Parliamentary Parties and Their Attitudes to Women's Suffrage

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The 3rd Reform Bill made campaigning important as it included uneducated people whom the political parties needed to gain the support of. 

Conservatives:

The Primrose League was not for suffrage but for party promotion:

  • It was formed in 1883.
  • It aimed to support aspiring Tory MPs to parliament.
  • Subscription was expensive but associate membership without full rights was available for the working classes.
  • Men and women were admitted on equal terms.
  • Local Primrose League groups were formed and women got involved on the social side by organising events and handing out leaflets.
  • Many members were suffragists BUT the Primrose League did not aim to gain suffage.
  • The women benefitted from the political experience as well as from forming potential political allies with many MPs.

The Conservative Party was divided over women's suffrage and individual members were inconsistent:

  • Disraeli (1866) - ' I do not see on what reasons she has not a right to vote ' but when John Stuart Mill proposed an amendment to enfranchise women, Disraeli gave him no support.
  • Lord Salisbury (1881) - ' Women will also bear their share in voting for MPs ' but voted against a suffrage bill 1891.
  • House of Lords were generally opposed to giving the vote to women, but Lord Lytton was president of Men's League for Women's Suffrage and showed consistent support. However, Lord Curzon and Cromer were President of the Anti-Suffrage League.
  • Balfour (1892) - pointed to a contradiction in giving men who pay no taxes a vote but refused enfrachisement for women no matter their contribution BUT failed to support it as Prime Minister.
  • Some Conservative MPs worked on the Concilliation Bills.
  • Bonar Law (1913) - reused to support an amendment that would have enfranchised women.

Overall, after Disraeli's 'Leap in the Dark', the Conservative Party was opposed to any extention of franchise and this may explain why they were opposed to female suffrage.

Liberals:

The Liberal Party were less traditionalist and therefore, it appears they may have been more open to the suggestion of women's suffrage but this…

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