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1832 The Great Reform Act

In the early 19th century, only a small number of men could vote for MPs in elections, which were often corrupt. In response to popular pressure for reform, in 1832 Earl Grey's Whig government passed the Great Reform Act. It extended the right to vote and redistributed parliamentary seats to industrial towns such as Manchester and Birmingham. ‘Rotten boroughs' such as Old Sarum, with a handful of electors, no longer sent MPs to Parliament.

Popular pressure led to more reforms by both Liberal and Conservative Governments. The franchise was increased by two further reform Acts – Disraeli's Reform Act of 1867 roughly doubled the electorate in England and Wales from one million to two million men, and the third Reform Act meant that after 1884 60% of men could vote. Secret ballots were introduced in 1872 to prevent intimidation of voters, and in 1883 rules were put in place to prevent bribery. Restrictions on becoming an MP were lifted: from 1858, MPs did not need to own property, and pay was introduced in 1911. In 1918, all men over 21 had the right to vote and, for the first time, some women. In 1928, men and women were treated in the same way, and in 1969 the voting age was reduced to 18, forming the democracy we live in today.