Reform era

Parliament and Politics since the 1832 Reform Act

The impact of the 1832 Reform Act was in the long term very great, although many were very frustrated in its immediate aftermath that it was not greater. In some ways it and its successor reforms of 1867 and 1885 saw the continuation of trends which were already apparent, such as the tendency for Members to direct their remarks as much to the provincial press and their own electors as to their parliamentary colleagues, the increasing pressure on the time of the House, particularly from campaigns promoted through mass petitions and the inexorable growth in ministerial control of the time of the House. It was only after the third Reform Act of 1884, that it led to the sort of dominance of the House of Commons by party voting that is known today.

Although the successive acts reforming representation of 1832, 1867, 1884 and 1918 produced a progressive widening of the electorate, straightforward democracy was relatively late in coming, with the United Kingdom only able to claim universal adult suffrage from 1928 after the equalisation of the voting ages for men and women. Other Victorian reforms included the secret ballot in 1872 and the introduction of a set of rules on the conduct of elections - the 1883 Corrupt Practices Act - that form the basis of the modern electoral law. It was only after a long campaign, and very reluctantly, that the principle of the payment of MPs was accepted by the Liberal government, and finally given practical effect in 1911 - finally making it possible for working-class men (and eventually women) to enter Parliament without the financial backing of individuals or organisations.

The most obvious transformation in Parliament was a physical one. The destruction of most of the Palace of Westminster by fire in 1834, and the construction of a new, purpose-built set of parliamentary buildings designed by Sir Charles Barry with interiors by Augustus Pugin, resulted in a monument to the Victorian constitution, its long history and political and religious values celebrated in the works commissioned to decorate it inside and outside.