocracy, there was great political influence from the elite and the privileged and extreme corruption, as Hogarth illustrated in his ‘Four Prints’ and Dickens in ‘Pickwick Papers’ but the 1789 French Revolution and the American Revolution caused political tension and put pressure on the government to reform. From 1851 – 1951 Britain evolved into modern democracy but this era of democratic politics was also inaugurated by the four landmark 1832, 1867 and 1884 Reform Acts which established the ‘one man, one vote’ mentality. Further democratisation was instigated by a popular government; universal suffrage; representative constituencies; the secret ballot and reformed electoral practices; paid MPs; state provided schooling which educated the working class and allowed them a political say; a constitutional monarchy and restricting the given rights of the upper and middle classes as well as reducing the power of the House of Lords and the Monarchy. The Age of Oligarchy gave way to the Age of democracy as the ‘two party system’ developed from 1867 to 1902 and the essentials of democracy were achieved by 1928 as both men and women could vote; there was a virtual elimination of corruption; the privileged had much less power and the constituencies were better represented. However, Britain was not fully democratic by 1928 as there were still minor changes to be made and gaps to be filled, for example the 1948 and 1969 Acts were passed to lower the age of voters and to take away additional votes for the intellects.

Franchise, or universal suffrage which means every suitable adult having the right to vote, was fundamental in the evolving of Britain into a democratic nation. In 1820, most MPs were Whigs or Tories but the aristocratic rule began to evolve into a popular government from 1866 when the Conservatives had a watershed victory over the Liberals and the attitudes towards reform began to change. The First Reform Act of 1832, a precedent to those in 1967 and 1884 and a landmark Act, being beneficial. The 1832 Reform Act helped limited franchise evolve into universal suffrage as it initiated reform by allowing the middle classes to vote as every man owning or renting a house worth over £10 was enfranchised and made constituencies more equally represented as fifty six towns with a population of less than two thousand lost their MPs. However, five out of six men could still not vote. The 1867 Reform Act gave the county franchise and this extended the vote to all owners or leaseholders of properly worth £5 to £12 per annum or those who rented land with a rateable value of £12. They also amended the borough franchise which gave the vote to all male householders and lodgers paying £10 per annum. This Act gave the vote to the working-class males in urban areas. One in three men could now vote, which was a great step towards democracy for Britain before 1928 as franchise was becoming far more widespread. The 1884 Reform Act is a further landmark Act as it gave the vote to approximately two out of three men. It allowed voting qualifications in towns and countries to be identical as it gave the vote to the working-class males in rural areas and increased the electorate by two million; male householders and lodgers in the counties with twelve months of occupation got the vote and all...
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