From the 1850s onwards, against a background of great new wealth in society and a working class that was more independent and resourceful, the 'problem of democracy' became urgent for the rich and powerful. In general wealth was rising throughout society, but so was the greed of those who owned the new factories, mines and plantations. The key question was: what was to be done about the general demand for democracy, and about the incessant clamour for political rights which, during the revolutions of 1848, had almost got completely out of hand?
Maintaining their privilege and wealth while generally conceding a semblance of democracy was the principal aim of the 'rich and privileged' during the second half of the 19th century. Parliament is a means of diffusing democracy, of channelling real struggles into a safe dead-end. Time and time again it has become a graveyard for the workers' movement.