Wednesday, December 01, 2010

Students v Suffragettes

The 18th November 2010 was the centenary of Black Friday.

In the summer of 1910, an all-party group of MPs devised the Conciliation Bill, which would extend the right to vote to around one million wealthy, property-owning women, and it passed its second reading by 299 votes to 189 but on Friday 18th November 1910 the PM, Herbert Henry Asquith, refused it further parliamentary time.

In response, Mrs Pankhurst led a deputation of 300 to the Houses of Parliament. The police obstructed them and a violent skirmish ensued. Over 100 were arrested and many were injured. The event has ever since been referred to as Black Friday.

During the 3 days of violence, 285 arrests were made, 75 women imprisoned, many were injured and 3 later died from their injuries. As the Government continued to break promises, so women's fury and impatience increased, and the WSPU [Women's Social and Political Union] resorted to damaging property including window-smashing raids and arson. Altogether, over a thousand women went to prison.

Read more about the suffragettes on the CWO website

The events of Black Friday were a public relations disaster for the government, including the Home Secretary, Winston Churchill. The press took the side of the suffragettes, printing pictures of police assaulting unarmed female protesters and the actions of the police were greatly criticised.

Women were taking a stand against a male-dominated world, protesting the Victorian belief that men were more intelligent than women and that a woman couldn't possibly be trusted to sensibly choose a candidate in an election (or, even worse, stand for election herself).

Step forward 100 years.

School children and students rampage through the streets of London. Most are on a jolly so they can say that they were there; some are out to cause as much trouble and damage as possible; and the rest believe that they are being hard-done by and want to protect further education for the future.

The latter, I have no problem with. The first I encourage to stay at home and study instead. But it's the minority that are misunderstood.

They are not anarchists; they are not communists; nor are they revolutionaries. They are angry because they're teenagers and their hormones are overwhelming them. Bless.

As every parent of two different sexed children will tell you, girls go through the "I hate you!" phase a lot earlier than boys do. Boys tend to wait until they get a sniff of independence, then go overboard, getting wrapped up in anything that sparks an interest. Give these "anarchists" a couple of years and their first sexual experience and they'll wonder what all the fuss was about.

So, other than hormones, what's the difference between the violence on the streets 100 years ago and the violence on the streets today? The answer is support. The suffragettes had it - the students don't.

Had they sent a deputation to parliament, had Aaron Porter schmoozed the media (rather than just want to be interviewed), had Nelson's Column remained untouched, then more people would listen to them. But instead their support dropped faster than a fire extinguisher off 30 Millbank.

I'm also not entirely sure that they know what they're protesting about. All they hear is £9000 and it's off for a sit-in at the local council chambers.

Children, it's cold outside and burning a bus shelter isn't going to keep the fight warm. If you want to learn how to campaign and lobby properly then do some research and read a book or two...

Oops. Sorry. My mistake.

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