IN the year 1830, when the Whigs introduced the Reform Bill, the right to vote was possessed by about one citizen in a hundred, but the qualifications varied from area to area; bribery of individuals and corporations took place, and seats were bought and sold; voting was public, so that the effect of bribery and pressure could be noted, and certain areas were respectively under- and over-represented. The worst scandals had been, at one end of the scale, Old Sarum, with two members, one absentee voter, and no inhabitants, and, at the other, Manchester, with no members and a hundred thousand inhabitants. However, some of the worst "rotten boroughs" had been disfranchised already, and the House of Commons was not altogether unrepresentative, nor altogether neglectful of its duty, for it voted its own reform.
The Bill was forced through both Houses after two years of agitation by the firmness of Lord Grey and Lord Durham, the probability of revolution, and the promise of the new King, William IV., to override the House of Lords. It gave the vote principally to heads of families occupying houses rented at 10 a year, a fairly large sum then-in other words, the richer five per cent. of the population. Some redistribution of seats took place, though the constituencies still varied greatly in size.
The working class soon realised that the mills of the reforming Whigs were going to grind exceeding slow, and they began agitation, backed by threats of rebellion, for the People's Charter-six further reforms which would have given much the same conditions as were established after 1910, with the additional concessions of annual parliaments. These demands met with strong resistance among the middle and upper classes, and the Chartist movement was ruthlessly repressed by the Government of the day.
After 1848 agitation died out. Public voting, intimidation, and bribery in cash or kind remained customary until about the time of the Second Reform Act of 1867. This Act, passed by the Conservatives, enfranchised large numbers of town working men. A Liberal Act of 1884 gave the vote to country labourers, and an Act of 1918, the result of bitter agitation between 1906 and 1914, gave it to women over thirty. The Parliament Act of 1911 took away the power which the House of Lords had enjoyed and, on the whole, abused, of killing or mutilating Bills sent up by the Commons. It retained after 1911 the power of suspending other Bills for two years, but was denied this right of delay in the case of Money Bills.
During the century the business of Parliament grew much greater and more technical, hours of work lengthened inordinately, party machinery, previously slight, became elaborate and exacting, and the status of the private member declined. The authority and prestige of the Prime Minister grew greater. Probably the period of Parliament's greatest prestige was between 1832 and 1867, when the cautious Victorian householder elected a House of Commons still, as it had been for centuries, mainly aristocratic or plutocratic and usually Whig. After 1867, the " swing of the pendulum " was visible, the two parties getting majorities in turn for roughly equal periods. The Conservative ministries, for example, of 1895-1905 were followed by a series of Liberal governments which would possibly have ended in 1915. This is generally ascribed to the whims of voters, who saw no difference between the parties, and grew dissatisfied with each. Each party in turn after 1867 felt that it must justify its existence by new departures in policy, and always estranged certain vested interests or lost credit over some entanglement,