Women- the role of the Liberal government(notes)

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Notes on the Liberal Government 1906-1914
1) The WSPU were hopeful in 1906 because the general election resulted in a Liberal Landslide.
With it, came hopes of all radical reform groups.
2) 1908 was a turning point, as Herbert Asquith became prime minister; a man not in favour of
giving women the vote, therefore not giving women's suffrage much time in parliament at all.
3) The Liberal Government were reluctant to give women the vote, as its popularity was slipping,
It was not, therefore, likely to be willing to introduce an issue such as suffrage that was so
controversial that its majority may be wiped out. Herbert Asquith was also fundamental to this.
The Liberals also had other, far more important problems to deal with; industrial unrest and in
Ireland and a rebellious house of lords, for example.
4) 1910 was a difficult time for the Liberal government, as, desperate to enforce his People's
Budget through parliament, David Lloyd George put the government on a collision course with
the house of lords. The power of the lords was curbed, but not without consequence. The next 2
general elections resulted in the loss of the Liberal's overall majority; only kept in power by the
Irish Nationalists, who wanted a settlement to The Irish Question, and the labour party.
5) The Conciliation Committee was established in 1910-consisting of 54 suffragist MPs from all
parties. The Chairman was the Earl of Lytton, and the Honorary Secretary, Henry Brailsford. The
WSPU suspended militant activities and all women's suffrage groups set aside their differences
and supported the Conciliation Bills.
6) The Conciliation Bill failed to give women the vote, because Prominent Liberals condemned the
bill as fundamentally detrimental to the party's interests. MPs were sceptical about its benefits
and worried that it would wipe out liberal representation.
7) The second bill failed through having little time in parliament. The third was prompted by the
NUWSS leader Millicent Fawcett, who held talks with the foreign secretary about the
amendment of the proposed government reform bill. Women saw the abandonment of the third
Conciliation Bill as deceptive and dubitable on the part of the government and Asquith. The
WSPU returned to violence.
8) At first, Women prisoners were given first division treatment, which meant that they had the
status of political prisoners; were allowed to wear their own clothes and receive food parcels.
After 1908, however, suffragettes were placed in the `second division' and were treated as
ordinary criminals.
9) Hunger striking became the weapon of choice for imprisoned suffragettes. At first, the hunger
strikers were released from prison. Then the government, terrified of having a suffragette die in
prison and anxious not to create martyrs, introduced force feeding. Women were fed through
their nostrils, mouths and beyond.
10) The government introduced the Cat and Mouse Act in 1913 to tackle the problem of public
hunger striking opposition. The act permitted strikers release to recover, before being
re-arrested when they were in a safe condition.


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