Suffragettes January 23 1913


We see a great deal in the Press of both sides in the way of calculation of parliamentary votes and groups and parties on this question of woman’s suffrage. It would seem almost as if whether women are or are not be enfranchised depended on the results of intrigues, lobbying, obscure bargains, and secret pledges between members of Parliament and their leaders. All this petty political book-keeping leaves one factor out of account. What does the country think about it? Has the country been in any way consulted? Is the electorate in favour of giving women the vote? Have we any proof that the people of this country, even the women of this country, desire that women should have the vote? We hear a great deal about the Will of the People in these democratic days: it is the tribute which wire-pullers pay to “popular government.” But when it really comes to a practical issue the politician does not care a fig about the principle. He wants his own way: that: that is the long and short of it. There is not popular voice in the matter, or if there is then it is the voice which told Mr LANSBURY that it would have nothing to do with votes for women. An yet we have democratic politicians eager to give women, or a certain class of women, the vote because they think that women should have the vote, or more frequently, that the class of women they favour would help to keep them in their seats or their party in power. Does Sir EDWARD GREY believe in the Will of the People or does he not? And are those Unionists who demand – as we think rightly – that the House Rule question would be referred to the electorate going to stultify their arguments by proposing to give women the vote without any reference to the country? It seems to us that Democracy is becoming exposed as a sham by all this open huckstering and calculating of chances without any reference to the supposed Will of the People. And with this complete ignoring of the electorate, there is to be an almost complete gagging of Parliamentary debate. An what makes it almost tragically comical is the spectacle of Mrs. PANKHURST somewhere in the background vigorously threatening more “militant tactics” – that is to say, window-breaking, theatre-burning, letter destroying, and so forth-unless, Members of Parliament disobey the Will of the People and give women a part in the constitutional system which they are bent upon setting at naught and bringing into ridicule and contempt. It is a most curious position. Some women want the vote, and in seeking to get it they are proving that the vote is a farce and a sham. If they get the vote they will have shown that the vote is to be disregarded in a vital and fundamental question: in other words, they will have helped to destroy the alleged privilege for which they are fighting. And Mr. ASQUITH`S position is no less absurd. He says that to give women the franchise would be a disaster to the country. He knows that the country has never shown that it wants women to have the franchise. And yet he is prepared, if terrorism, intrigue and conviction combined float women into this Bill, to fight for its passage through Parliament. Why, SWIFT, who satirised humanity, and GILBERT, who satirised party politics, and VOLTAIRE and SYDNEY SMITH and MARK TWAIN, and all the other humorists and satirists, classical and modern, English and foreign, although they were to have put their heads together to devise a ridiculous situation for a democratic Parliament and a democratic Leader, could not have excogitated out of their united cynicism and their accumulated wit anything so absurd and ignominious. We do not suppose that even the late Chinese Government, which was accused of a fondness for preferring make-believe over actuality, ever went through a more solemn and egregious farce in the eyes of the world, or did any single act so well calculated to bring its system of government into contempt.



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