Recently I have been trying to pull together some material about the campaign for women’s right to vote in Britain.
The conventional leftist view we get presented is that the suffragettes were really important and that actions by the Pankhursts and Emily Davison were vital in securing women the vote which is why those stupid women in their silly hats get so much attention. This seems to flatter those involved in direct action. This is great for piquing the interest of modern children in the subject and it is useful for allowing a very visual presentation of what happened. There is one minor flaw with this. It’s bollocks.
Here is my understanding of the process of getting women the vote:-
The first of several efforts to bring British democracy kicking and screaming into the nineteenth century began with the Representation of the People Act 1832 and its Scottish and Irish counterparts. These acts removed the grossest of abuses of the previous era, the rotten boroughs, and gave some representation to new boroughs to reflect, feebly, the huge shift in population which was part of the industrial revolution. This was a comparatively modest move and it created an appetite for more.
The next move is the Great Charter. A bill presented to parliament with the following six key demands:-
Manhood suffrage – all men entitled to vote – an end to property qualifications for voters.
A secret ballot instead of voters having their votes tallied in public.
An end to property qualifications for Members of Parliament.
Payment for Members of Parliament to allow working class men without property incomes to serve,ironically something which is constantly being rowed back upon in recent decades with every attempt to increase the salaries of MPs being met with a storm of protests, often by the same people who are so pissed off when MPs fiddle their expenses to supplement their inadequate salaries. Paying MPs properly is a vital part of democracy. If they are not paid well only the rich and those who can’t do anything better paid will want to do the job.
Equal electoral districts so all votes have a similar power. (Cities such as Manchester and Leeds had huge populations and the same representations as rural towns in the south of England with a tiny fraction of the population.)
Annually elected parliaments. (The only demand which was never met, and is never likely to be met in the future either.)
Even from the start of the chartist movement, there was a move to add votes for women to the list of demands but it was decided that to do so would hamper the chances of getting mass support. Because of this the campaign for votes for women was permanently detached from the Chartist movement which really was seeking votes and democratic power for the masses. The two movements were quite separate and this lead to the anomaly of rich suffragettes in big hats giving white feathers to young farm labourers telling them to go off and fight for their democracy and their king and country while they didn’t have the right to vote. Lesbian feminists (the suffragettes were notorious bed-hopping lesbians) were campaigning for votes for women, that is votes for women on the same basis as men, while fully 40% of men did not have the right to vote while the suffragettes were at the height of their campaign.
In 1867 there was another reform bill going through the House of Commons, as was usually the case electoral reform was being addressed by the Conservative government. This aimed to extend the vote further but fell far short of the demands of the Chartists. There was a move to amend this bill to grant women the vote on the same basis as men. This was lead by Liberal party MPs John Stuart Mill and his sidekick Henry Fawcett. This was not by any means universal adult suffrage, it still maintained the same class based qualifications as before it would merely ignore the distinctions between men and women, if it had passed some of my female ancestors would have had the vote while some of my male ancestors would not. Gladstone, the new Liberal Party and opposition leader was adamantly opposed. Some of his objections were of the type which we would regard as flimsy and irrational but he did have one killer objection which would have convinced me to support him. His objection was that never in human history had there ever been a move to give the vote to a class of people who had not demonstrated any particular desire to wield it. It seemed that Mill and Fawcett agreed with this critique and the response was the setting up of a mass movement for female suffrage. By the time the vote in the Commons had come up they had reached the dizzying heights of 1,500 signatures of support. Hardly indicative of a mass movement.
The suffragist movement took many years of careful building of support plus the effect of their greatest asset – The Grim Reaper. Opponents of women’s suffrage were not talked around but they died and were replaced by those less at odds with the idea. Gladstone died in 1898, Queen Victoria in 1901. By 1905 the support for votes for women had grown to about the 50% mark and the hard core of objectors had dwindled.
Another landmark in the movement for votes for women came in 1883 with the founding of The Primrose League, a mass organization to support the Conservative Party and its values. It was the first political organization which recognized women and men as equals and it brought in many women into politics for the first time. It was a sign of the changing times and it changed the times. In many ways it was the Conservative Party which pushed harder for votes for women. Subsequently, several other political movements which began after this time followed the example of The Primrose League and granted full and equal membership to women.
