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Parliament in Crisis

Professor Mark Knights chairs a podcast discussion on Parliament in Crisis, 1832 and 2009 with Dr Joe Hardwick and Dr Sarah Richardson
Download or click the play button on the right (MP3 format, 33:01 minutes, 45.3 MB)

"These are exceptional times. You have to go back to the days before the 1832 reform act, to the "old corruption" with its vote-buying, electoral intimidation and rotten boroughs, to find an era in which the British way of politics was as widely discredited and in need of reform as it is today. Two centuries ago, the answer to the scandals seemed plain – systemic reform and, though it was 100 years coming, votes for all. Today, faced with an alarmingly comparable collapse of esteem for politics under the democratic system, the answer to the new corruption is the same as it was to the old: systemic political reform and a modern, reinvigorated, devolved democracy." The Guardian, 21 May 2009

In the current Parliamentary crisis many commentators are invoking the historical context and calling for a new 'Great Reform Act' to clean up politics. But what was Parliament like before 1832? Is the contemporary discussion on the behaviour of MPs unprecedented? What about the behaviour of the speaker, Michael Martin? Professor Mark Knights, Dr Joe Hardwick and Dr Sarah Richardson discuss these issues and consider the historical context of today's parliamentary crisis.

Professor Mark Knights works on the political culture of early modern Britain c.1500 - c.1800, with particular interests in the integration of political and social history, the nature of public discourse, the role of print, and the interaction of politics, literature and ideas.

Dr Joe Hardwick's main research interests are in British and imperial history 1780-1850; the impact which imperial expansion had on society and politics in Great Britain; and church politics in Britain and the colonies in the nineteenth century.

Dr Sarah Richardson researches British Parliamentary and electoral politics from c. 1780-1870. Her recent work considers the contribution of middle-class women to political culture of Britain during the nineteenth century. She also works on the impact of the 1832 Reform Act on British politics.

If you would like to add your comments to this debate or to suggest topics for future discussions then please go to our Comments page. There are also pages with suggestions for further reading, for teaching resources and a 'did you know?' section.

The 1796 cartoon, by Gillray, shows John Bull trying to pull down the tree of corruption, in which are the heads of prominent politicians - including Pitt - and money-bags labelled 'sinecures', 'treasury pickings', 'secret service money', and a scroll 'pensions'. The text beneath the title reads "Yes, honest John! by your Pulling, you have Shaken it! - pull again & it will Totter, pull once more, & it will fall" (British Museum Satires, 8817)

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Suggested reading

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British Museum database of images

The Guardian

The Telegraph

tree of corruption 


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