Gladstone and Disraeli tussle over reform
WHY WAS IT CALLED?
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.
DID THE GAMBLE PAY OFF?
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