The inequalities of Victorian society made it virtually certain that political power would be monopolised by a privileged group. At the beginning of the century the background and careers of the leading politicians varied very little. Wealth, derived from the possession of land or inherited as a result of business enterprise, a public school and a university education, followed almost immediately by entry into the House of Commons, these were the badges and the basis of success. By the end of the century the pattern had changed hardly at all. There were a few exceptions. Measured by conventional standards Disraeli was never quite a gentleman, though he was constantly harping on the importance of being one. At ministerial level W. H. Smith and Bright were even odder fish to swim in so select a pool. But these deviations merely confirmed the norm. The widening of the franchise in 1832 and 1867 had made no appreciable difference to the composition of Cabinets and very little to the membership of the House of Commons itself. The self-made man who occasionally established himself in politics was much more likely to be engulfed, like a stone thrown into the sea, than to produce any waves on his own.
KeywordsFree Trade Close Integration Social Reform Liberal Party Conservative Party
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