Parliament, People and Representation in Britain since the late 18th Century

Tutor:  Miles Taylor

Module type: Explorations

Module Code: HIS00080I

Since 1997 successive UK governments have embarked on what amounts to perhaps the widest programme of constitutional reforms since the Victorian era. Devolution, the incorporation of EU laws, and the abolition of hereditary peers have already altered the way Westminster works, whilst other projected changes such as those to constituency boundaries or to the ‘first past the post’ voting system might transform it even further.

The aim of this course is to study the reform of Parliament in a longer-term context, stretching back to the late 18th century. Much of what appears unprecedented and innovative today has in fact been debated and considered before. And throughout the last 200 years the question of parliamentary reform has been focused as much on what Parliament does, as with extending the right to vote. The course concludes by considering perhaps the greatest challenge of all to representative democracy: devolution to the Scottish Parliament, and to the Welsh and Northern Irish assemblies, and the sharing of sovereignty with the European Parliament. For these developments led in turn to the referenda of 2014 and 2016, the most radical alternative yet to representative democracy, the consequences of which will be felt for years to come.    

The seminar programme will likely deal with the following:

  1. Introduction: Ideas of parliamentary representation from Burke to Brexit
  2. From chapel to palace: the Westminster bubble
  3. Elections and electioneering, past and present
  4. Maps, boundaries and borders
  5. The secret of the vote
  6. Who needs the House of Lords?
  7. Political women
  8. Money, sleaze and corruption old and new
  9. The break-up of Britain 

For the project element of this module students will work  in groups on a piece of assessed work relating to primary and secondary sources assigned for seminar discussion (or other closely related materials) in consultation with with the seminar tutor.