Women’s suffrage campaign organizations had begun immediately after the defeat of John Stuart Mill’s amendment. These were small local groups. Over time these amalgamated together in a federal structure, the National Society for Women’s Suffrage was formed in 1868 and in 1897 this merged into the National Union of Women’s Suffrage Societies under the leadership of Henry Fawcett’s widow Millicent, at this time she was known as Mrs Henry Fawcett.
By 1903 a small core of women’s suffrage campaigners had grown impatient with the gradual approach of the movement as a whole and they formed the Women’s Social and Political Union with the slogan Deeds Not Words. These were the crazies. The suffragettes we all heard so much about. Many of them were lesbians. Some of them were lefties and some decidedly not. The nuttiest of these fruitcakes was Christabel Pankhurst who made her wing of the movement solely middle and upper-class women, and mostly men-hating lesbians to boot. The Pankhursts fell out with the Labour Party when it supported Universal Suffrage because they wanted to maintain the restrictions which stopped the 40% of men from voting while allowing rich women to vote. Christabel Pankhurst’s favourite slogan was Votes for Women – Chastity for Men! What a fucked up bitch. Surely the only morally correct approach to democracy is universal suffrage?
It is a logical fallacy that because you’re not being given what you want right now that the way to get it is to use direct action. Well, I might have bought you a lollipop but after you made that scene you’re lucky to be given anything at all! Most historians of the period agree that the direct action undertaken by the suffragettes harmed the chances of women being given the vote. So why have the stupid bints been commemorated and honoured? It makes no sense at all.
The suffragists under Millicent Fawcett did great work in bringing up the logical arguments for not denying women the vote. Organizations such as the Primrose League showed that many women were interested in politics and their concerns were not uniquely female concerns but were quite similar to the political concerns of men. If the suffragettes had not done anything at all I cannot see any circumstances under which women would not have been granted the vote under the same terms as men by 1928, and quite possibly before 1915.
The actions of the suffragettes began with disrupting meetings and attempting to shout down Liberal Party spokesmen and quickly escalated to stone throwing, criminal damage, chaining themselves to railings outside public buildings (shocking behaviour ? and even arson and bombing (of empty buildings). This alienated public support. One classic example of this was in Bristol when for some tortuous reason which doesn’t appear to have survived the suffragettes in Bristol decided to burn down a sports pavilion at Bristol university, a building which was scarcely two years old. The response to this was that a mob of Bristol University students marched on the suffragettes local headquarters, a shop, and trashed it and tried to burn it down. What madness possessed these women to target and inconvenience young men like that? Actions such as this ensured that there was hostility to the cause.
The most famous incident of suffragette direct action was caused by one of Christabel’s fanatics. Emily Davison was forty years old when she died. Never married. She was very well educated, a teacher until she gave it up to become a full-time activist. She was arrested many times, including for a violent attack on a man she thought was Lloyd George. She was in prison several times and went on hunger strike. A year before her death she was in the middle of a hunger strike and she contrived to fall down a large staircase, causing herself severe injuries to head and spine. She clearly had something of a martyrdom complex. However it seems that her final action was supremely reckless rather than intentionally suicidal. She emerged from the crowd at the Derby and made a lunge for the King’s horse, apparently trying to add suffragette colours to the horse in some way. She failed. Even a highly trained stuntman would think twice about intercepting a horse at full gallop. She brought down the horse and she died of her injuries four days later. It is possible that her throwing herself down the stairs the year before contributed to her death, in June 1913. Davison was a loner, she was not part of any kind of a cell or group, nobody else knew of her mission at the Derby. What was she thinking? How did she think endangering the life of a jockey, slighting the King and disrupting one of the most popular events of the sporting calendar was some kind of A Good Idea? The woman was clearly quite unhinged.
How can deeds persuade anybody of anything when words have apparently failed? This is a form of madness which empowers the fanatic with the idea that they can change history with Action, Deeds and other forms of words with capital letters.
How did women get the vote? They were given it by men. Duh.
Something Must Be Done. Why?
The idea that you have to DO something is flawed. What does doing something achieve? Doing something is an emotional reaction. It is flinging the crockery against the wall because your spouse has cheated on you. What does that achieve? It breaks your crockery and dents your wall. If you have a problem you must do something. Think this through. If your lawn is being destroyed by moles and you react to this by setting fire to your hat or growing your hair long what have you achieved? Nothing. You’ve done something and it has had no effect on your problem. The vast majority of actions that you could take would be as futile as this.
