It’s Exam Season!

If you were marking examination papers on nineteenth century British political history, what mark would you give someone who described the 1832 Reform Act in these terms?

[It was] landmark legislation, from politicians who refused to sit back and do nothing while huge swathes of the population remained helpless against vested interests, who stood up for the freedom of the many, not the privilege of the few.

And what comment might you be tempted to write in the margin?

9 thoughts on “It’s Exam Season!”

  1. Low 30s.

    1. The post-1832 electorate still represented a smaller proportion of the adult male pop. than had had the vote in 1714.
    2. It essentially enfranchised more rich men, thereby ensuring that ‘vested interests’ such as wealthy capitalists in industrial boroughs were adequately represented. It simultaneously disenfranchised many working-class males.
    3. It got rid of the more democratic ‘Scot and Lot’ franchise that operated in 37 English boroughs.
    4. It, for the first time, explicitly excluded women from voting.

    That said, John Cam Hobhouse’s comment that reform was a ‘mere trick of state for the preservation of power’ seems an apt analogy to draw between 1832 and 2010.

  2. (For those unfamiliar with contemporary British university marking conventions, a pass mark is generally around 40, with marks in the 40s being Third Class, in the 50s being Lower Seconds, in the 60s being Upper Seconds, and over 70 being Firsts.)

  3. Surely Cleggie has confused the 1832 Reform Act with the 1969 Representation of the People Act which lowered the voting age to 18? An easy mistake, I’ll admit.

    He always looked a lot older when he was in Last Of the Summer Wine… it’s amazing what a little make-up does.

  4. I have to confess that, although I have subsequently read both MEWC and Sybil, the last time I actually studied this period was at school – and on interrogation my memory of O Level History refuses to supply anything between the Old Pretender and Agadir. So how’s the betting running these days – 1832 considered harmful? 1867 not much of a great leap forward after all? Point me at something reliable.

  5. That’s not the worst howler. The section just before “1832, when the Great Reform Act redrew the boundaries of British democracy, for the first time extending the franchise beyond the landed classes” is the one where you reach for his academic advisor’s number and see if he’d suffered recent head trauma. Someone should send the man a biography of Bradlaugh or even Wilkes.

  6. At whatever they call O’level these days I’d mark this better than average (C+? or even B- if general standards are really as low as I suspect they are now) – at least it shows a firm understanding of the act’s stated (if not underlying) purpose and an ability to form and express a firm judgement based on that understanding.

    At A level clearly there’s something missing so its more a straight C or C-.

    At undergraduate level you’d want to gently admonish them for the lack of any critical perspective (before clicking on the link I briefly fantasised that they might be a well-scrubbed home-schooled 18-year old brought up on the works of George Macaulay Trevelyan by an eccentric maiden aunt…) and give them a D or E.

    Given the real identity of the candidate (who must be accounted at least a postgraduate student) only an F and whatever you academics write these days for ‘See Me’ would do.

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