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But it was the founding of the Labour Representation Committee LRC on 27 February that signalled a quiet, yet highly significant sea-change in British politics. This coalition of socialist groups would win two seats in the general election and 29 seats in Despite failing health, Salisbury agreed to stay on to help Edward VII manage the transition following the death of his mother, Queen Victoria. He resigned in favour of his nephew, AJ Balfour, in the first months of the new King's reign.

Notably, he was the last serving prime minister to sit in the Lords. Earl of Rosebery , Liberal, - Rosebury reluctantly became prime minister on the insistence of Queen Victoria, despite still mourning the loss of his wife.

Desperate to have a minister she actually liked, Victoria had taken the unusual step of not consulting the outgoing PM, William Gladstone, about his successor. Rosebery, who always loved horseracing more than the 'evil smelling bog' of politics, was gratefully allowed to resign a year later. Notably, he is the only prime minister to have produced not one, but three Derby winners, in , and Despite his aversion to politics, Rosebery was no stranger to scandal. The Prince of Wales had reputedly once intervened to prevent him from being horsewhipped by the Marquess of Queensbury, with whose son Rosebery was believed to be having an affair.

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William Ewart Gladstone , Liberal, - Gladstone's fourth term as prime minister was completely overshadowed by his insistence on introducing a third bill on the subject of 'Home Rule' for Ireland. The Conservative-dominated House of Lords threw the bill out and generally obstructed Liberal attempts to pass legislation. With his cabinet split and his health failing, the 'Grand Old Man' stepped down for the last time. The public was, in any case, exhausted with Home Rule and instead wanted reforms to working conditions and electoral practices.

Meanwhile, out on the political fringe, the Independent Labour Party had been set up under Keir Hardie to represent the working class and 'secure the collective ownership of the means of production, distribution and exchange'. Marquess of Salisbury , Conservative, - William Ewart Gladstone , Liberal, Gladstone came to power for the third time with 'Home Rule' devolution for Ireland still the dominant issue.

A bitter election battle had seen the Conservative government fall after Irish Nationalist members of parliament sided with the Liberals to defeat them. Instead, the Liberals formed a government in coalition with the Irish Nationalists and Gladstone tried to push through his second attempt at a Home Rule bill. The bill split the Liberals and Gladstone resigned. He lost the general election when the 'Liberal Unionists' - those who wanted Ireland to be ruled from Westminster - broke away from Gladstone's Liberals to fight the next election as a separate party.

Most Liberal Unionists were of the 'Whig' or propertied faction of the party, which meant that when they went, they took most of the money with them. Marquess of Salisbury , Conservative, - William Ewart Gladstone , Liberal, - Having failed to force Gladstone to serve under Lord Hartington, Queen Victoria reluctantly accepted 'that half-mad firebrand' as prime minister for the second time.

He had only lately returned to politics from retirement after his so-called 'Midlothian Campaign', in which he spoke to large crowds - a practice considered by polite Victorian society to be 'undignified'. His campaign did much to discredit Disraeli's government and had clearly struck a chord with a public eager for social and electoral reform.

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The Ballot Act in had instituted secret ballots for local and general elections. Now came the Corrupt Practices Act, which set maximum election expenses, and the Reform and Redistribution Act, which effectively extended voting qualifications to another six million men. There were other burning issues. The United States had just overtaken Britain as the world's largest industrialised economy, and 'Home Rule' devolution for Ireland continued to dominate.

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Gladstone resigned and was replaced by the 'caretaker government' of the Marquess of Salisbury. Benjamin Disraeli , Conservative, - After a brief taste of power in , it had taken Disraeli six years to become prime minister again. He wasted no time in bringing about the social reforms he had envisaged in the s as a member of the radical Young England group. His Acts included measures to provide suitable housing and sewerage, to protect the quality of food, to improve workers rights including the Climbing Boys Act which banned the use of juveniles as chimney sweeps and to implement basic standards of education.

In , Disraeli was made the Earl of Beaconsfield, but continued to run the government from the Lords. He persuaded Queen Victoria to take the title 'Empress of India' in and scored a diplomatic success in limiting Russian influence in the Balkans at the Congress of Berlin in He retired in , hoping to spend his remaining years adding more novels to his already impressive bibliography, but died just one year later. William Ewart Gladstone , Liberal, - Upon taking office for the first time Gladstone declared it his 'mission' to 'pacify Ireland' - a prize that was always to elude him.

Nonetheless, Gladstone was to become the dominant Liberal politician of the late 19th Century, serving as prime minister four times despite earning Queen Victoria's antipathy early in his career. She famously complained that 'he always addresses me as if I were a public meeting'. He had started his career as an ultra-conservative Tory, but would end it as a dedicated political reformer who did much to establish the Liberal Party's association with issues of freedom and justice.

But Gladstone also had his idiosyncrasies. He made a regular habit of going to brothels and often brought prostitutes back to 10 Downing Street. In an era when politicians' private lives were very private, his embarrassed colleagues nonetheless felt it necessary to explain his behaviour as 'rescue work' to save 'fallen women'. Benjamin Disraeli , Conservative, On being asked to become prime minister following the resignation of the Earl of Derby, Disraeli announced: 'I have reached the top of the greasy pole'.

