Dora B. Montefiore, Justice 23 July 1910

The ‘Conciliation’ Bill

Source: Justice, p.7, 23 July 1910;
Transcribed: by Ted Crawford.

The “Standard,” commenting on this co-called “Conciliation” Woman Suffrage Bill, remarks quite truly that it is “a measure neither cleverly drafted nor candidly promoted.” That, whether the various suffrage societies like the criticism or not, is the real truth of the matter. The measure is the one for which Unionist women and their men supporters have always stood, with Mrs. Fawcett at their head, driving home the reactionary axiom that the basis of the franchise in this country must and shall be property interests, as opposed to human interests. The Unionist Women’s Suffrage Society have in their programme “To oppose any extension of the franchise which has not a property qualification for its basis.” If, therefore, there was to be any conciliation in the framing of this last Bill, such conciliation was bound to come from Liberals, Radicals, and Labourites, who threw all principle to the winds, and ranged themselves alongside the most reactionary of Unionist women. Such conduct cannot even be styled “opportunism”; on the part of the 30 Labour members who voted for the Bill, after pledging themselves at the Annual Conference of the Labour Party to demand nothing less than Adult Sutirage, it was flat treachery to the workers who sent them to Parliament to represent working class interests.

Those interests do not, and cannot, lie in the direction of strengthening the power of property; and I would advise all workers to keep by them, for reference, a copy of the division list on July and question their Labour members pretty severely on the meaning of their vote on that occasion.

As long ago as 1906, I foresaw this swing in the direction of reaction on the part of the W.S.P.U. and wrote an article to that effect in the “New Age.” We had established the London portion of that organisation on a democratic basis; the working women from the East End of London were roused to interest – and enthusiasm, and demonstrated constantly before my house in Hammersmith, while I was keeping out the bailiff and refusing to pay income-tax. The “Red Flag” and “England Arise” used to be sung at the Caxton Hall meetings, and the card of membership, designed by Miss Sylvia Pankhurst, represented working women with bared arms lifted above their heads, or carrying babies in their shawls, demanding democratically the vote.

But with the advent to London of Mrs. and Miss Pankhurst the scene changed; the East End women were snubbed and discouraged, the “Red Flag” was hustled out of the way, and the membership cards were withdrawn in favour of others of a more bourgeois type. The decree went forth that money was what was needed, and as money was only to be found among the bourgeoisie and the aristocracy these classes were to be conciliated, coûte que coûte. Now the colour that most offends these classes is red, and the word Socialism is to them a rank offence. Therefore a further decree went forth that everyone in the W.S.P.U. was to leave her own political party, and pretend to have no party. This decree was specially aimed at Socialists, and many – too many – of the Socialist women yielded to pressure and left their organisations; while those who did not do so left the W.S.P.U. It was then I prophesied that the whirligig of time would bring its own revenges; and that the new and militant movement, which had begun so democratically, and which, with a little good leadership, would have ranged itself definitely on the side of womanhood suffrage, would, in its truckle to the political standards and demands of reactionary women, have eventually to submit to taking even less than the so-called “on the same terms as men.”

At that time, as to-day, the Adult Suffrage Society stood out uncompromisingly for the human basis of representation, as opposed to the property basis; but as that society could not be “conciliated” by fair means, these intriguers set to work to attempt to do so by foul means. A People’s Suffrage Federation was started, having for its ostensible object the gaining of Adult Suffrage. Many of our best fighters were drawn away from the old society, whore educational work among trade union and Labour organisations was belittled and denied; Radical M.P.’s (with the exception of Mr. Dickinson) who had again and again declared themselves in favour of nothing short of Adult Suffrage failed to support us on our platforms; and finally, when the members of the older society refused, at a specially called meeting, to affiliate with the P.S.F., they were reproached with not going into the camp where “the big guns” were. The powder in these “big guns” has proved to be rather damp, and they are loaded with “conciliation” shell, which, when it explodes, is apt to injure really democratic causes; so we of the Adult Suffrage Society do not regret having left “the big guns” alone. Our guns are light field guns, which can be moved about rapidly wherever the fighting is hottest, and we shall continue to use these weapons, and to fight the fight for Adult Suffrage, even on the small amount of sinews of war which the workers can afford to supply. Let none think that if through intimidation Liberals and Tories have agreed to let in women householders that militant methods are going to cease on the part of those women who are still unenfranchised. We shall hope to have the unenfranchised men with us, and we intend to make things lively for “Balsquith,” whether he figures at the head of a Liberal or Tory Government. Personally, I have not paid income-tax for two years, and I take no notice of any letters from Somerset House. Not being a householder, I should not be enfranchised under the “Conciliation” Bill, so I can logically continue to defy the Government and save my income-tax. Next year I believe a census is to be taken, and I call then upon all unenfranchised women to refuse to give any details to census officials. Let the Government find out for themselves what they want to know. We women are not citizens; why, therefore, should we fulfil any obligation of citizenship?

One word of friendly advice to Mr. Shackleton. His Bill, which was meant to please the readers of the “Standard,” has unkindly been written of as “neither cleverly drafted nor candidly promoted”; but let him not lose heart of grace. I have often heard some of the Suffragist ladies say they would be satisfied if one woman were enfranchised, so as to “establish the principle and break down the sex barrier.” Once on the path of “conciliation,” facilis descensus Avernus ! Let him try his hand at drafting another Bill, which shall be a model of astuteness and infantile in its candour. Let its object be to enfranchise politically Mrs. Fawcett, Lady Frances Balfour, Lady Knightly of Fawsley, and Mrs. Snowden; and, lo! the Bill will pass through its three readings, its Committee stages, the House of Lords, and will receive the Royal Assent before the little grouse are ready for the “big guns” of the M.P.’s, and before the Labour Party has time to chant somewhat regretfully its “Nunc Dimittis.” And if you would be indeed great, Mr. Shackleton, as well as good, think over this suggestion, and with your usual perspicacity embody it in a really clever and candid Bill.