Dora B. Montefiore, New Age March 1904

Women’s Interests

The Recent Woman Suffrage Debate in Parliament

Source: New Age, p. 203, 31 March 1904;
Transcribed: by Ted Crawford.

I have received a great deal of correspondence on the subject of the recent debate in Parliament on woman suffrage; and many correspondents ask pointedly: “How is it that none of the Labour members spoke on our side?” I am more than glad the question is in the air, and hope some of the backward Labour members will get a bad quarter of an hour before long, when women’s help will be needed at election time. Mr. Shackleton, for instance, sixty per cent. of whose Parliamentary expenses is paid by women Trade Unionists, might surely have taken up Mr. Cremer’s challenge which demanded what grievances women ever had that, when brought before Parliament, were not speedily redressed! Mr. Shackleton, as a Trade Union representative, must well know some of the economic grievances; and he might at the same time have corrected Mr. Cremer’s statement to the effect that he had never heard before that the possession of the franchise was a lever for procuring better wages and better conditions of labour. A few days after the debate Mr. Shackleton brought before Parliament the question of the sweating of employees in Government workshops; and in the course of the debate on this question Mr. Crooks made a good point by telling how, when going one day round some Government shop and inquiring as to the rate of wages paid to some women employees, he was told their wages were eleven shillings a week. “Why that’s starvation!” he exclaimed. “Yes, but its constant,” was the imperturbable reply. Mr. Crooks might also have broken a lance for us on the 16th, and might have helped women to help themselves in the future in the improvement of their economic conditions.

A Reply to an Anonymous Correspondent.

I have also been favoured by a postcard from a correspondent at Tottenham, who is as backward as the Labour members, for he omits to sign his name. I wrote a week or two ago to the Morning Leader (in reply to a letter signed “Woodgreen,” calling on women to give a lead in protesting against the introduction of indentured Chinese labour into South Africa), and pointed out that such an appeal to unenfranchised women in England was of little avail, as we had no means of enforcing in the near future our protest at the ballot box. I added that, “in our Australian colonies men can appeal to women to help them when the cause of progress and liberty is at stake; and women have not proved themselves unworthy of the trust committed to them by the working-men of the colonies.” My Tottenham correspondent, who has the advantage of me in knowing my address (which was not given in the paper), while I know neither his name nor address, takes exception to my remarks in the following words: “No, no! You are altogether wrong. In Australia the women are voting for the Tories, and corruption, jobbery, etc. The finances of the country are steadily going to the dogs. Ask Tom Mann.” In the hopes that my Tottenham friend occasionally reads THE NEW AGE, I may remark that I really think it is scarcely worth while to trouble Mr. Tom Mann for his opinion. Deeds are more eloquent than words: and since Mr. Tom. Mann has found it worth his while to settle down in that despised country of “corruption, jobbery, and Tory women,” I cannot bring myself to believe that the economic and political outlook is so bad as my Tottenham friend’s lively imagination leads him to conjure up.

A Venerable Misrepresentation.

I only wish my chances of a long life were as good as are those of that venerable lie that women do, when they have the chance, and always will in the future, vote Tory! When I observed it cropping up again in Tottenham, I appreciated the Psalmist’s frame of mind when he made that sweeping condemnation of men’s disregard for truth. As a matter of fact, there is no such thing in Australia as “voting Tory.” The question that divides the two parties is Free Trade and Protection, whilst of late years Labour and Socialism have each had an increasing following. At the recent election for the Federal Parliament in Victoria the relative strength of the parties was in the House of Representatives: Ministerialists, 29, Opposition 22, Labour 18. Whilst in the Senate or Upper House, the Ministerialists were 1, Opposition 5 and Labour 13. Commenting on these returns, Reuter’s correspondent wires December 18,1903: “The success of the Labour party is largely due to the female franchise, which was well organised on behalf of the Labour party, and voted for the Labour ticket regardless of other considerations.” An S.D.F. working man in England, who has lived during part of his life in Australia, and who has lately received a letter from a Socialist comrade in Queensland on the subject of the recent elections in that colony, has kindly put at my disposal the following figures:- The three Labour candidates between them polled 193,951 votes; the three Capitalist candidates polled 175,998 votes; and an inpendent Labour man secured 31,255 votes. It would be difficult even for my Tottenham politician to explain where the women’s “Tory vote” came in on either of these two occasions! The feeling amongst Labour and Socialist members out there is that the woman’s vote has helped to secure their return. I would recommend my Tottenham friend and others who take up and repeat these parrot cries to make a careful study of present-day Colonial politics, and, as far as in them lies, to divest their minds of prejudice.