Suffragettes January 20 1913

THE MORNING POST

For a very considerable time the deliberations of the House of Commons have excited little public interest. It has seemed to exist for the simple purpose of registering the decrees of the Government. But the end of the present will witness the opening of a debate the results of which will be awaited with great eagerness. The Committee stage of the Franchise Bill will provide the opportunity for deciding the fate of Woman’s Suffrage in this session, and in view of the fact that lines of division on this question cut across the ordinary party groupings the members of the House of Commons are to be allowed to vote according to their inclinations and convictions. There a number of amendments proposed by the advocates of Woman’s Suffrage, but it is probably that the main tussle will be fought over Sir EDWARD GREYS motion, which will raise the whole question in a general form. If the resolution to delete the word “male” from the Bill is not carried it is probable that all the other amendments will be ruled out of order. On both sides therefore, great efforts will be made to influence the fate of the division which will be taken to-day week. At present there is a feeling of uncertainty as to the probable result. When the question was before the House of Commons last March in the for of the Conciliation Bill, the anti-suffragist secured the defeat of the measure. But the margin was not large and it is possible that on occasion there will be a different result. We need hardly say that we hope to see any and every amendment in favour of Woman’s Suffrage decisively rejected. In fact, we are strongly of the opinion that the members of the present House of Commons have no right to support any such motion. The most ardent advocates of “Votes for Women” would admit that they are proposing a change of a very momentous kind. It would entirely transform the nature of the foundation on which the constitutional system of the country is based. Such a change should not be made unless it had received the express sanction of the electors, and few politicians would have the boldness to affirm that at the last election the people had the least idea that the question was to be settled by the present Parliament.

So far as indications go, public opinion is strongly hostile to the extension of the franchise to women. We are convinced that any supporters of the proposal who dared to test the opinion of their constituents as Mr. LANSBURY did would meet with the same fate. What is more it is impossible even to pretend that the majority of women are in favour of having the vote. It would be a complete mistake to assume that the noisy clamour of a small section can be taken to represent the feeling of women all over the country, and it is without precedent to extend the franchise to a class of the community unless there is a real and active demand for such a concession. Yet even if the situation changed in this respect, and women as a body desired the vote we should still offer the strongest opposition to the change. It is said that it would do much to improve the position of women in the community. We do not believe that in the long run it could have any such effect. It might, of course, lead to the introduction of measures desired by large classes of women electors. But it is impossible to consider the welfare of women apart from the rest of the nation. They are bound to suffer as much as men if the country is weakened, if its Government becomes demoralised and unstable, and if disaster comes upon it, either from external foes of internal dissension. To entrust to women the destinies of the Kingdom and Empire would be the maddest and most reckless gamble in which a great nation had ever indulged. Mr. ASQUITH is not given to use exaggerated language, and he has expressed the opinion that it would be “a political mistake of a very disastrous kind.” It is a little difficult to understand the position of those who call themselves Conservatives, and who yet would countenance such a leap into the abyss. If they think that it would be possible to enfranchise only a small section of the women in the country they are cherishing a vain delusion. Once the principle that the vote might be given to women was admitted there would be no means of resisting the demand that they should stand on the same footing as men with the result that sooner or later there would be a majority of women among the electors of England.

This is not consummation to be welcomed by any reflecting citizen. Representative government is hard enough to work as it is. It would not long survive the admission of women to the franchise. There is a sound maxim that power should not be divorced from responsibility. It is, in fact, certain that no political system can long be worked in violation of this principle. At the present time it is the accepted rule that the will of the majority of the people shall prevail, because it is recognised that on most occasions and in the last resort the majority would be able to impose its will on the rest of the community. No such power would belong to a majority composed wholly or largely of women, and knowledge of this fact would destroy the authority of any Government depending for support on such a majority. In normal quiet times political questions are not resolved by force. But whenever an issue arises that reaches vital interests and cherished convictions the possibility of a resort to such an arbitrament must be reckoned with. Until human nature undergoes a vast change the functions of war and government must be indissoluble connected, and those who cannot discharge the first must be debarred from any share in the second. It is casting no slur on women to refuse them the right to vote for members of Parliament. Nature has fixed the differences between the sexes. Each has its own duties to perform for the good of common humanity, and each is endowed with the qualities adapted for the performance of these duties. The part which women have to play in the life of the community is not less honourable and important than that of men because it happens to be different, and it is certain that is they were allowed to assume functions which do not naturally belong to them their own work and position would be injuriously affected. It is not contended that they must have no part or lot in the public life of the nation. The sphere of local government is open to them, and by using the opportunities available to them is this direction they can give very valuable help in the solution of those very questions on which they are best qualified to speak with authority. The very fact that little use has been made of these openings goes to show that the agitation in favour of votes for women is largely an artificial movement. It has become formidable simply because it has not been taken seriously by most persons in the country. Now that public opinion is forced to concern itself seriously with the question we do not think there is much doubt as to how it will be solved. Even if the House of Commons is foolish enough to vote for the extension of the franchise to women it is impossible to believe that a measure involving such a change can be passed into law during the present Parliament, and at the next election, if the issue is still alive, the people will take good care to see that their representatives are pledged against a policy of national suicide.

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