November 8, 2008

Peel's prescience

The Reform Bill has made a change in the position of parties and in the practical working of public affairs, which the authors of it did not anticipate. There is a perfectly new element of political power -- namely, the registration of voters, a more powerful one than either the Sovereign or the House of Commons. That party is the strongest in the point of fact which has the existing registration in its favour ... We shall soon have, I have no doubt, a regular systematic organisation of it. Where this is to end I know not, but substantial powers will be in the Registry Courts and there the contest will be determined.

-- Robert Peel, in a letter to Arbuthnot, 1839 (emphasis added); quoted in Boyd Hilton, A Mad, Bad, and Dangerous People? England 1783-1846.

... Hilton goes on to observe: "In 1843, accordingly, Conservatives sought to disenfranchise certain Dissenters on technical grounds, while Anti-Corn Law League officials tried to create bogus freeholds in the counties."

Evidently, little has changed.