British Working Class Politics, 1832-1914

British Working Class Politics, 1832-1914

British Working Class Politics, 1832-1914

British Working Class Politics, 1832-1914

Excerpt

Five Reform Acts--The Growth of the Electorate--Class-Structure and Economic Development

IN the course of a century, between 1832 and 1928, five Reform Acts entirely transformed the basis of political representation in Great Britain. Up to 1832 the vote was, at any rate in the town constituencies, a privilege rather than a right. The urban franchise had no uniform basis: in a few towns the vote was widely distributed, to all householders paying 'scot and lot'--roughly the equivalent of local rates--whereas in the great majority of towns the number of voters was small. Often the right was confined to the members of the municipal corporation--a body renewing itself by co-option, and excluding Dissenters. In many places there was a voting body of non-resident 'freemen', created by the corporation often for the purpose of ensuring a safe majority for candidates of the right colour. In not a few 'towns' which returned members to Parliament, the 'town' itself was a fiction, having fallen entirely into decay; so that the vote was attached to a few cottages, or even to a single cottage kept in existence solely for the purpose of maintaining the parliamentary privilege. Of this class were many of the 'rotten boroughs', completely owned by a single great landlord or by a 'boroughmonger' who had bought up the place in order to be able to sell a seat in Parliament to the highest bidder. Readers of Thomas Love Peacock's novels will remember how, in Melincourt , he describes the borough of Onevote, situated close to the populous city of Novote, and how its solitary elector, Mr. Christopher Corporate, performed the ceremony of electing to the House of Commons two members--one of whom, in Peacock's story . . .

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