How democratic was Britain by 1914?

Essay by jfreel01 May 2005

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How democratic was Britain by 1914?

Britain was a democracy to a certain extent by 1914.

By "a democracy" we mean that there should be several certain features present. These features consist of universal adult suffrage, equal constituencies, every adult being able to stand as a candidate, a secret ballot, regular elections, a choice of political parties and freedom of speech/press. There is a debate over when exactly Britain actually became a representative liberal democracy. This essay will show that by 1914 Britain was not yet fully a democracy, but well on its way.

One factor that helped Britain on its road towards democracy was the large extension of the franchise. The Second Reform Act in 1867 meant the electorate was marginally increased to 2.5 million and one in three males now had the vote. This was mainly the skilled working class and included householders with one years residence. The Third Reform Act in 1884 further extended the franchise to all male householders, which now increased the electorate to 5 million, two in three men in England and Wales.

"The Act left some 40% of adult males in the United Kingdom unenfranchised in 1911, clearly concentrated in the poor and younger working class". This is quoted from TC Smout taken from "A Century of the Scottish People 1830 - 1950." So although by 1914 Britain was more democratic due to the large extension of the franchise it still wasn't fully democratic due to a majority of the poor and working class still being unenfranchised. There was also the issue of women still not having the vote to be addressed.

Another step towards democracy was the equalising of constituencies. In 1867 the seats were increased in industrial areas, along with a number of constituencies being defranchised. There was also great redistribution.