To what extent was the growth of democracy in Britain after 1860 due to social and economic change?
As the historian, Wright, stated, “Parliamentary reform was largely a reflection of changes in the economic and social structure of the economy.” Certainly, by the late 19th century Britain had experienced widespread industrialisation and urbanisation, which was still increasing. These widespread economic changes had implications for the social structure and its government. The formation of a large, educated working class meant that government had to consider their needs, or risk political unrest. This was certainly highlighted by the formation of certain pressure groups. Women’s roles were changing, albeit slowly, and urbanisation was throwing up particular problems which needed to be addressed. However, it could be considered that there were other impetuses for parliamentary reform, including the change in political ideology and attitudes, partly influenced by political change abroad, and the political advantage that the two main political parties could realise by introducing reform. The influence of organised pressure groups should also be taken into consideration.
First part: social & economic change
Larger middle class (wealth creators) wanted a say in running the country
Greater literacy increased working class knowledge and politicisation
Liberals had more to gain from anti-corruption acts – Conservative candidates most likely to benefit from non-secret ballots, and unlimited spending on campaigns; 1885 Redistribution – Liberals more likely to benefit from new, urban constituencies
Popular pressure –
Campaigns by Reform League and Reform Union in 1866 -67 – large demonstrations
Reform more acceptable than revolution - alarm at Hyde Park riots 1866; Plug plots