In Beyond the Trenches latest Blog post, Dr Nick Mansfield looks at the profound and far reaching aspects of the Representation of the People Act, 1918, outside that of women’s right to vote.
This blog explores often overlooked aspects and consequences of the Representation of the People Act, of 1918. The centenary of this important legislation is rightly being celebrated for its effect on womens’ suffrage. However, in laying the foundations of British democracy in the twentieth century, the act had a profound influence on voting, elections and political parties. Male working-class householders had been included in the franchise from 1884, but younger men, especially those living at home, rarely qualified. Even if they were paying rent as lodgers, most young single men, unless interested in politics, rarely bothered to register. These same young men were those most likely to volunteer for the forces between 1914 and 1916. Many, perhaps most, of those who fought did not have the vote. This point was capitalised on later by the anti-war movement after the introduction of conscription in 1916. In addition, as no women had the vote, females who served in the forces or staffed the munitions factories were likewise excluded from the electoral process.