Glad­stone and Dis­raeli tus­sle over re­form

BBC History Magazine - - Snap Elections -


The spring of 1866 again saw elec­toral re­form on the par­lia­men­tary agenda. Prime min­is­ter Earl Rus­sell and chan­cel­lor Wil­liam Glad­stone put for­ward a mod­er­ate bill, only to be de­feated by a coali­tion of back­bench Lib­er­als and Con­ser­va­tives led by the Earl of Derby and Ben­jamin Dis­raeli. Rus­sell re­signed to be re­placed by a mi­nor­ity Con­ser­va­tive gov­ern­ment.

In an op­por­tunis­tic move, Dis­raeli pushed through a far more rad­i­cal Re­form Act in the sum­mer of 1867. Based on the prin­ci­ple of house­hold suf­frage, it en­fran­chised a mil­lion new work­ing- class vot­ers. But the mi­nor­ity gov­ern­ment was de­feated on a se­ries of res­o­lu­tions on the dis­es­tab­lish­ment of the Church of Ire­land, forc­ing Dis­raeli to go to the polls.


Not ini­tially. Glad­stone was swept into of­fice with a ma­jor­ity of 116 seats – though Dis­raeli was voted back into power in 1874.

The 1868 elec­tion is of­ten seen as the be­gin­ning of a pe­riod of two-party pol­i­tics, where the Lib­er­als and Con­ser­va­tives took it in turns to form gov­ern­ments. It was also the last gen­eral elec­tion where vot­ing took place in pub­lic. The 1872 Bal­lot Act in­tro­duced vot­ing in se­cret, di­min­ish­ing the in­flu­ence of land­lords over their ten­ants, and em­ploy­ers over em­ploy­ees.

Glad­stone (right) crushed his bit­ter ri­val Dis­raeli in the 1868 elec­tion

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