Riots to votes
In the current lead up to a General Election it is worth remembering that the protesters at Cinderloo had no other means of making their grievances known than to demonstrate because they had no right to vote. Now if we, ordinary working people like them, see that the party or MP in power is not serving our interests we are able to vote for someone else who we believe will. For the Cinderloo demonstrators, the system was not simply rigged against them, it didn’t even acknowledge them and it was not until 1918 for men and 1928 for women that working people were allowed to vote.
Before 1832 less than 3% of the population of Britain could vote at all, either for parliament or for any other form of authority. No women at all had the right to vote and of the men who could, they qualified in accordance with the amount of property they owned. Where the property was also affected the selection of MPs. ‘Rotten Boroughs’ were the norm. If a landowner owned a once thriving borough which had shrunk to a handful of residents he was able to nominate and return one and sometimes two tame MPs by bribing or threatening his few tenants who were eligible to vote. In 1831, out of 406 elected members, 152 were chosen by fewer than 100 voters each, and 88 by fewer than fifty voters Large industrial towns like Manchester, which had expanded massively from a small settlement to a major industrial centre had no MPs, but Dunwich in Suffolk, with a population of 32 had
Such was the arrogance and indifference of those in power it was virtually impossible for working people to seek redress other than to demonstrate. Demonstrations could rapidly turn violent for two major reasons; the demonstrators were at the end of their tether, often literally starving and all other appeals had been ignored, and/or; the reaction of the authorities was harsh, both at the event or subsequently due to disproportionate punishments. Many working people died. Peterloo and Cinderloo are examples, but there were many more throughout the country.
The great landowning aristocracy and the rich and powerful had become very fearful of the ‘masses’ around the time of Cinderloo. Reverberations of the French Revolution and the overthrow of the elite there could still be felt in Britain, consequently their reaction to unrest was savage repression. Revolutionary ideas were spreading. Thomas Paine’s ‘The Rights of Man’ became arguably the first blockbuster, selling a million copies. In it he defended the values of the Revolution and explored the idea that government based on true justice should support not only mankind’s natural rights; life, liberty, free speech, freedom of conscience, but also it’s civil rights of security and protection for all rather than the few in control.
The first Reform Act of 1832 extended voting rights to males who rented land of a certain value, disenfranchised all of the rotten boroughs and created 67 new constituencies, but it did nothing for working people, 40% of adult males and 0% of women in Britain still did not have the vote.
During the First World War the ‘Representation of the People Act’ was passed and enacted in 1918, it enabled all men over the age of 21 to vote and eradicated the previous property restrictions. At the same time women were granted the vote, but only if they were over 30 and met a property qualification, were wives of householders or university graduates. Image: Not Under 30. That left 60% of women, all working class women, without the vote. A fact that is often ignored is that the suffragettes campaign was for votes only for women who were in the same league as their male voting counterparts. Universal suffrage was finally achieved through the Equal Franchise Act of 1928, when all women over 21, irrespective of their social or economic status were able to vote, increasing the female electoral number to 15 million. In 1969 the voting age was further lowered for everyone from 21 to 18.
We must remember, acknowledge and respect the Tom Palins in our history. From Cinderloo and no representation to universal suffrage as our everyday right there has been a long and hard struggle from riots to votes.
Use your vote wisely and with respect for those that fought for it with their lives