Why did the Tories pass the Reform Bill in 1867?

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Why did the Tories pass the Reform Bill in 1867?

The 1867 Reform Act was the second major attempt to reform Britain’s electoral process – the first being the 1832 Reform Act. There had been moves towards electoral reform in the early 1860’s via Lord John Russell. However, his attempts were thwarted by Britain’s most powerful politician of the time and Prime Minister – Lord Palmerston, who was against any form of change. The death of Palmerston in 1865 led to Russell becoming Prime Minister and the main obstacle in electoral reform being removed. Shortly after, William Gladstone; a leading politician in the Liberal party stated in a speech to his constituency, that the death of the Prime Minister had led to his party being ‘unmuzzled’. Russell wanted to give the vote to “respectable working men” but would have excluded unskilled workers and the poor. To this ends, the middle class would still have had the major clout in an election.

There were those who favoured his bill as the right move ahead. However, naturally the Conservative Party opposed the Bill. Right-wing Liberals, led by Robert Lowe, also opposed it. Lowe feared the Bill would lead eventually to democracy, which he was entirely against. Following his lead, thirty right-wing Liberals joined the Conservatives to defeat the Bill. This group were called Adullamites by their Liberal opponents, in particular John Bright.

The result of the defeat was the resignation of Lord John Russell’s Liberal government. It was replaced by a minority Conservative government, led by Lord Derby, with Disraeli as the Conservative leader in the House of Commons. Disraeli was concerned that the Conservative Party; having been out of office for twenty years, might be seen as a party that did not favour reform. He feared that the accolade that would be associated with reform might go to the Conservatives. If the Liberal Party introduced reform, they would get the credit for it; therefore it can be argued that Disraeli was not a genuine supporter of reform and that the reform bill was pushed through as a cynical, opportunist act to gain a political advantage over the Liberals. At the time it was stated that Conservatives  “were stealing the Liberal’s clothes”.

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        The scepticism surrounding Disraeli’s motives is valid, as despite being a powerful figure in the Conservative Party, Disraeli did not have the trust of his party. Many Tories saw him as disloyal and hungry for power; a reputation he gained from events such as his betrayal of Peel and his deviations in his policies and beliefs. Consequently, Disraeli sought to pass the bill in order to prove himself capable of leading the Conservatives.

        In an effort to out-Gladstone and gain the support of the left-wing radicals, the Conservatives introduced a bill that was more far-reaching that many politicians had expected. ...

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