Tag Archives: On this day in…

On this day in 1962: Macmillan’s Night of the Long Knives

On the evening of 13 July 1962, Prime Minister Harold Macmillan removed seven Cabinet ministers, including his Chancellor of the Exchequer, Selwyn Lloyd. The action was so dramatic that the media quickly termed it after the Nazi’s ‘Night of the Long Knives’ in 1934.

Macmillan’s popularity had grown throughout the early 1950s, when ‘Supermac’ steered the country through the post-Suez era, increasing wealth and claiming ‘Life’s Better Under the Conservatives’.

1959 Election Poster

By the early 1960s, however, the tune had changed. Financial troubles, a wage freeze and divided opinion over entry into the European Community led to a drop in the government’s popularity, and the Conservatives fared poorly in local elections and by-elections. By 1963, Macmillan faced a very different environment to that of the 1950s, and divisions within the Party put pressure on him to make changes.

On the evening of 13 July, Macmillan announced that he was dismissing seven members of his Cabinet:

    • Lord Kilmuir — Lord Chancellor

 

  • Selwyn Lloyd — Chancellor of the Exchequer
  • David Eccles — Minister of Education
  • Harold Watkinson — Minister of Defence
  • John Scott Maclay — Secretary of State for Scotland
  • Charles Hill — Minister of Housing and Local Government and Welsh Affairs
  • Lord Mills — Minister without Portfolio

 

 

The Conservative Weekly News Letter covered the reshuffled as finding 
‘the right balance’ (PUB 193/18)

This Cabinet reshuffle, which left the National Liberals without a Cabinet position, marked the beginning of a large-scale government reorganisation that involved more than 50 people. Although Conservative press called it an act of ‘power and decision’ and Macmillan’s ‘greatest service to the Conservative Party’, many members of the public and the government deplored it as overly harsh and a sign of weakness. Macmillan’s public image was permanently damaged, and he resigned the following year due to ill health. Many members of his new Cabinet went on to influence government policy for decades.

50 years ago: Africa and the Caribbean seek independence

Although 1962 was not the most significant year in terms of newly independent nations, it played an important role in a decade that marked significant changes to the British overseas presence.

Despite obvious changes around the Empire, there was some reluctance to support widespread independence for colonial nations. Macmillan’s 1960 ‘Wind of Change’ speech had signalled a shift in government attitude, but it was met with resistance at home. The Conservative policy had long been one of delay; the uncertainty of the 1959 General Election, the Suez Crisis and indeed fear of communism led many to believe that, as Sir Roy Welensky, then Prime Minister of the Federation of Rhodesia and Nyasaland, said, it was ‘essential to retain a permanent British foothold in Africa, which had now become the key continent in the East/West struggle’ (Conservative Commonwealth Affairs Committee meeting minutes, 13 July 1961 [CCO 507/1/1]). The 1950s and early 1960s saw the Labour Party portraying themselves as the progressive party when it came to the Empire; the Conservative Commonwealth Council noted, ‘To our own shame is the fatal image created by members of the British left wing, studiously uncorrected by their leaders, that the Labour Party would back the demands of Africans, however extreme, against the rights and position of ‘grasping’ Europeans’ (‘The Revolution in East Africa’ – East Africa Sub-Group, Conservative Commonwealth Council, Apr. 1960 [CCO 4/8/51]).

The Conservative Overseas Bureau was tasked with making Conservative principles known throughout the Commonwealth as well as forging ties with and facilitating visits of members of Commonwealth and other overseas states (PUB 74B)

Despite this resistance, many within the Party supported independence – and many others, whatever their feelings, recognised its inevitability. Ian MacLeod, Secretary of State for the Colonies from 1957 to 1961, expressed frustration following the Congo’s 1960 independence from Belgium: ‘Do you know what that means? We are going to be the last in the colonial sphere instead of the first’ (Blundell, M., So Rough a Wind, London 1967, p. 221).

The Conservative Commonwealth Council was founded to take over the Overseas Bureau’s secondary function of promoting activity and study surrounding Commonwealth affairs (CRD 2/34/26).

