Tuesday, 8 July 2014

Countdown to War, Day 11. 8 July: Votes for Women and, as ever, trouble in Ireland

One hundred years ago today, on Wednesday 8 July 1914, Martin the young Mancunian whose fortunes we have been following might have been shocked by a letter to the Manchester Guardian denouncing a terrible practice being used against suffragette protesters:

Forcible feeding is one thing as applied to passive invalids and lunatics, quite another as applied to a sane and resisting prisoner. There is abundant evidence that in the latter case it is acutely painful, frequently dangerous and invariably degrading.

He was a little surprised that the correspondents didn’t seem to feel the mentally unwell didn’t suffer pain like other people, but then perhaps lunatics were already too “degraded” to notice.

He wasn’t quite sure about votes for women. It seemed slightly odd to him that someone in a skirt should vote, especially since he couldn’t vote either, being neither a property owner nor a tenant paying sufficient rent. But he had friends in the Labour Party who kept telling him that being denied the right himself meant he ought to make common cause with the women, so that he and they could win it together. Some of those friends were women, and they were certainly clever enough to argue his hind leg off, so maybe there was something in what they were saying.

Certainly, there was plenty of talk about women’s suffrage. There’d been a debate run by the Church League for Women’s Suffrage, in which the presiding officer, Canon Green declared that “he wished Churchmen to be outspoken.”

Emmeline Pankhurst whips up a crowd in Trafalgar Square
There was also a piece about Emmeline Pethwick Lawrence who claimed she’d been driven out of the Women’s Social and Political Union by its leader, Emmeline Pankhurst, and was now working in the United Suffragists’ Society. 

He smiled at that word, “United”. Funny how whenever a movement split, at least one splinter would call itself “united”.

Trouble about votes for women was that it just one of the hardy perennials. The other was, of course, Ireland. Things were turning nastier by the day between Protestants and Catholics in Ulster. Quoting the Times, the Guardian told him that “the tension of the situation has become well-nigh unbearable.” 

Apparently, it was believed that nationalists had stockpiles of weapons and were planning to fling the fact in the faces of Unionists. Ugly. And worse still, this was happening at a time when Europe, despite its odd pockets of trouble, was enjoying unprecedented peace. It was a pity that right here, on Britain’s doorstep, civil war seemed to be brewing.

Just as unwelcome was the article headlined “Lancashire lose to Surrey.” Yes, well, he’d been expecting that. He’d written off the match when he’d read about Surrey’s massive first innings total. He didn’t bother to read the report.

At least all that unpleasant business about the shooting of the Austrian Grand Duke seemed once more to have died down. Certainly, he noticed nothing about it in the paper. A sad business, but for a while it had looked as though it might lead to something far more serious still. Perhaps that had been avoided. He wondered whether it was all down to clever diplomacy, behind the scenes. Had the talented diplomatists that Europe, and not least Britain, possessed, made sure that a tragedy had not turned into a catastrophe?


Anonymous said...

"Interesting" times indeed.


David Beeson said...

And they become still more interesting later...

Awoogamuffin said...

Yes, the "United Suffragists’ Society" makes me think of Monthy Python and the Life of Brian

David Beeson said...

Monty Python wasn't being entirely fanciful, was it?