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История Politics
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Civic engagement

Despite substantial medical advances and well-informed campaigns, progress in public health was desperately slow in Victoria's reign.

This had much to do with healthy scepticism about the opinions of experts, particularly when those experts advocated greater centralised state interference in what they considered to be the proper sphere of local authorities and agencies.

Furthermore, state involvement meant higher taxes and higher taxes were said to hamper both business and job creation. Localism undoubtedly stymied many public health initiatives at least until the last two decades of the reign.

Christian gentlemen considered it a duty to make legacies to worthy causes.

The Victorian era saw considerable expenditure on monuments to civic pride. The competitive ethic which drove so much business enterprise was channelled by local worthies into spending on opulent town halls and other civic buildings.

By no means all of these were intended for the use of a propertied elite. Libraries, wash-houses and swimming baths were all funded as part of a determination to provide working people with the means to improve themselves.

Civic identity and civic engagement were more powerful forces in Victorian than in early 20th-century Britain.

Nor were the Victorian middle and upper classes parsimonious over charitable giving. The 1860s alone saw the formation of the Society for the Relief of Distress, the Peabody Trust, Barnardo's Homes and the Charity Organisation Society.

These national organisations were multiplied several-fold by local charities. Christian gentlemen considered it a duty to make legacies to worthy causes.

True, much of this giving came with strings. Most Victorian charities were aimed at those sections of the working classes disposed towards helping themselves. Its overall impact, however, should not be underestimated.

What, finally, of the Victorian political structure? It is easy to see that it was far from democratic.

At the beginning of Victoria's reign, about a fifth of adult males were entitled to vote. That proportion increased, through parliamentary reform acts passed in 1867 and 1884, to one-third and two-thirds respectively.

No women could legally vote in parliamentary elections until almost 18 years after Victoria's death - and the queen herself was no suffragist. Women did, however, play an increasingly influential role both in locally-elected school and poor law boards and in local government from the 1870s onwards.

During the Victorian era, the United Kingdom could plausibly be considered the world's superpower.

If not democratic, the political system was becoming increasingly representative. By 1901, few argued - as had frequently been asserted against the Chartists in the 1830s and 1840s - that to allow working men to vote would be to cede power to an ignorant, insensate and unworthy majority.

Victorian politicians increasingly learned how to 'trust the people'. They also noted how many among 'lower orders' could help themselves economically while improving themselves educationally.

The working-class Victorian autodidact was an increasingly significant figure. His modest successes enabled his 'betters' to claim that Britain was a specially advanced, perhaps even a divinely favoured, nation.

Britain managed to modernize its political system without succumbing to the political revolutions that afflicted virtually all of its European competitors.

The quality of political debate in Victorian Britain, in newspapers and in both houses of parliament, was also very high. The struggle for political supremacy between William Gladstone and Benjamin Disraeli in the late 1860s and 1870s represents perhaps the most sophisticated political duel in the nation's history.

During the Victorian era, then, the United Kingdom could plausibly be considered as the world's superpower. However, Germany and the United States had already begun to surpass its industrial capacity and Germany's naval build-up would shortly present a powerful challenge to long-held British supremacy.

On the home front, the nation was only beginning to get to grips with widespread poverty while considerably more than half the adult population remained without a vote. Victorian supremacy by 1901 was only skin deep.

(http://www.bbc.co.uk/history/british/victorians/overview_victorians_01.shtml)


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