Lloyd George’s Post-War Coalition, 1918–22
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The First World War had also brought with it great political changes, of which four stand out as especially notable. The first and most important was that the basis of the franchise and the electoral system was altered very considerably by the Representation of the People Act 1918, passed in June of that year while the war was still raging. Its origins were to be found during the war, in a concerted drive launched in 1916 to enfranchise all soldiers. The debate on the bill led to a continuous enlargement of its provisions, so that the final act went well beyond any franchise bill which would have been acceptable to a Conservative-dominated government prior to 1914. Its most famous provision, of course, was the enfranchisement of every woman over 30 years of age, provided that she or her husband was a qualified voter on the local franchise. Despite this provision’s limitations, at a stroke over eight million women became voters. The Act also had almost equally far-reaching effects upon male voters. All men over 21 (apart from prisoners, peers of the realm, and lunatics) now received the vote after living for six months in a constituency. Soldiers received the vote at 19, although, in a display of wartime spite, conscientious objectors were disenfranchised for five years. The 1918 Act added far more voters to the electorate than any of the previous Reform Acts. In 1910, the British electorate comprised 7710000 voters, about 28 per cent of the 26.1 million adults in Britain (and 58 per cent of adult males). In 1919, the electorate had nearly tripled, to 21756000, or 78 per cent of the adult population of 27.4 million. None of the nineteenth-century Reform Acts had added even a remotely similar number of new voters.
KeywordsPrime Minister Trade Union Labour Party Liberal Party Conscientious Objector
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