The Liberal Party Had No Real Interest in Women's Suffrage between 1884 and 1914: An Analysis

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Do you agree with the view that, between the years of 1884 and 1914, the Liberal Party had no real interest in women’s suffrage?

Lydia Becker, a leader in the early suffrage movement gave a speech in 1885 where she criticised the Liberal government as she believed they did not care ‘a straw for the interests and wishes of women’. This was on the back of the third reform act, which was passed a year before this source. The act gave working class men the right to vote but still left out 40 percent of men, and all women. Becker describes that the government ‘promises of greater freedom’ are a ‘mockery’. The weight of this source could perhaps be questioned, as taking into account the origin of it. This quote was from the secretary of the NSWS, so it would be expected that after the disappointment of still not gaining the vote, she would be frustrated. Although, it does seem that after the reform act, the Liberals did have very little interest in enfranchising women.

A possible reason for the liberals lack of interest was the fear of the unknown. They perhaps felt that in giving the vote to upper-class women would result in a swing of support to the Conservatives. The Liberals would be wary of this and in 1914, a long 29 years after Becker’s speech, the Liberal Prime Minister, Asquith responded to demands for votes for women. As part of his response that, if women are to get the vote, it should include all women, upper and lower class. He said, ’if women were to get the vote then they should get it ’on the same terms as men,’ to make it a ’democratic measure’. This idea would in affect reduce the risk of the inclusion of women as it would be expected that the lower class women would vote Liberal, going against the upper class women’s support. Even though he did not include this hint of universal enfranchisement, Asquith makes it clear that he does not condone the violent actions of the Suffragettes. That in his view their actions had ‘put back the cause of...
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