Changing influences in Parliament; the impact of parliamentary reform


The crown and the aristocracy

  • The monarch chose a PM from the wining party in an elections 
  • George III = power of patronage and offering of peerage and offices un return for political support
  • 'pocket boroughs' - constituencies controlled by an aristocratic patron                                        = open voting system; limited franchise and lack of legislation = bribery and power                      = 1801 - rotton boroughs sold for £90,000 and then £180,000 in 1830
  • House of Lords - unelcted yet has a powerful role within legislation - influence to block laws 
  • Economic reform in the 1780s - the threat of the monarchy (patronage, failure in america, increased costs thus taxes, military corruption - corruption) = WEAKENED PATRONAGE


  • reduce the number of offices that could be rewarded 

= a rise in cabinet governments - William Pitt the Younger PM - coalitions and negotions and alliances 


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The decline in aristocratic influence

  • expansion of the franchise 
  • removing the rotten and pocket boroughs 
  • 1832 Act decreased power of the monarchy 
  • 1839 Bedchamber Crisis - parliament had limited pwer over the monarch 
  • political unions and media pressure 
  • aristocratic patrons loss of power over the 1872 act 
  • 1883 act saw a reducuction in monetary influence and gave access to non-aristocratic members 

1911 Parliament Act = 

  • delay bills for only 2 years 
  • no power over money bills 
  • maximum of 5 years inbetween elections 
  • £400 salaries for MPs 
  • House of Lords remained unelected and hereditary 
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Changing to political parties between 1780-1928

Before 1832 = 

  • Tories = supporters of the monarchy VS Whigs = liberal outlook 
  • considerened loose alliance of politicians not parties 
  • under 1784 William Pitt the Younger the party lines became more distinct

The impact of the Reform Acts = 

  • registered voters meant more party organisation was required 
  • contest within elections made party politics essential 

The parties = 

1. Conservative - 1834 Robert Peel issued his manifesto (Tamworth Manifesto - reform abuses but protect tradition) 

2. Whigs - 1834 LIchfield House Compact (opposition to Peel) - whigs, radicals and irish MPs

3. Liberal Party - 1846 formed of Peelites and in 1859 the Whigs, Peelites and other radicals formed the ant-conservative alliance (the liberal party)

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The Role of Parliament Acts on Parties

1867 RPA = 

  • increased electorate required better party organisation so lead to the formation of the conservative central office - local party organisation which by 1877 it had 791 local associations
  • The liberals founded the National Liberal Federation in 1877
  • Both parties paid local agents for voter recruitment  - accurate lists and records to assure attendance
  • larger investment in newspapers - election campaigns 
  • Women's organisations such as the Primrose League (tories) used to have wives influence husbands

1872 Ballot Act = 

  • getting out party message took on an increased importance and votes now hidden
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The Role of Parliament Acts on Parties continued

1883 Corrupt and Illegal Practices Prevention Act = 

  • each candidate could only have 1 paid agent and a detailed record of all expenses 
  • 1910 - average spending was just 18% of 1880 levels 
  • Party message more important than bribery 
  • Much greater focus by both parties on volunteer groups for canvassing and public events 

1884 RPA = 

  • the enfranchisement of the working class male voters lead to the emergence of the Labour party by 1906

1918 RPA = 

  • spurred the growth of the Labour party - vote share rose to 22% in the 1918 General Election
  • finalised the lose of the dominance of the Liberal Party -  they had been split between Asquith and Lloyd George (reform act only passed within the Tory coalition - 3rd place)
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The Growth of the Labour Party

1884 RPA = lead to the emergence of new liberals called labourers - often trade union officials and generally represented industrial, mainly mining, backgrounds 

1885 = there were 13 - often regarded as 'Lib-Lab' MPs because they worked with liberals but voted independently on working class and trade union issues 


  • 1892 - Keir Hardie and 2 others were elected as independent Labour MPs
  • 1893 - ILP formed to represent working-class interests = formed by many ex-liberals who felt disillusioned by the failure to accept working class men as MPs
  • they were seen by many as a socialist, revolutionary movement
  • yet the party was more practical thinking than theoretical and so the word 'socialist' was kept from the name for this reason


  • 1900 - ILP was growing in success
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The Growth of the Labour Party continued

  • 1900 - the creation of the Labour Representation Committee (LRC) which unified over 100 trade unions to connect them to parliamentary reform
  • LRC campaigned on behalf of the ILP and trade unions 
  • 1903 - 'Lib-Lab' pact = to avoid splitting the opposition vote against the conservatives in the next general election (1906) - the liberals agreed not to contest Labour strongpoints in return Labour would support a Liberal government
  • 1906 - 29 LRC candidates won seats and renamed themselves the Labour Party
  • 1911 - Parliament Act made more working class MPs a reality (introduction of wages)


  • worked closely together - ILP had a strong following but Labour had strong trade union links 
  • ILP provided many MPs elected for Labour
  • 1924 - worked until then when Labour formed a government
  • ILP was disappointed by the moderate policies of MacDonald creating divisions 
  • 1931 - the 2 parties split 
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The Growth of the Labour Party continued


  • 1918- Labour's political strength grew 
  • Two strength - increased wartime trade union membership (4-6million) and increased working class male vote under the 1918 RPA
  • 1924 government = Ramsey MacDonald 
  • A weak minority government of 191 seats and did not last a year - fake Russian letter and threat of communism 
  • 2nd 1924 General election = re-election of the conservatives 
  • Yet, they had eclipsed the Liberals by 1928 
  • The 2 major parties were primarily the Conservatives and Labour, rather than Liberals 


  • organised, structured groups rather than loose alliances of the 18th century 
  • RPAs - unified party messages, winning votes with ideas, not bribery or patronage 
  • The 1900s - 3 main parties were strong political institutions in a modern sense of a political party
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Extent of change in the social makeup in Commons


  • Wealthy men 
  • largely from aristocratic families 
  • about 20% were the sons of peers and many had peers as relatives
  • many were titled as 'baronet' which entitled them to be a 'sir' without losing commoner status
  • Private income was essential (wealthy backgrounds) as there was no salary 
  • Property qualifications: 600 per year for county MPs and 300 for Borough MPs (30,000-15,000 modern day) 
  • 1830 - 1 MP paid 30,000 (1.5 million) in bribes and campaigning costs 
  • Sir James Lowther, MP for Whitehaven, was estimated to have land worth 2 million 


  • 1832 and 67 RPA - by 1865 the number of baronets and sons of peers had dropped to 180 from 217 - in 1845, 41% were from aristocratic families 
  • 1858 Repeal of the Property Qualification Act - MP roles more accessible to the middle class - only a small increase in MPs from less wealthy backgrounds 
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Extent of change in the social makeup in Commons

  • 1884 Redistribution of People Act and 1885 Redistribution of Seats Act - the number of urban constituencies increased; MPs of industrial background outnumbered landed MPs; working-class MPs represented trade unions; Liberals elected became the Labour Party; however it was still only a few due to lack of salaries
  • 1911 Parliament Act - 400 salaries per year for MPs, meaning more working class and middle-class professional candidates could run
  • 1918 RPA - Labour won 57 seats and then 151 by 1924; women's enfranchisement lead to female MPs (small as only 12 had been elected by 1928)


  • The majority of MPs were still male and from wealthy backgrounds 
  • Yet many were of urban or commercial not landowners 
  • Represented a more even distribution in a geographical and demographic sense
  • There were MPs with working-class backgrounds 
  • Of the 12 females: 1 gave up her seat in protest towards Ireland; the majority were wealthy; only 2 held ministerial office; the first 3 stood where their husbands had previously been MP
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