Chapter 5 – Section 1 : The development of British democracy



Democracy is a system of government where the whole adult population gets a say. This might be by direct voting or by choosing representatives to make decisions on their behalf.

At the turn of the 19th century, Britain was not a democracy as we know it today. Although there were elections to select members of Parliament (MPs), only a small group of people could vote. They were men who were over 21 years of age and who owned a certain amount of property.

The franchise (that is, the number of people who had the right to vote) grew over the course of the 19th century and political parties began to involve ordinary men and women as members.

In the 1830s and 1840s, a group called the Chartists campaigned for reform. They wanted six changes:

·         for every man to have the vote

·         elections every year

·         for all regions to be equal in the electoral system

·         secret ballots

·         for any man to be able to stand as an MP

·         for MPs to be paid.

At the time, the campaign was generally seen as a failure. However, by 1918 most of these reforms had been adopted. The voting franchise was also extended to women over 30, and then in 1928 to men and women over 21. In 1969, the voting age was reduced to 18 for men and women.


‘Life in the United Kingdom – A Guide for New Residents’ is Crown Copyright and is reproduced with the permission of Office of Public Sector Information.

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