The government and the suffrage campaigners Essay
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Do you agree with the view, expressed in Source U, that the confrontation between the government and the suffrage campaigners was not ‘wholly barren of results’?
It can be said that, although little progress was made in the way of legislation, that the suffragist campaign and the confrontation it made against the government at the time of the early 1900’s, was not without progress and did make headway in the political landscape. This is because the campaign gained great publicity through this period, and although many MPs did not agree with giving women the ability to vote, the majority of those in parliament changed their minds towards the posistion of women, and by the beginning of WW1, the majority of MPs were seen to support the female enfranchisement.
Although this is true, it can be seen that disagreements between the Liberal governement and the campaign did nothing to help the cause.
One factor which could be seen to either help the suffragettes campaign or disuade the government from giving women the vote, was the violent measures in which the WSPU performed. They can both be seen as a great force of publicity and as an act of violence that the government could put down to madness. The WSPU, by taking extreme measures, were able to promote their cause through the media as it was far the most controversial and divisive aspect of the whole of female suffrage. Although it gained the cause huge publicity, and many argue that any publicity at all increased the campaign’s progress, the use of violence seemed to justify the widely-held belief that women were not physically or mentally stable enough to be trusted with the vote.
Above all, Suffragette violence had very effectively alienated the peaceful suffragists, such as the NUWSS, and particularly, the liberal prime minister, and in a political situation where so much depended on the personal attitude of the prime minister, this may be considered a fatal mistake. Suffragette violence not only repulsed him personally but made it virtually impossible for him to bend on the issue even had he wished to, since it would make it appear as if he were giving in to threats. On the otherhand, Asquith was also delaying with the threat of a civil war in Ireland, industrial unrest and the controversial People’s Budget, and the Women’s enfranchisement could be seen to be far less pressing than the other issues present at the time. Athough ths is true, their use of violence granted the women the posistion of using tactics used against them to create propaganda against the government, as seen in Source M; here, although created by a Alfred Pearse, someone in favour of the campaign, does show the forceful way in which the Liberal government treated female suffrage prisoners.
Forcefeeding, which the Liberal government implemented in order to stop the women dying in prison for the cause and becoming a martyr, was used against them as it enabled the suffragettes to use them as publicity stunts and against the Liberal’s electioneering. In turn, the violent measures in which the suffragettes performed in order to gain them the vote, may have failed in the sense that many now believed they were too unstable to be given the vote, but the most that can be claimed for suffragette violence is that it kept the issue on the political agenda and made it impossible for the governï¿½ment to ignore, gaining the cause great publicity and enabled them to show the terrible ways in which the Liberal government used to keep them under control.
Another factor which shows that progress was made, is the conciliation bills which were proposed by the Conciliation Committee, consisting of 54 suffragists MPs. This consisted of giving women ‘possessed with a household qualification’, as seen in Source F, to be given the vote, and recieved a parliamentary majority of 109 in July 1910. This shows great progress of the female suffrage campaign, as the government gave the bill parliamentary time and by 1908, most MPs, including most of the Cabinet, openly supported women’s suffrage. On the otherhand, the bills could be seen as ‘wholly barren of results’, as they were never to become legislation.
Source F can be seen as a reliable and trustworthy source as it is taken from the draft of the Conciliation Bill, but does only show the opinions of those in favour of female suffrage. The failure of the bills, whcih had brought such a resounding majority, brought on ‘Black Friday’, which resulted in an increase of violence and increase on publicity. In turn, although the Conciliation Bills ultimately resulted in failure, as there were bigger problems to focus on, they did show that progress has been made within parliament, as they recieved such a large majority and showed that the female enfranchisement was a pressing issue.
Finally, although little progress was made to female enfranchisement, the Liberal government did help the campaign indirectly. By altering the powers of the House of Lords, removing their power to veto bills and instead only delay bills, meant that the suffrage campaign’s biggest obstacle, the House of Lords who were largely against female enfranchisement, were removed. Although it could be said that the campaign was ‘wholly barren of results’, as the Liberal government had only removed the rejecting powers as to get pass the People’s Budget, the 1911 Parliament Act did mean that it helped the female suffrage campaign, as bills were far more likely to pass parliament now the powers had been reduced. Source U also agrees with this notion, as it is shown to be Asquith’s ‘vital achievement’. This idea comes from a book devoted directly to women’s suffrage, and would have weighted this idea as it was written a long time after the Parliamentary Act of 1911. Yet, it can also be shown to be too indirect to female suffrage, as they still did not revieve the vote until 7 years later.
Overall, the failure of the suffrage movement can be ascribed by a number of factors, yet the campaign was not ‘wholly barren of results’ as the confrontation between the government and the campaign gained, especially the Suffragettes, great publicity for their movement. Although the suffragette militancy can be seen to harm their cause, it would also have proven the lengths in which the women would go to get themselves the vote, showing an aptitude for politics. Another form of evidence to show that progress had been made, was the conciliation bills; although legislation never made it under Asquith’s government, it proved the popularity of female suffrage amoung MPs and was a pressing issue.
Asquith, although against female suffrage, proved to be worthy for the cause by ridding the House of Lords of their rejecting powers, which was proving to be the suffrage campaign’s biggest problem. In turn, although little obvious progress was made, the confrontation between the the suffrage movement and the government was not ‘wholly barren of results’, as ublicity increased greatly due to their arguments and changes were made to the system of government.