Terrorism is in large part completely futile. It makes the terrorists think that they are doing something, but it is as productive as throwing your crockery against the wall. The only thing it can do is draw attention to the fact that you have got a grievance while simultaneously ensuring that addressing that grievance becomes harder because nobody wants to reward such truculent bad behaviour.
You can’t change the mind of a nation overnight. It takes time. In many ways, it simply takes time for those who oppose the change who will never change their mind to die off. Gladstone died in 1898. Queen Victoria died in 1901. In the Edwardian age, in the new century, the time for votes for women had come. As the mood of the nation was moving towards accepting the idea of allowing women to vote because of many years of rational argument and the building of a nationwide movement in support some women got impatient. They wanted votes for women immediately and they decided that the answer to this was Deeds Not Words.
This has all the appeal of throwing your crockery against the wall or throwing your toys out of the pram. It makes those taking the direct action feel like they are doing something. They are doing something, they are alienating the people they claim to represent and making it significantly harder for the men in authority to grant their wishes lest they were seen as responding to terrorism. Make no mistake about it these women were terrorists. They indulged in heckling and breaking up meetings, hitting politicians with whips, throwing stones and breaking windows and chaining themselves to railings.
Now I need to declare an interest here. In 1983, I was part of a group of young activists who chained ourselves to the railings outside the Houses of Parliament in a stunt which was designed to be deliberately reminiscent of the activity of the suffragettes. But we were very careful about it, we ensured that nothing would be damaged except the chains we bought for the purpose and nobody would be inconvenienced. We also knew that we would be doing it within 100 yards of a collection of television cameras and news journalists. The aim was clearly to leverage a very small stunt into a story for television news. We were not being a general public nuisance like many of the suffragettes were.
When has it ever Been About Equality?
Do you remember what you were taught in history classes about the suffragettes? Heroic champions of equality and women’s rights who changed the government’s mind about women by direct action. What was their slogan? Votes for Women. When were they active? In the immediate run-up to the First World War. What’s my point here? Where am I going with this? Men didn’t have the vote then. What? I hear feminists hackles rising. It’s true, the first move to give women the vote came about while as many as 40% of men, the poorest men, were not entitled to vote.
I have looked long and hard to find evidence of women campaigning hard for votes for all, to no avail. Both the law abiding suffragists and the quasi-terrorist suffragettes campaigned under the slogan of votes for women and NOT equality, expanding the franchise or votes for all.
Feminists have never been about equality or justice and only ever about more rights for middle-class women like themselves.
There were three great reform acts in the United Kingdom during the nineteenth century which extended the franchise, the first in 1832, the second in 1867 and the third in 1884. Even after the 1884 act became law only about 60% of men over the age of 21 had the vote. Hundreds of thousands of men who had fought for their country, including no doubt many farm labourers given white feathers by their landlords wives and suffragette daughters, still did not have the right to vote. And what did the women’s suffrage movement say about this? Nothing. The clamour was for votes for women and not votes for all.
Equality be buggered. The women’s suffrage movement wanted votes for its supporters, who were mostly educated middle-class women. They did not care about poor men or equality or even spreading the suffrage. They didn’t need to play the white man. In contrast men were expected to fight for women in a war and then come home and see rich women get the vote while they didn’t!
It was not the women’s suffrage movement which extended the vote to the rural and urban poor men, and neither was it the Labour Party, it was rich white men’s guilt once again. This is one of the most powerful forces in the world. Protesters and marchers never change anything, only the people with power can change things. These were gentlemen and they could see it would be totally unacceptable, to themselves as much as to the potential revolutionary Bolshevik mobs who might want to hang them from lampposts, that men who had fought for their country in the filth of the trenches would be denied the chance to vote for its future in the delayed General Election of December 1918. There was however a problem with giving the vote to women as well as men. There was a distinct imbalance in the sex ratios which was apparent even a decade before the horrendous losses of the First World War made it even worse. Women who stayed at home were safe, very few died, but hundreds of thousands of young men had died. If all could vote on the same basis the electorate would be majority female, that was considered to be going a little too far and too fast. The women’s suffrage movement were bought off easily by granting rights to women over the age of 30 if they had or shared a property qualification.
As a result of the 1918 act 8.4 million women were entitled to vote, in 1910 less than 7.7 million men were qualified to vote. The electorate hadn’t doubled, it had nearly tripled to over 21 million people. Under the old rules, millions of men would not have been qualified to vote including hundreds of thousands of war heroes. But what did the suffragists say? Votes for Women! And what did the suffragettes say? Votes for Women and Chastity for Men! Yes suffragettes wanted men to keep their marriage vows yet many leading suffragettes were bed-hopping lesbians – do as I say not do as I do.
