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Политическая обстановка и социально-экономическ...docx
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The strength of the British system of Government has been its ability to stifle any danger of revolution through reform. During the 19th century Britain’s government was the model most Liberals throughout Europe sought to copy.

It was a constitutional monarchy where the power of the Monarch was greatly restricted by Parliament (the House of Lords and the House of Commons). As the 19th century progressed, this system developed into one of the most democratic in Europe. The politics of the country was dominated by two parties the Conservatives (Tories) and the Liberals (Whigs).

By 1870 it was the most industrialised and the most powerful country in the world. It possessed the world’s largest Empire protected by a very formidable navy. Imperialism was popular and during this period Britain added to her colonial possessions. They included India (the jewel in the crown), South Africa, Canada, Australia, Malaya (now Malaysia), Egypt, Nigeria, and Rhodesia and covered one-sixth of the Earth’s land surface.

However the Industrial revolution had created severe social problems, as Britain became the world’s most urbanised country. Over half of her population lived in cities. The social problems were to be found especially in the area of housing, education and health care.

The major measures of reform can be grouped into four categories:

  • Parliamentary reform

  • Worker’s Rights

  • Education

  • Social Welfare

Parliamentary Reforms

A series of acts had gradually extended the franchise in England during this period. These were passed by both parties and helped to strengthen support for the political system in Britain.

  • The 1832 Reform Act had given the vote to the middle classes.

  • The 1867 Reform Act gave the vote to every male adult householder living in the towns. Male lodgers paying £10 were also granted the vote. The Act gave the vote to about 1,500,000 men. In effect the Act had given the vote to the working classes in the towns. Several industrial towns that were previously unrepresented were given MPs. A Conservative government led by Benjamin Disraeli had introduced this measure with the support of the Liberals.

  • The 1872 Secret Ballot Act made voting secret and greatly reduced the power of Landlords in determining the outcome of elections.

  • The 1884 Reform Act gave the vote to the poor farmers and labourers in the countryside and greatly reorganised electoral areas to reflect the move in population from the countryside to the larger towns. This act tripled the electorate and established the principle of “one man, one vote” (males over 25).

  • Another major item of parliamentary reform was the Parliament Act of 1911. It ended the veto of the House of Lords and only allowed it to delay bills for two years. MPs were also paid for the first time under this Act.

The Suffragettes

The major issue left untouched was that of votes for women. In 1903 the Women’s Social and Political Union was founded by Emmeline Pankhurst and her two daughters to demand the vote for women.

Until 1914, when the First World War broke out, they campaigned energetically, and sometimes violently, to achieve this aim. In 1906 the Daily Mail first referred to members of the WSPU as 'suffragettes'. This name became widely used by both supporters and opponents of the campaign.

Suffragettes were responsible for breaking the windows of 10 Downing Street, burning buildings and damaging paintings in public galleries. They were often prepared to go to prison for their cause or even put their own lives in danger.

While in prison they went on hunger strike. The government often force fed the women prisoners. The so-called Cat and Mouse Act was passed by the government in an attempt to prevent suffragettes from obtaining public sympathy - it provided for releasing those whose condition got too serious then re-imprisoning them when they had recovered.

In 1913 the suffragette Emily Davison tried to stop the Derby horserace by running onto the track just as the horses came round Tattenham Corner. In many texts, you will read that she 'threw herself under King George V's horse' — which is simply not true. She died from her injuries.

When World War One broke out many women took jobs normally undertaken by men. The huge numbers of men needed to fight the war resulted in women being employed as gas workers, coal heavers, transport workers and ambulance drivers.

When the war ended, the tremendous war effort of these female workers was rewarded by the introduction of a bill that allowed women over 30 years to vote in parliamentary elections.

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