Suf­fragettes ‘should be par­doned’

A cen­tury af­ter women won the right to vote, calls grow to clear the names of those who led the fight

The Daily Telegraph - - Front page - By Kate Mccann, Si­mon John­son, Claire Co­hen and Anita Singh

SUF­FRAGETTES who were jailed while fight­ing to win the vote for women should be par­doned for their crimes, cam­paign­ers say to­day on the 100th an­niver­sary of their vic­tory.

More than 1,000 women were ar­rested and many were im­pris­oned dur­ing the bat­tle for equal­ity, but to­day the Fawcett So­ci­ety, as well as rel­a­tives of the suf­fragettes and se­nior Tory MPS, are call­ing on the Home Sec­re­tary to over­turn their con­vic­tions.

Cam­paign­ers said the women’s sac­ri­fices should not have made them crim­i­nals, and last night Sam Smethers, the chief ex­ec­u­tive of the Fawcett So­ci­ety, which pro­motes gen­der equal­ity, said: “Suf­fragette ac­tivism was for a no­ble cause and many of them be­came po­lit­i­cal pris­on­ers. “It would be a fit­ting trib­ute to par­don them now. They made such sac­ri­fices so that we could all en­joy the rights we have to­day. In any mean­ing­ful sense of the word, they were not crim­i­nals.”

The cam­paign was backed by Ruth David­son, the leader of the Scot­tish Con­ser­va­tives. Writ­ing in The Daily Tele­graph Ms David­son says: “Vot­ing was a value judg­ment, not an in­trin­sic right. That in­equal­ity is one of the rea­sons why I sup­port calls by fam­ily mem­bers to of­fer a post­hu­mous par­don to those suf­fragettes charged with right­ing that wrong.”

To­day’s 100th an­niver­sary of the Rep­re­sen­ta­tion of the Peo­ple Act will be marked across the coun­try and is likely to reignite de­bates over gen­der pay equal­ity and women’s rep­re­sen­ta­tion in Par­lia­ment.

The 1918 Bill was the first to give women the vote, al­though only to those over the age of 30 who also owned land or a home. The equal right was not ex­tended to all women un­til 1928.

Theresa May will to­day mark the cen­te­nary by thank­ing the heroic ef­forts of the women who won her the right to lead the coun­try.

In a speech in Manch­ester, the Prime Min­is­ter will say: “Those who fought to es­tab­lish their right – my right, ev­ery wo­man’s right – to vote in elec­tions, to stand for of­fice and to take their full and right­ful place in pub­lic life did so in the face of fierce opposition.

“They per­se­vered in spite of all dan­ger and dis­cour­age­ment be­cause they knew their cause was right.”

But she will also warn in­ter­net com­pa­nies that they must do more to stop young peo­ple, es­pe­cially women, from be­ing put off from stand­ing for Par­lia­ment be­cause of the abuse they suf­fer, and will claim the prob­lem is ham­per­ing democ­racy.

The an­niver­sary of women’s right to vote comes amid con­cerns that there is a long way to go be­fore fe­male em­ploy­ees are treated fairly. In a let­ter pub­lished in The Tele­graph to­day Ja­cob Rees Mogg, Maria Miller and other Con­ser­va­tive MPS put pres­sure on Mrs May to pub­lish de­tails on how many gay, eth­nic mi­nor­ity and fe­male can­di­dates are se­lected to run as MPS.

Kate Barratt, the great-great-grand­daugh­ter of suf­fragette Alice Hawkins, said: “The suf­fragettes should be par­doned. They did en­gage in crim­i­nal acts, but the fact is that they were not be­ing lis­tened to through the proper

chan­nels. They just weren’t afraid of do­ing what­ever it took, even if that was out­side the law, to achieve what they be­lieved in – and we now know it was the right thing to do.” She added: “It just shows how des­per­ate the sit­u­a­tion was at the time. And des­per­ate times call for des­per­ate mea­sures.”

Speak­ing about her great-great­grand­mother, Ms Barratt said Alice Hawkins was ar­rested five times, once for throw­ing a brick through a win­dow, but pointed out that most of the suf­fragette’s crimes did not cause harm to oth­ers.

Calls for a par­don were first mounted in 2004 when more than 50 MPS – in­clud­ing the cur­rent Labour leader Jeremy Cor­byn – signed a pe­ti­tion.

The cam­paign came to noth­ing when David Blun­kett, the home sec­re­tary at the time, said par­dons should only be used when new ev­i­dence sug­gests the con­vic­tion was un­safe or if the crime had since ceased to ex­ist.

The lat­ter sce­nario was used to al­low Alan Tur­ing a par­don in 2013 af­ter he was con­victed of gross in­de­cency for be­ing gay.

The crime for which he was sen­tenced is no longer in ex­is­tence. Cam­paign­ers ar­gue that the con­text for what the suf­fragettes were do­ing and the un­fair way they were treated should al­low them the same treat­ment.

A re­cently colourised pho­to­graph of An­nie Ken­ney, left, and Christa­bel Pankhurst, key mem­bers of the Women’s So­cial and Po­lit­i­cal Union, which was in­stru­men­tal in win­ning vot­ing rights for some women 100 years ago to­day

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