History - The Impact of Parliamentary Reform (Theme 2)


Whigs and Tories

  • The Two main political parties in the unreformed Parliament (c.1780-1832) were the Whigs and Tories
  • Both were dominated by aristocrats (landowners) and were more like gentlemen's clubs than modern political parties, due largely to the small franchise
  • They dates back to the English Civil War, when 'Tories' and 'Whigs' had actually been used as terms of abuse
  • Broadly, the Whigs were more supportive of reform and more likely to question the Crown. Thye also had more links to commerce and nonconforminst religions
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Birth of the Conservative Party

  • The 1832 Reform Act posed a problem to the Tories: they had to adapt or die
  • By abolishing 145 (rotten & pocket) borough seats and by enfranchising all £10 householders in the boroughs, the Act increased the political power of the urban middle class (e.g. shopkeepers)
  • Sir Robert Peel's Tamworth Manifesto of 1834 marked a break with Old Toryism by pledging to accept the Reform Act and campaign against abuses
  • However, the manifesto also pledged to conserve established institutions
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Birth of the Liberal Party

  • In 1846 the decision of Conservative leader Sir Robert Peel (d. 18590) to repeal the Corn Laws led to a split in the Conservative Party
  • Most Conservatives were opposed to the repeal, so the Peelites (including William Gladstone) broke away
  • The remaining Conservatives now had a clear binding ideology of protectionism
  • The remaining Conservatives were ranged not only the traditional enemy, the Whigs, but also the Radicals and now the Peelites too. In 1859 these created an anti-Conservative coalition and thus the modern Liberal Party was formed
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Birth of the Labour Party

  • For most of the nineteenth century, demands for universal sufferage and social refrom had been led by (some) Radicals
  • The merger of the Radicals with the Whigs and Peelites in 1859 to form the Liberals created space to the Left
  • The Reform Act of 1867 gave the vote to the 'respectable' working class in urban areas, whilst in 1868 the Trade Union Congress (TUC) was formed
  • This combination of working-class enfranchisment, trade union organisation and space to the Left of the Liberals made the emergence of a new political party on the Left a possibility
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The Unreformed Parliament, 1780-1832

  • Both the government (the ministers) and Parliament as a whole were dominated by the landowning class
  • Over 50 constituencies had fewer than 50 voters. The large number of rotten & pocket boroughs enabled landlords to get themselves or their nominees elected
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1832 Reform Act

  • Members of the House of Lords controlled fewer parliamentary seats in the Commons due to the abolition of 145 small borough seats
  • Landlords continued to exert influence, both in the remaining70  pocket boroughs & in county elections. The £50 tenant farmers tended to vote the same way as their landlords 

  • Most Cabinet ministers and all prime ministers in the next 30 years, except for Sir Robert Peel, were members of the aristocracy

  • 75% of MPs elected in the first election after the reforms were landowners, whilst fewer than 100 came from industrial or commercial backgrounds

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1858 abolition of MPs’ property qualification

  • In the past one had to own property worth £600 to stand as a parliamentary candidate, but now one did not need to own property at all. But, lack of salaries meant that only the wealthy tended to serve as MPs

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1867 Reform Act

  • Social composition of the Commons changed little. Less than quater of those elected seven years after the reforms came from commercial or industrial backgrounds. Landowners continued to dominate Parliament, holding nearly all county seats.
  • Rural south-western seats still predominated over seats in more urban areas. The south-west despite having a third of the population. This discrepancy favoured landowners
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First Trade Union Congress (TUC) in 1868

  • Support netwrosk were established to get salaried trade union leaders into Parliament. Two such union leaders were elected 6 years later, and thirteen were elected 17 years later
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Secret Ballot Act of 1872

  • Theoretically the influence of landowners and employers in the smaller boroughs was much reduced as they could no longer intimidate the voters, but corruption still took place to landowners' and employers' advantage
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1883 Corrupt and Illegal Practices Prevention Act

  • The setting of maximum expenditure limits for candidates & the inclusion of penalties for corrupt practices made it easier for working-class & middle-class candidates to compete with the wealthiest candidates 
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The 1884-5 Reform Act

  • The reduction in the number of rural seats & the increase in the size of the county electorate severely reduced the influence of landowning patrons
  • After this reform, MPs from industrial & commercial backgrounds outnumbered landowners in the House of Commons for the first time

  • Shortly after this reform, thirteen salaried trade union officials were elected to Parliament, marking the first significant intake of working class MPs

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1911 Parliament Act

  • Introduction of saolaries for MPs meant that for the first time working class men could give up their jobs and become MPs, even if they were not salaried trade union officials
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1918 Reform Act

  • The extension of the franchise to include all men over the age of 21 facilitated the election of 57 Labour MPs, all of whom were of working class origins
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Formation of the Labour Party, c. 1900

