Widening the franchise and suffrage debates

Current Suffrage Rules

People who are excluded from voting in the UK must be:

  • Under 18
  • Non-EU citizens
  • Members of the House of Lords
  • Prisoners
  • Those convicted of corrupt or illegal electoral practices are banned for 5 years
  • People who are compulsorily detained in a psychiatric hospital
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Milestones in the widening of the franchise

  • Middle ages-19th Century - Only middle-class men who owned property could vote. Women were excluded from voting. The distribution of parliamentary seats did not match the population and economic growth. This meant only around 400,000 men could vote by the early 19th century.
  • Reform Act 1832 - This got rid of sparsely populated rotten boroughs and created urban seats for places like Manchester. Expanded the franchise to include tenant farmers and lesser property owners. Created a standard qualification for the franchise in boroughs so now all householders living in properties who pad a yearly rent of £10 or more. This upped the electoral register to about 650,000
  • After this, the vote was extended in small steps, this was done to avoid large-scale revolution, despite this property remained an important factor in who could vote and rights of citizens. Although class, gender, and age remained obstacles to voting ethnicity was never actually specified as a barrier to voting.
  • 1867 - Borough Households enfranchised which raises the electorate to 1-2 million
  • 1884 - rural households enfranchised, raises electorate to about 25% of the adult population (5 million)
  • 1918 - all men over 21 and omen over 30 enfranchised, raises electorate to 75% of the adult population
  • 1928 - both men and women over 21, full adult suffrage
  • 1948 - end of plural voting, one person one vote
  • 1969 - voting age reduced to 18
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Suffragettes and Suffragists

  • Before the 19th Century, the idea that women were not allowed to vote was not challenged it was assumed that women were simply not mentally stable enough to make the right decision.
  • In 1897 the NUWSS was created under the leadership of Millicent Fawcett, the suffragists were usually middle-class women that used non-violent methods of protest and persuasion like marches, petitions and lobbying MP's. By the turn of the century, there was evidence of changing opinion. This did not satisfy more radical protestors and so Emiliene Pankhurst and her daughter formed the Women's Social and Political Union (WSPU), dubbed 'suffragettes' by the press this union attracted middle and working class women prepared to use more militant tactics to change opinion and attract attention to the cause. These tactics were things like blowing up postboxes, changing them serves to the Westminster palace railings and Emily Davidson's act of throwing herself under the king's horse in 1913.
  • The suffragettes did attract a lot of support as well as a lot of hostility against them, many were imprisoned, while inside many refused to eat leading to cases of force-feeding. The campaign continued like this until the break out of the first world war where many took jobs usually reserved for men etc.
  • Eventually, in 1918 the Representation of the People Act was passed allowing all women over 30 to vote, this act was mainly passed to allow for w/c men who had returned from war to vote as many were not householders.
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