Journal column - 6/2/18

IT's hard to believe the Suffragette celebrations were subdued when the first British women gained the right to vote 100 years ago today.

Hard but true when the slaughter of the Great War was continuing and the Suffragettes had agreed to pause their campaign at the start of hostilities the establishment had wrongly predicted would be brief, with our soldiers returning home by Christmas 1914.

“The pageantry and rejoicing… which in pre-war days would have greeted the victory, were absent when it came,” reflected Sylvia Pankhurst in her 1931 book The Suffragette Movement. “The sorrows of the world conflict precluded jubilations.”

I’ve huge respect for the Suffragettes, ordinary working women whose names are alas long forgotten by history as well as the Pankhursts, who before then during the war with their contribution to bloody victory gave birth to a Representation of the People Act 1918 conceding the right to vote to millions of women previously disenfranchised.

It would be another decade before women under 30 achieved the same rights as men to vote from the age of 21 and all property qualifications abolished.

While women were fighting for the vote, about half the men fighting in the trenches for the British Army also didn't have the vote. All the German soldiers did, it should be remembered.

And the first British General Election on the basis of one person-one vote wasn't until 1950 when double-vote extra university seats for graduates of dreaming spires colleges of privilege were finally abolished.

I’m full of admiration for the achievements of the women’s movement. Maternity leave rights, equal pay, domestic violence legislation – all of these I know were hard fights.

Women continue to achieve great things in every field – in the media, in government and politics, in sport and culture, in business and enterprise. They are showing us that everyone has talents, and given the chance everyone can use those talents and fulfil their potential.

And if you look at how many hugely-talented female MP’s come from the North East – they are rarely a lone voice in a room full of men, a far cry from the day voting was granted for a proportion of women in 1918.

The Suffragette motto “Deeds not words” is as relevant in 2018 as it was more than 100 years ago.

Could you possibly imagine what the famous Suffragettes would be thinking about Theresa May and the hopeless job she is doing of running our country today?

I can see Emily Davison now, scratching her head, angrily thinking how on earth is incompetent May managing to cling on to the keys of Downing Street.

Davison saw women's votes as a means to a better ends so she would be furious at a Tory Government hell bent on making life harder for people struggling to make ends meet.

The Suffragettes would be standing toe to toe with the fabulous WASPI’s demanding pensions justice seven years after the Conservatives unfairly raised their retirement age by up to six years with barely any notice.

If increasing the pension age so some of the poorer among us who'll die before qualifying for measly payments is May's idea of social justice then she can stick it the same place as her useless Tory Manifesto.

So let’s use this symbolic year as an opportunity to make things better, from women’s rights to ending the everyday injustices in our country.

We celebrate heroines past to be inspired for the future, the solidarity spirit of Emily Davison and her sisters as relevant tomorrow as it is today and was yesterday. 


Meet your MP


Stephen Hepburn has served the Jarrow Constituency as MP since 1997.

He was last elected to serve in June 2017 and won the seat with a conclusive 17,263 majority.

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