He immediately struck up an excellent rapport with Queen Victoria, who approved of his imperialist ambitions and his belief that Britain should be the most powerful nation in the world. Unhappily for the Queen, Disraeli's first term ended almost immediately with an election victory for the Liberals. Despite serving as an MP since and twice being Chancellor of the Exchequer, Disraeli's journey to the top was not without scandal. In , he was forced to apologise in court after being accused of bribing voters in Maidstone.

He also accrued enormous debts in his twenties through speculation on the stock exchange. Disraeli suffered a nervous breakdown as a result, but eventually paid off his creditors by marrying a rich widow, Mary Anne Wyndam Lewis, in Earl of Derby , Conservative, - The introduction of the Reform Act made Derby's third term as prime minister a major step in the true democratisation of Britain. Simply put, it created more than 1. Versions of the Reform Act had been under serious discussion since , but had always foundered on Conservative fears.

Many considered it a 'revolutionary' move that would create a majority of 'working class' voters for the first time.


In proposing the Reform Act, Benjamin Disraeli, Conservative Leader of the House of Commons, had warned his colleagues that they would be labelled the 'anti-reform' party if they continued to resist. The legislation was passed, and also received the backing of the Liberals under their new leader, William Gladstone. Earl Russell , Whig, - Viscount Palmerston , Liberal, - Earl of Derby , Conservative, - The property qualification - the requirement that a man must own property in order to stand as a member of parliament - was finally abolished during Derby's second term as prime minister.

It meant that members of parliament MPs were no longer drawn exclusively from the 'propertied' classes and could realistically be 'working class'. This fulfilled one of the six conditions set out by the Chartists - supporters of the Third Chartist Petition, written in It demanded universal male suffrage votes for all adult men , secret ballots rather than traditional open ballots , annual parliamentary elections, equal electoral districts some had less than voters, while others had many thousands , the abolition of a property qualification for MPs, and payment for MPs which would allow non-independently wealthy men to sit in parliament.

Viscount Palmerston , Liberal , - Earl of Aberdeen , Tory, - It was something of a cruel irony that Aberdeen came to be blamed for blundering into the dreadful Crimean War. As plain George Hamilton Gordon he had made a successful career as a diplomat and had done much to normalise Britain's relationships with its powerful neighbours. Vivid reports from the front by WH Russel of the Times have since led to the Crimean being styled the first 'media war'. His reports publicised the squalor and disease that were claiming more soldiers' lives than the fighting, and inspired Florence Nightingale to volunteer and take the first 38 nurses out to treat the wounded.

In , Aberdeen conceded to his critics and resigned. Earl of Derby , Conservative, Earl Russell , Whig, - Confronted by the Irish Potato Famine, declining trade and rising unemployment, Russell still managed to push through trade liberalisation measures and limits on women's working hours. A dedicated reformer, he nonetheless presided over the rejection of the Third Chartist Petition.

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Set out , it demanded universal male suffrage votes for all adult men , secret ballots rather than traditional open ballots , annual parliamentary elections, equal electoral districts some had less than voters, while others had many thousands , the abolition of a property qualification for members of parliament MPs , and payment for MPs which would allow non-independently wealthy men to sit in parliament.

Already rejected once by parliament in , the petition had gathered 5 million signatures by Presented to parliament a second time, it was again rejected. The Chartist movement slowly petered out, even as revolutions blazed across Europe, but many of its aims were eventually realised. Sir Robert Peel , Tory, - Peel's second term as prime minister was nothing short of tumultuous.

Economic depression, rising deficits, Chartist agitation, famine in Ireland and Anti-Corn League protests crowded in. A raft of legislation was created to stabilise the economy and improve working conditions. The Factory Act regulated work hours and banned children under eight from the workplace , the Railway Act provided for cheap, regular train services, the Bank Charter Act capped the number of notes the Bank of England could issue and the Mines Act prevented women and children from working underground. But a failed harvest in provided Peel with his greatest challenge.

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There was an increasing clamour for repeal of the Corn Laws, which forbade the import of cheap grain from overseas. Powerful vested interests in the Tory Party opposed such a move, but in the end Peel confronted them and called for repeal. After nearly six months of debate, and with the Tories split in two, the Corn Laws were finally repealed.

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Defeated on a separate issue, Peel resigned the same day, but was cheered by crowds as he left the Commons. The 'Peelite' faction of the Tories is widely recognised as the foundation of the modern Conservative. Campaigning on his so-called 'Tamworth Manifesto', Peel promised a respectful approach to traditional politics, combined with measured, controlled reform. He thereby signalled a significant shift from staunch, reactionary 'Tory' to progressive 'Conservative' politics.

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Crucially, he pledged to accept the Reform Act, which had recently increased the number of people eligible to vote. Peel won the election, but only narrowly. He resigned the following year after several parliamentary defeats. Peel is probably best remembered for creating the Metropolitan Police in while Home Secretary in the Duke of Wellington's first government.

The nickname 'bobbies' for policemen is derived from his first name. Duke of Wellington , Tory, Viscount Melbourne , Whig, In a bid to repress trade unions, Melbourne's government introduced legislation against 'illegal oaths'. In March of the same year, six labourers were transported to Australia for seven years for attempting to provide a fund for workers in need.

They became known as the 'Tolpuddle Martyrs'.

Melbourne himself was notoriously laid back. When first asked to become prime minister he declared it 'a damned bore'.