While the talk is about equality and justice the actual demands are always about giving more power to middle-class women. Middle-class white women are allowed to campaign for their own interests without being called out on it, without being called selfish or self-obsessed or having their organizations vilified or even banned. You surely can’t see that it is fair that white men are considered evil if they are not seen constantly fighting against their own group’s interests and for the interests of everybody else. White men have to play the white man, white men have to play the daddy. We have to play the game and let the women and children win but we need to do it subtly so we don’t hurt their feelings as we cheat in their favour! Heaven forbid we puncture their precious egos or dent their self-esteem in any way! Not only do men have to give women the vote but men have to pretend that it was the suffragettes that “won” the vote through arson, criminal damage and low-level terrorism. The Representation of the People Act of 1918 was passed by 385 votes to 55 in the House of Commons and 134 to 71 in the House of Lords. None of those who voted were women, they weren’t even black. White men gave women the vote. White men abolished slavery. White men defeated the Nazis. And what are we taught in school? Emmeline Pankhurst and the blessed martyr Emily Davison. Martyr my arse, she died from injuries received while engaging in a stunt, she might have practised attaching a scarf to the bridle of horses trotting along in in a park and somehow hadn’t factored in that a top rated racehorse at full gallop trying to win the most important race of its life might be a bit more of a challenge. She neither gave her life nor did she buy any favours with her death. There hadn’t been any suffragette demonstrations, pickets, bombs or arson for the duration of the war. So after four years with no bombing or arson or other thoroughly disreputable actions associated with the cause of votes for women the public and politicians were much more willing to listen to calm voices of reason. But still many trendy lefty idiots come away with the idea that it was direct action by the suffragettes which won women the vote. Utter nonsense. It was the fact that they stopped being annoying and violent harridans which allowed the government to make the change. Giving in to violent terrorism sets a very bad and dangerous precedent. During the war it became clear that women as well as men were interested in affairs of state and the objections to women taking part in political life simply sounded old fashioned and completely out of place.
In 1867 John Stuart Mill had attempted to amend the Representation of the People bill to give women the same qualification to vote as men. The objection to this by Gladstone (then Leader of the Opposition) was that it was absurd to be granting the vote to a group of people who had shown no obvious interest in having it. I have to say that at the time he probably had an excellent point. However a couple of generations later and things were different, the appetite for the vote amongst women had grown and the sense that they wouldn’t know what to do with it had eased. By 1918 votes for some women, with the clear understanding that votes for all women was just a matter of time, was an idea whose time had come. There was no better time to do it. If they hadn’t have seized that opportunity to do it when there was the obvious threat that militant suffragettes would start up again with acts of terrorism which would make meeting their demands harder than ever. You don’t bow to terrorism! It was the actions of the suffragists who created the mood that lead to the inevitable conclusion that the time for granting voting rights to women had come. It was a Liberal Party dominated House of Commons which voted for the measure to first extend the right to vote to women over the age of 30. There was a minority Labour Party government in 1924 but this did nothing to extend the vote. The final act of equalizing the voting rights of men and women came in 1928 under a Conservative government. Despite 61 years passing between the first move to grant women the vote on the same terms as men one person witnessed both events. It was in 1865 that Millicent Garrett first met John Stuart Mill, when she was just 18. She married his colleague in the cause of equal rights for women Henry Fawcett, and in 1867 she was in the gallery of the House of Commons to see Mill present his amendment. 61 years later she was back, now with the title Dame Millicent Garrett Fawcett to witness the final act in the great struggle.
Tony Benn loved to harp on about the great heroine and martyr Emily Davison as if she was part of the movement he belonged to. But she was interested in extending the vote to educated women like herself not to extending the right to vote to all, she certainly never spoke up for the idea of giving the vote to oiks and plebs. In fact, the main beneficiary of extending the vote to women has been the Conservative Party, the party supported by the irrational lesbian activists.
The suffragettes didn’t just annoy the men in power, they also annoyed women with even less power. “There is no class in the community who has such good reason for objecting and does so strongly object to shrieking and throwing yourself on the floor and struggling and kicking as the average working women, whose human dignity is very real to her.” – Eva Gore-Booth of the Lancashire Women Textile Workers Representation Committee in a letter to Millicent Fawcett about the militant campaign of the WSPU, 1905.
