In the final part of a series examining the political impact of the Georgian era, Amanda Foreman looks at politics on the ground as she considers the structures of British life that created both control and freedom. She asks why Britain experienced political evolution, not revolution.
In 1832 the British political elite voluntarily chose to weaken its own power for the first and only time in history. This was the result of the Reform Act, which added 130 new seats to Parliament and almost doubled the number of people able to vote in general elections.
While riot and rebellion was rife and often met with violent backlash from those in power, Amanda argues that the Georgian elites placed emphasis on freedom through a strengthening of the apparatus of control in politics and the law and that ordinary people could exercise political influence even without the vote.
Meeting radicals in Newcastle and evangelical conservatives in the Mendip hills, Amanda examines how the ordinary disenfranchised man and woman increasingly invested in politics and civic life through a combination of local-level political interaction, seemingly non-political actions such as philanthropy, and direct rebellion - thereby avoiding heads on sticks and, instead, transforming how the elected related to the people.
The series examines the formative years of British politics when the most important structures of British life we value and recognise today were established - and all in the shadow of revolution. It paints a picture of the Georgian legacy, one where decadence and scandal takes a backseat to proto-democracy and social reform.
Producer: Katherine Godfrey
A Whistledown production for Radio 4.
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