  • Formation of the Trades Union Congress (TUC) in 1868
  • Two union leaders elected as Liberal MPs in 1874; thirteen elected as Liberal MPs in 1885
  • Establishment of the Independent Labour Party (ILP) in 1893
  • Formation of the Labour Representation Committee in 1900 (LRC)
  • Taff Vale case (1910) leads to increase in union memebership and greater Labour solidarity
  • Liberals and LRC form the 'Lib-Lab Pact' to prevent the working class vote being split (1903)
  • The newly named Labour Party (1906) has 57 MPs elected under the new franchise (1918)
  • The first even Labour government is formed under Ramsay MacDonald (1924)
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George III (1760-1820)

  • He could appoint the Prime Minister, but usually only if they had support in Parliament
  • He used patronage during the War of American Independence (1776-83), granting contracts to MPs in return for their support
  • By the end of his reign the Crown still had some influence over the appointment and decisions of the PM but had lost its freedom of action over expenditure and patronage

Prime Minister = William Pitt 'the Younger'

  • Failed in his attempt to introduce parliamentary reform in 1785, partly beause the king was opposed to it

Members of Parliament

  • In the Commons they managed to introduce 'economical reforms' in the 1780's, reducing the number of government ministers and offices linked to the king
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William IV (1830-37)

At the end of 1834 he became the last king of England to appoint a Prime Minister agaisnt the will of Parliament, when he replaced the majority of Liberal government with a Conserative one under Sir Robert Peel.

By the end of his reign the limits to the Crown's control over appointments of Prime Ministers had been clearly demonstrated, and MPs had shown their ability to pressurise the king into creating new peers in order to pass refomers.

Prime Minister = Sir Robert Peel

He was forced to resign in April 1835 because he did not have sufficient support within Parliament; the Whigs came back!

Whig MPs had pressured the king into creating more peers in May 1832, an now in 1835 they joined with the Radicals & Irish MPs (Lichfield House Compact) to ensure the defeat of the king's nominee as Prime Minister.

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Victoria (1837-1901)

She did not get on with the Liberal politician William Gladstone, so when the Liberals were elected in 1880, she made it clear that she would prefer it if Lord Hartington became Prime Minister instead. 

During Victoria's reign in 1867, political journalist Wlater Bagehot argued in his book, The English Constitution, that 'the sovereign has three rights - the right to be consulted, the right to encourage, the right to warn.'

Prime Minister = William Gladstone

However much Victoria disliked him, Gladstone was the most popular Liberal politician in the country following his Midlothian campaign of 1879-80. He refused to serve under anyone else hence why he became PM

Liberal politicians also wanted Gladstone to be PM, as he had been so before and was the best equipped man for the hob, having also serves as Chancellor of the Exchequer.

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Aristocratic Political Power, 1780-1928

Patronage of the House of Commons:

  • In the pre-Reform Parliament nearly half of MPS in the Commons owed their seats to the hereditary peers in the House of Lords
  • Many MPs were sons, brothers, cousins or friends of the peers in the House of Lords
  • However, the 1832 Reform Act showed that the Commons was willing and able to defeat the Lords over fundamental issues of reform; ultimately the Lords were forced to back down and the Reform Act was passed against their wishes
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Aristocratic Political Power, 1780-1928 (2)

Qualifications to become an MP

  • Landlords still dominated the post-Reform (post-1832) Commons: 75% of MPs elected in December 1832 were landowners. Also, in the 30 years after 1832, nearly all Cabinet ministers and all bar one prime minster (Peel) were landowners 
  • A major reason for this was that one had to own land worth £600 in order to be able to stand as a parliamentary candidate. Also, MPs were not paid a salary and so had to be self-financing.
  • However, in 1858 the property qualification for MPs was abolished. And, in 1911 salaries for MPs were introduced, further reducing landlord dominance
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Aristocratic Political Power, 1780-1928 (3)

The Voting (Electoral) System:

  • Before 1872 elections were conducted openly by show of hands. This enabled landolords to intimidate their tenants, especially in rotten & pocket boroughs
  • Before 1883, the costs of elections could only be afforded by the very wealthy
  • However, the Secret Ballot Act of 1872 made intimidation of voters more difficult, and the Corruption & Illegal Practices Prevention Act of 1883 introduced maximum expenditure limits on election campaigns, with penalties for corrupt practices.
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Aristocratic Political Power, 1780-1928 (4)

Seat Distribution & Discrepancies:

  • About 70 pocket boroughs remained even after 1832, mostly in the control of prominent landowners.
  • The rural south-west was over-represented. Even after the 1867 Reform Act, the south-west returned 45 MPs, yet the industrial north-east with three times the population had only 32 MPs. This favoured landowning candidates over industrialists.
  • However, the 1867 Reform Act took one MP from 38 small boroughs and gave them to 19 larger boroughs, whilst the 1885 Redistribution Act saw 107 small boroughs lose their seat. After 1885, MPs from commercial & industrial backgrounds outnumbered landowning MPs for the first time
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Party Organisation before 1832

