Before the First World War, the Conservative Party feared the extension of the suffrage to all adult males, and was divided over even a limited granting of votes to women. However, the patriotic public response to the war moderated these attitudes, and by 1916 the Conservatives were in favour of giving the vote to all servicemen. Although the Conservatives were represented in the Speaker's conference which drew up proposals for electoral reform, when its report was published in January 1917, these were almost entirely opposed by the party organisation. However, the Conservatives came to accept adult male suffrage as the only practicable way of recognizing the servicemen's contribution. During the passage of the electoral reform bill, they successfully amended it in several respects and secured gains from the redistribution of constituencies. This essay assesses the Conservative response to the reform proposals and the impact of the Representation of the People Act 1918 upon the party's fortunes, organisation, and culture. During the following decade, the Conservative Party made substantial efforts to reach the female, younger, and working‐class voters. While it was reassured by electoral success, and especially support from women, there remained concerns about the nature of democracy and demands from the grass roots for a defensive restoration of powers to the house of lords. However, by 1928, giving the vote to women on equal terms of adult citizenship was seen as the inevitable completion of the new electoral system – in which the Conservatives became the most successful party.
Parliamentary History – Wiley
Published: Jan 1, 2018
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