Wednesday, 19 May 2010

Just how radical was 1832 anyway?

I was interested to read Nick Clegg's assertion that his package of government reform was the most radical since Lord Grey's 1832 Reform Act. Paddy Ashdown made the same claim when speaking to students at KGV college in Southport during the general election.

The 1832 Reform Act certainly did away with some obvious and indefensible aspects of the franchise.  The rotten boroughs like Old Sarum which had hardly any electors were abolished and new townships that had no MPs were enfranchised.

Nevertheless lots of people lost the vote. All those who lived in potwalloper boroughs had pretty well universal male suffrage. Anyone who had a hearth on which they could boil a pot could vote. This borough wide franchise existed in Preston up until 1832 and all  those who lost the vote then didn't get it back until 1883. I seem to recall that overall there was an increase in the number of voters but  a uniform property qualification  took away the vote from those who didn't pay an annual rent of £50 or were freeholders.

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