The Essay: Reasons for the Growth of British democracy

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David Lloyd George and Winston ChurchillThe New Liberals – in 1910. Can Lloyd George be credited with bringing greater democracy to Britain following his resistance to the un-elected House of Lords?

Herbert Henry Asquith was one of the main critics of Universal Suffrage and did not believe women were entitled to vote when he was PM. He often antagonised the Suffragettes with his political views – this resulted in him (and his car) being attacked. The attacks by the Suffragettes only strengthened his feelings that women were not yet ready to vote, if they were to act in such a manner.

However, all this changed with the role taken on by women during WW1 – their contribution to society and the economy changed his mind. Asquith believed that by 1918 women had earned the right to vote and the franchise should be extended to include women.


Another important point worth considering - The Secret Ballot Act was introduced due to the pressure from the Reformist John Bright from within the cabinet. He believed that the increased working class electorate would use their political voice to promote social reforms – but only if they could vote in secret and were free from retaliation by their bosses or landlords.

During his premiership, Asquith was firmly opposed to the extension of the franchise to include women. He claimed too many women were ‘ignorant of politics.

However, Asquith lent his support for women in recognition of their efforts during WW1.

Again, there is a lot of information to digest…however you must be familiar with the content. Please remember that your teacher’s don’t need narrative and descriptive accounts – we want you to argue and make the point that changing political views/ideologies played an important role in the growth of democracy.


It would make sense for this paragraph to follow the last (changing political ideology) – we know there is some truth that changes in the way politicians viewed the political system helped transform British democracy. However, as most of you will be aware, the world of politics can be a murky one and there is also evidence to suggest that reform was introduced to gain political advantage.

In 1867 the Second Reform Act made changes such as the alteration of the voting qualifications, the reorganisation of the constituencies and the redistribution of which areas could elect Members of Parliament. Those reforms took Britain further along the road to democracy. Why did this happen? Why did a Conservative government pass a reform act in 1867 when it had opposed the Liberal’s own reform act (championed by Gladstone) only one year earlier? William Gladstone and Benjamin Disraeli will forever be remembered as two political heavyweights and are symbolic in the history of their respective parties. However, it is common knowledge that Gladstone and Disraeli detested one another. The information you are about to read will explain why.

Lord Palmerston was Liberal Prime Minister from 1859-65. When Gladstone first joined Palmerston's government in 1859, he opposed further electoral reform, but he changed his position during this time and by 1865 he was firmly in favour of enfranchising the working classes in towns – this created friction with Palmerston. In May 1864 Gladstone said that he saw no reason in principle why all mentally able men could not be enfranchised, but admitted that this would only come about once the working-classes themselves showed more interest in the subject.

Gladstone lost his Oxford seat in the 1865 General Election (July) due to his support for electoral reform (many Southern constituents were against it) but stood as an MP for South Lancashire one month later and one again resumed his place in the House of Commons. Palmerston died in October 1865 and this left Gladstone as the second most senior Liberal in the House of Commons, Lord Russell assumed the role of PM. Russell and Gladstone tried to pass a reform bill in parliament yet it did failed to even gain the full support of his own party as men like Robert Lowe criticised the bill and refused to vote in favour. Disraeli was merciless as he and other leading Conservatives picked apart the bill in the Commons and led a series of attacks Gladstone. The Liberal government resigned over the issue in June 1866, the party was in disarray and Disraeli had helped destroy the bill.

A cartoon from ‘Punch’ Magazine – Disraeli and Gladstone ‘slinging mud’ at one another. Heated exchanges were a regular fixture between both men in the House of Commons during the 1860s. Disraeli and Gladstone clashed over reform.

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