The motto of the suffragettes was Deeds not Words, but how can deeds convince anybody of anything? They can’t. The most they can do is demonstrate that a tiny minority feels strongly about an issue. How does that help? People knew this already. To change the system requires those with power to change their minds and grant the move you seek. The suffragettes targeted the leaders of the Liberal Party for personal vitriol. How was this meant to work? It was madness, if somebody attacks you personally for a position you are associated with it makes your will to stick to that resolve all the stronger. Can you imagine Margaret Thatcher signing the Belfast Agreement in 1985? Hell no! The suffragettes were tactically perverse in attacking the people with the power to grant them what they wanted. All the attacks did was strengthen their resolve to stick to what was by then an increasingly anachronistic position. Who should women thank for getting women the vote? Millicent Fawcett and Gavrilo Princip. The only direct action which aided the struggle for women’s suffrage was the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria which helped trigger the First World War.
On the outset of the war the Pankhurst family immediately turned their attentions from criminal demonstrations in supposed support of women’s suffrage into a moral crusade against the evil Hun. These crazy bitches renamed their publication Britannia and started to campaign for internment (if not annihilation) of enemies and race traitors and for the conscription into the military of all men and conscription into civilian national service of all women. The suffragette campaigns were called off completely. This left Lloyd George and the Liberal Party off the hook. In contrast the movement lead by Mrs Henry Fawcett was full of pacifists and completely committed to non-violence and therefore the war was not a reason to disband or to stop writing letters to the newspaper.
“Women, your country needs you. As long as there was any hope for peace,
most members of the National Union probably sought for peace, and endeavoured to support those who were trying to maintain it.
But we have another duty now… Let us show ourselves worthy of citizenship, whether our claim to it be recognized or not.”
Millicent Fawcett of the NURSES writing in The Common Cause August 1914.
The women’s suffrage movement acted to help bring women into productive war work without ever stopping the gentle and persistent and non-strident message that women were worthy of the vote. This had a tremendous positive effect. Because of the war there was an extension of the parliament and the formation of a government of national unity. It was a clear part of this agreement to postpone elections that when elections were held it could not possibly be done in such a way as millions of returning war heroes were not able to vote. There would have to be an extension of the franchise and there was only one way this could be done — universal franchise for men. Then the issue of women’s votes naturally arose. If women were allowed to vote the franchise would have gone from all male to a majority female electorate. This was considered to be just a little too radical a move. Mrs Fawcett proposed a compromise which would grant the vote to women but only at a higher age. The government considered this an excellent face-saving strategy. It was clear as day that at some point votes for women would become a reality but to grasp the nettle in 1918 would be the perfect opportunity because they could make the move without being seen to be responding to criminal acts of terrorism. It was possible to make the move only because there was a ceasefire in the war on government ministers.
In 1918 women were granted the right to stand for parliament, the vote was extended to all men over the age of 21 and women over the age of 30 were allowed to vote. Clearly from that point, it was only a matter of time before women were granted the same voting rights as men. The suffragettes never did return to direct action and the calls for universal suffrage of all was quite mainstream. This allowed Stanley Baldwin to push through the final move to complete equality between men and women in the right to vote in 1928.
“The subjection of women, if there be such a thing, will not now depend on any creation of the law,
nor can it be remedied by any action of the law.
It will never again be possible to blame the sovereign state for any position of inequality.
Women will have, with us, the fullest rights. The ground and justification for the old agitation is gone, and gone for ever.”
Stanley Baldwin, Prime Minister, March 1928.
What is the lesson to be drawn here? Respectability and reason pay off when shrieking and direct action don’t. Forget what your trendy wannabe revolutionary teachers have told you. It wasn’t direct action which secured women the vote or the so-called martyrdom of the incompetent violent felon Emily Davison but the persistent message of reason that has the patience to wait until the mood for change becomes irresistible. You can’t force through an idea whose time has not come no matter what your deeds are. Surely these days we can see how attempts to debate with deeds are always futile unless as in the case of the shooting of Archduke Ferdinand the mood of the times was ready for a random jolt to trigger a cascade of reactions. It doesn’t matter what your actions are you can’t magically turn around the beliefs and aspirations of a country with an act of violence or a stunt any more than you can with a magical spell.
If we want to turn the nation around and get the message across that we have a right to exist in our own nations we can’t expect to achieve anything by violent stunts, arson, graffiti, bombing or mass shootings. The only way to do it is by ways which are (or at least in a free country should be) legal.