The Great Reform Act
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the Great Reform Act of 1832. The Act redrew the map of British politics in the wake of the Industrial Revolution and is a landmark in British political history.“We must get the suffrage, we must get votes, that we may send the men to Parliament who will do our work for us; …and we must have the country divided so that the little kings of the counties can't do as they like, but must be shaken up in one bag with us.” So declares a working class reformist in George Eliot’s novel Felix Holt: the Radical. It is set in 1832, the year of the so-called “Great Reform Act” which extended the vote and gave industrial cities such as Manchester and Birmingham political representation for the first time. But to what extent was Britain’s political system transformed by the Great Reform Act? What were the causes of reform in the first place and was the Act designed to encourage democracy in Britain or to head it off?