This essay provides the first comprehensive study of the British press's reporting of, and discussions about, the electoral reform proposals that became the Representation of the People Act 1918. It shows that, in responding enthusiastically to calls for substantial constitutional change, newspapers from across the ideological spectrum revealed a deep disillusionment with partisan politics and party machines, and imagined a re‐energised democracy that would rise to the complex tasks of post‐war reconstruction. Female voters were to have a significant role in this more inclusive political system, and even long‐standing opponents of women's suffrage chose this moment publicly to alter their position – although by repeatedly framing enfranchisement as an outcome of service to the nation, the language of democratic rights was sometimes blurred. Many newspapers also argued for proportional representation (PR) to create a fairer, less cynical and less strictly‐managed type of politics. These debates marked an important moment in the redefinition of British democracy, and they would have a lasting influence on post‐war political culture. After 1918, the press generally defended this new democracy, even if some commentators expressed anxieties that certain voters lacked the capacity or inclination properly to exercise their political responsibilities. Set against the political turbulence across Europe, and the inevitable disquiet generated by economic dislocation and mass unemployment, it is the resilience of democracy in Britain, rather than its weakness, that is notable. In these difficult times, the press played a crucial role in legitimising and stabilising the parliamentary system and celebrating a more inclusive politics.
Parliamentary History – Wiley
Published: Jan 1, 2018
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