Which changes in the franchise and electoral methods in the period 1868 and 1992 did most to make Britain more democratic? There are many countries that claim to democratic, and the United Kingdom is one of these. We elect our government, which is the key feature of a representative democracy; however this is not necessarily enough to make our country a democracy. Other features of a representative democracy are: – a choice of political parties, free and fair elections and civil and political rights.
Britain has all of these features, but to different degrees. Since 1868 many changes have been made to the British franchise and electoral methods, which have created a more democratic country for British citizens, the most important of these changes will be explored in this essay. One very important aspect of democracy is fair elections; in Britain up until 1872 there was much patronage as votes were held in public. Gladstone was Liberal Prime Minister from 1868-1874 and he was responsible for a major series of reforms.
One of these reforms was the 1872 Ballot Act, this act introduced the secret ballot, which meant that people could vote in secret without being intimidated or threatened into voting for a certain party. Gladstone continued his reform of the electoral system with the Corrupt Practices Act in 1884; this made bribery, treatment and personation at elections criminal offences. Thereby for 1884 onwards it can be said Britain was more democratic because people were able to vote for the party they felt were best able to represent them and their views, and nobody could be coerced or forced to vote for any particular party.
In a democracy every electorates vote should be worth the same amount. However in Britain after 1800, different voters had different voting-power. The constituencies were different sizes, some were 'rotten boroughs' with very few people in them, and the fewer the number of people in a constituency the more power each vote in that constituency had. In 1885 the Redistribution of Seats Act was passed, this redistributed the constituencies fairly, making the power of each vote, in theory, equal.
For a election to be fair people should also have the same number of votes, as if some people have two votes this is the equivalent of having twice the voting power of other people. But in Britain, up until 1948, people who had houses or businesses in more than one seat had more than one vote; plural voting. Changing this system of plural voting and creating equal constituencies helped to make Britain more democratic because it created fairer elections, where every member of society has an equal power to elect the government.
Democracy is when the majority of people in a country have the power to have some say in how the country is run and in the decisions that are made. It is also important I a democracy that the restrictions on voting are equal for everybody. In the first half of the 19th Century only upper-class and middle-class med were allowed to vote. This was not a democratic system as no more than about 7% of adults could vote, leaving the majority of the British population without any power or say in the running of their country.
In 1884 Gladstone introduced the 3rd Reform Act, which changed the franchise so that most working class men over the age of 21 could vote. However as women could still not vote this change merely increased the number of adults that could vote to 28%; still not a majority. The franchise changed again in 1918 under the Representation of the People Act; all working class men were given the vote and, for the first time in the United Kingdom, women were given the vote.
Women over 30 years of age could vote however there were stricter regulations on them than men, meaning it was only upper-class and middle-class women that were able to take part in elections. This change meant that for the first time in British history a majority of adults could vote (74%), however Britain could still be still be viewed as being undemocratic in 1918 because the franchise was not equal for all of the population or for men and women.
So when in 1928 the franchise was again modified so that almost everyone over 21 could vote, and women became equal to men in voting rights. The Acts of 1884, 1918 and 1928 were all important changes in the franchise because they were all vital steps towards British democracy. Changes in electoral methods and franchise since 1868 have helped to make Britain more democratic. Britain can now say that it's franchise is completely democratic; equal opportunities for all.
However the although the electoral methods have been improved since 1868 they are still not the completely democratic, as Britain still retains the 'first-past-the-post' electoral system which means that a party can gain power without 50% of the votes. Thus said though Britain is one of the fairest and most democratic countries in the world and this is largely due to the changes mentioned in this essay.