Two hundred and fifty years ago this year, the British Parliament passed a Bill that would change the country and the world forever. The Stamp Act of 1765 is seen by many as the spark that, only ten years later, led to the explosive outbreak of the American Revolutionary War and ultimately to the recognition of American independence.
The Bill was passed in a time of economic hardship for Britain. The Seven Years War against France, (and its North American branch, the French-Indian War) had driven the demands for British products from an ever-expanding military; funded by the huge increase in revenue generated by the shifting of the taxation base from land to income; a method of taxation that governments have used ever since. Victory had brought economic depression, and with declining revenues from the recently created Income Tax failing to maintain the country’s enlarged army and national debt the British Parliament decided that the American colonies, now free from the threat of French aggression, should pay for their own protection.
The Stamp Act was passed by the British Parliament on March 22, 1765. The new tax required all colonists to pay a tax on every piece of printed paper they used, such as Ship’s papers, legal documents, licenses, newspapers, other publications, and even playing cards. While the actual cost of the tax was relatively small in comparison to a number of other taxes that were already in place, it was viewed as a direct attempt by Britain to raise money in the colonies without the approval of the colonial legislatures and with no colonial representation in the House of Commons to voice their concerns – No Taxation without Representation.
Two and a half centuries later, and the parliament at Westminster is still dealing with the question of representation. In the 2015 General Election, The Conservative Party and the Labour Party between them gained 67.3% of the vote share and yet 86.6% of the seats. This is more starkly contrasted with two of the smallest Westminster parties, UKIP and the Green Party, who between them won 16.4% of the vote and only gained 0.03% of the seats. It would be easy for me start this next sentence with ‘Therefore we need Electoral Reform…’ – but I won’t. The argument for Electoral Reform has been made and there is no reasonable objection as to why each vote shouldn’t count or why people shouldn’t be able to be involved in the decisions that affect their lives. What needs to happen first is the development of real and fruitful cross-party campaigns, promoting focal-points and lightning-rods for reform such as the Electoral Reform Society to help start real conversations with the electorate. To show how Electoral Reform isn’t just a philosophical luxury but an essential necessity to making sure their views are represented.
The Stamp Act of 1765 helped stimulate inter-colonial political awareness and co-operation for the first time, and many saw the Act as not only unconstitutional but an infringement on their human rights and liberty. I too believe that the lack of Electoral Reform is an infringement on liberty; and that no legislation passed can truly be judged to represent the will of the people without it – No Legislation without Representation.