Dora B. Montefiore, New Age August 1904
Source: New Age, p. 539, 25 August 1904;
Transcribed: by Ted Crawford.
Thanks to Mr. Crooks, a House of Commons roused to a state of schoolboy festivity at the prospect of its autumn holiday, was reminded or the last day of Session of the duty which it still owes, as a measure of justice, to its women. Mr. Crooks’s Bill for Women’s Enfranchisement which he presented last week to the House, is supported by Mr. Shackleton, Mr. Bell, Mr. Arthur Henderson, Sir Albert Rollit, and Mr. Keir Hardie; and is to the effect that-,
“In all Acts relating to the qualifications and registration of voters or persons entitled or claiming to be registered and to vote in the election of members of Parliament, wherever words occur which import the masculine gender the same shall be held to include women for all purposes connected with and having reference to the right to be registered as voters, and to vote in such election, any law or usage to the contrary notwithstanding.”
It is in effect the original text of a measure introduced by the late Mr. Jacob Bright in 1876, and which passed its second-reading on May 8 of that year. Thanks to Mr. Gladstone’s bitter opposition (he made it a question of confidence), it was defeated on the motion of going into Committee; his opposition proves his very real fear of power being in the hands of the democracy; for, if the wording of the Bill be carefully studied, it will be seen that it is radically democratic in spirit, and provides for adult suffrage whenever manhood suffrage becomes a question of practical politics. That is to say, that if Radical, Labour, and Socialist members will loyally support this Bill, and help to place it on the Statute-book, whenever manhood suffrage is carried this Act must be either formally and expressly repealed, or adult suffrage (which millions of men-voters are pledged by their programmes to support) will be automatically carried at the same time. I trust that all earnest women suffragists will, during the autumn and winter campaign, place the matter in this light before their candidates and members urging them to support a measure so well fitted to help on the cause of true democratic institutions.
A reader has sent me an article from the pen of Mr. Keir Hardie, M.P., headed “Beef Steak and Butter Politics,” in which he runs a tilt against a leaflet written by Eva Gore Booth, as part of the propagandist literature distributed amongst the Women Textile Workers. The paragraph in the tracts or leaflets to which Mr. Keir Hardie takes exception is: “Why Do Working Women Live on Bread and Margarine, whilst Working Men Eat Beef Steaks and Butter?” It is good to hear that this paragraph has caused the Labour M.P. a hearty laugh, for it shows that he has rounded safely the bread and margarine promontory, and is sailing in the oily smooth water of beef steaks and butter. Those who are still battling with the ever-threatening waves of poverty fear to laugh lest their laughter might attract the attention of the gods. Mr. Keir Hardie trips airily over the first part of the question, and dances a ponderously Scotch “pas seul” over the latter part, finishing up with an amazing statement about Shelley, and an escordium in his best “kirk” manner not to “appeal to the stomach, but to seek more to enkindle the imagination, the dream faculty, the clear; true light of the vision.” Were I Eva Gore Booth, I should entreat Mr. Keir Hardie to write a leaflet on the lines he indicates, one paragraph of which might run as follows: – “Why should working women strive to love on 2d. a day? Answer.- Because the pains of hunger enkindle the imagination and the dream faculty, and starvation will in time give the clear, true light of the vision.” I confess I fail to grasp Mr. Keir Hardie’s standpoint when he remarks: “Our movement has quite enough of the sordid and the material about it without introducing either the bread-and-butter cry of the men, or its glorified female synonym of beef steaks and butter.” Mr. Keir Hardie is, I believe, a Socialist M.P., and a man of the people. He must therefore know that the standard of life amongst the people is not what it should be; and, further, that when the family purse is light it is the women side of the household in working-class families who fare the worst. By “our movement,” I presume he means Socialism, and I have always understood that, if Socialism means anything to the working classes, it means an all-round improvement of material conditions – in familiarly figurative words, butter, and something more, on their bread. “The time to be happy is now, the place to be happy is here”; and neither man nor woman can begin to be happy till they are good healthy animals, with a reasonable assurance that the morrow will not bring semi or total starvation. To the middle classes and to the aristocracy Socialism, when realised, will bring, let us hope, clearer consciences, in that they will no longer be consenting parties to systematic social injustice; so they may be allowed meanwhile to indulge in the exercise of “the dream faculty,” and to strive after “the clear, true light, of the vision.” Will Mr. Keir Hardie, meanwhile, illumined as he doubtless is with that “clear and true light,” give chapter and verse for the “gross” passages he has detected in Shelley’s writings?
It is men who make the laws and who regulate the number of licensed houses – or, in other words, who “push” for commercial gain the sale of intoxicating liquors. It is men voters, also, who alone are responsible for the plethora of brewers in the Commons, and the not infrequent titled “Beerocrats” in the Lords. It is undignified therefore, to say the least, for men to grow hysterical in their own newspapers over the “Marked Increase in Women Drunkards”; and it shows a lack of capacity for reasoning from cause to effect, which we of the illogical sex regret to see. Did they imagine, we feel inclined to ask, that drunkenness would decrease in proportion as the brewing and distilling interests increased? Or, to put it in another way “How did they imagine in the guileless simplicity of their masculine hearts that the beer and spirits manufactured yearly in the United Kingdom were to be disposed of? The demand among coloured races for Bibles and gin is, after all, but a limited one, and customers must therefore be found nearer home. Is it really so surprising, then, that the increase of deaths amongst men from alcoholism and delirium tremens is 346 between the years 1891 and 1902; and the increase of deaths among women over the same period and from the same causes is 371? The only thing surprising about the matter seemed to me that the article I refer to should have been headed “Women Drunkards,” when it dealt with statistics of drunkenness amongst men and women.
DORA B. MONTEFIORE.