  • Before 1832 political parties simply were not organised as they are today, nor by and large did they need to be
  • As the franchise was restricted to about half a million men or 5% of the population, there was no need for large-scale political organisations
  • Only around 30% of seats were contested at election time
  • Although most MPs belonged loosely to the Tories or the Whigs, amny regarded themselves as independent & voted according to induvidual conscience
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The Impact of the 1832 Reform Act

  • The 1832 Refrom Act required that all those entitled to vote should have thier names entered on an electoral register
  • This forced the Whigs & Tories to become more organised as they sought to ensure that all their supporters were registered and could therfore vote.
  • To enhance party co-ordination, the Tories founded the Carlton Club in 1832 whilst the Whigs set up the Reform Club in 1836
  • Local party agents were also appointed in the larger constituencies in order to woo the newly enfranchised £10 hourseholders
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The Impact of the 1867 Reform Act

  • By enfranchising the 'respectable' working class, the 1867 Reform Act increased the urban electorate massively
  • In Leeds the electoral increased five-fold, from 7,000 voters in 1866 to 35,000 in 1867
  • Many party political organisation were established in cities to win over new voters
  • In 1871 John Gorst established the Conservative Central Office; by 1877 the National Union of Conservative and Cinstitutional Associations had 791 local associations affiliated to it
  • For the Liberals, election defeat in 1874 led to the creation in 1877 of the National Liberal Federation
  • In Birmingham the leading Liberal Joseph Chamberlain devised a system for enlisting new members, keeping accurate lists of who they were & ensuring they voted on election day
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The Primrose League, 1884-1910

1884 - Knights = 747 | Dames = 153 | Associates = 57 | Total Members = 957

1885 - Knights = 18,583 | Dames = 9,913 | Associates = 34,567 | Total Members = 63,062

1887 - Knights = 47,234 | Dames = 36,800 | Associates = 442,214 | Total Members = 550,508

1897 - Knights = 71,563 | Dames = 60,484 | Associates = 1,224,381 | Total Members = 1,376,428

1901 - Knights = 75,260 | Dames = 64,906 | Associates = 1,416,473 | Total Members = 1,556,639

1910 - Knights = 87,235 | Dames = 80,038 | Associates = 1,885,746 | Total Members = 2,053,019

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The Impact of the 1918 Reform Act

  • The 1918 Reform Act enfranchised more people than all previous reform acts put together - trebled the size of the electorate by enfranchising 5 million men and 8 million women
  • The enfranchisement of millions of working men helped the Labour Party - its share of the vote rose from 7% to 22%
  • 57 Labour MPs were elected in 1918, all of whom were working class in origin
  • The Labour Party Replaced the Liveral Party as the main rival to the Tories, not least due to the Liberal split in 1916
  • The Labour Party was alos aided by the rise in trade union membership, from 4 million to 6 million durning World War One
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- The Primrose League was established in 1883 in order to increase grassroots support for the   party
- The National Union of Associations had 791 local associations affiliated to it by 1877
- A party Central Office was established in London in 1871 to provide guidance to a network of   local party associations
- The leader of the party in the Commons was responsible for the passing of the 1867 Reform Act
- The Tamworth Manifesto was issued in 1834 to acknowledge the Reform Act & show willingness   to correct abuses
- The Carlton Club was established in 1832 in order to increase party organisation & ensure the   registration of voters
- Protection of the rights of landowners
- Support of established institutions like the Church of England
- Stanley Baldwin
- John Gorst
- Earl of Derby

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- In the general election of December 1918 its share of the vote rose from 7% to 22%
- Made an agreement with a rival party in 1903 and thus had 29 of its candidates elected in 1906
- The introduction of salaries for MPs as part of the Parliament Act of 1911 enabled the party to     compete with its rivals
- Many of its core supporters were enfranchised in 1867, but the real boost came with the Reform    Act of 1918
- Most of its MPs were salaried trade union leaders & the party benefited from the first Trade           Union Congress (TUC) of 1868
- First emerged during the 1870-80s among small numbers of MPs in an existing party who voted     independently on certain issues
- Government intervention in the economy and redistribution of wealth
- The common ownership of the means of production, distribution and exchanged
- Manny Shinwell
- James Maxton
- Ernest Bevin

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- The party established a Women’s Federation in 1887 in order to boost grassroots support & gain   voluntary helpers
- A ‘caucus’ of tight party organisation in Birmingham during the 1870s led to electoral success in   the West Midlands in the election of 1880
 -National Federation created in 1877 to improve party organisation in response to the election   defeat of 1874
- Party formed in a new guise in 1859 through a combination of different elements joining together
- Reform Club established in London in 1836 to help ensure that all supporters were registered to   vote
- The Lichfield House Compact of 1835 saw parts of the old party unite with Irish MPs & Radicals   against the government
- Belief in free trade & minimal state interference (laissez-faire)
- Support for religious dissenters & nonconformity
- Herbert Asquith
- Lord Hartington
- Lord John  Russell

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