Today is election day, when anyone who is entitled (and has registered) to vote can help choose the composition of the House of Commons for the next parliament. Taken for granted by many, we only have to look back to 1780 to find a time when less than 3% of those living in Britain had the right to vote.
Oliver Cromwell imprisoned those who had called for democracy after the deposition of Charles I, fearing the people was incapable of choosing a proper government. Perhaps he feared they would be swayed by hollow electoral promises, ill informed and lead to a country led by the popularity of its leaders rather than the integrity of their policies. This only changed when discontent in the existing system, the rising power of the middle classes in Britain, and the terrifying example of the French Revolution led to three electoral reform acts in the 19th century that opened voting up to men across the country. It was only in 1918 that women were allowed to vote, and even then a woman had to be at least 30 years of age, while men could vote from age 21.
Rights hard fought for – yet more than 1/3 of the population who could have voted did not in the last general election. One thing that is certain is that the ballot box is and has always been the surest defence against tyranny, and the informed citizen would be well advised to exercise it.
Read more about UK voting history from the National Archives.
Photo by H2Woah!