1962 saw independence for Jamaica, Trinidad and Tobago and Uganda, as well as permission for Nyasaland (now Malawi) to secede from the Central African Federation (it gained independence in 1964). Committee notes and publications, both from within the Party and from the Commonwealth Council, indicated general support for viable independence. The Conservative Commonwealth Council’s March 1960 report on the British Caribbean Territories noted, ‘Thanks to progress already made and consolidated, only the attainment of economic and financial viability can be regarded as standing between the Federation and admission to Commonwealth membership, in addition to grant by the UK of full sovereignty’ (CCO 4/8/51). Jamaica declared independence on 6 June 1962, and Trinidad and Tobago followed on 31 August.

While the fate of the Caribbean colonies depended mostly upon economic and financial progress, Uganda’s required the resolution of political and ethnic conflicts. The Uganda Independence Conference was held in June in London to address issues such as uniting the country’s tribal kingdoms, drafting the constitution and a fiscal policy and, most controversially, governing the ‘Lost Counties’. Although the conference was successful overall, the final issue – a dispute between the Kingdoms of Buganda and Bunyoro over territory – went unresolved. Following House of Commons debate, the Ugandan Independence Bill passed, granting Uganda its independence on 9 October 1962.

Commonwealth Affairs (July 1962) was published by the CPC on behalf of the Overseas Bureau. The issues of the 1960s often dealt with independence (PUB 136/3).

In addition to the three official independence bills, 1962 saw political conversations focus on the future of Kenya, which was granted independence in December 1963, and of the Central African Federation, which dissolved in 1963. All of the UK’s African colonies – with the exception of Southern Rhodesia – had achieved independence by 1968, and many of those in the Caribbean, South America and the South Pacific followed over the 1970s and 80s. Britain still maintains sovereignty over 14 overseas territories.


All images © The Conservative Party Archive Trust

75 years ago today: Coronation of King George VI

On 12 May 1937, King George VI and his wife Queen Elizabeth were crowned King and Queen of English at Westminster Abbey. The date was that originally set for the coronation of his brother, Edward VIII, who relinquished the throne to marry Wallis Simpson in December 1936.

The new monarch faced a very different nation than the one his father greeted upon his coronation in 1910; George V had ruled for 26 years, and much had changed. There was no Delhi Durbar for George VI; rather, he and his queen visited North America and France to build strategic connections while the threat of war loomed.

The May 1937 issue of The Torchbearer (the magazine of the Junior Imperial League: PUB 218)

Yet the coronation was celebrated around the country. Mass Observation files note that that crowds braved soggy weather to watch the procession and the fireworks, and video footage shows thousands of people lining the streets to watch the coronation procession.

The May 1937 issue of The Elector gave readers a taste of the magnificence they could expect from the coronation (PUB 146/3)

The coronation also made television history as the first time the BBC was able to provide live coverage of the event – the first official outside broadcast, viewed by 50,000. The BBC writes that it took ‘eight miles of television cable weighing several tons…the first television mobile control room, a van packed with equipment weighing more than ten tons’. An April 1937 Radio Times supplement details the broadcast arrangements for both the procession and the ceremony.

Media coverage proved a complete success, and George VI spoke to his people from the palace following the coronation: ‘Never before has a newly crowned king been able to talk to all his peoples in their own home on the day of his coronation. Never has the ceremony itself had so wide a significance, for the dominions are now free and equal partners with this ancient kingdom. And I felt this morning that the whole Empire was in very truth gathered within the walls of Westminster Abbey.’

A century ago this week: The formation of the Conservative and Unionist Party

A guest blog post by Alistair Lexden, the official historian of the Conservative Party:

On 9 May 1912 large numbers of Conservatives descended on the Queen’s Hall in London, best-known at that time as the home of Sir Henry Wood’s Promenade Concerts (which thirty years later were forced by the Luftwaffe to move to the Royal Albert Hall). The Tories came not to listen to sublime music, but to make historic changes to the Party’s organisation and name.

The conference had been convened by the National Union of Conservative Associations to which most, but not all, of the Party’s constituency associations belonged. The Chairman of the National Union, Sir William Crump, a self-made City businessman and Islington’s first mayor, moved the adoption of a report by a Special Committee which recommended the creation of a new body to be known as the National Unionist Association of Conservative and Liberal Unionist Organisations. ‘That’, he said, ‘would in future be the name of the central organisation of both wings of the party’. (A few years later it was simplified, becoming the National Union of Conservative and Unionist Associations.)

Above: Notes of an 18 April Central Council meeting discussing proposals: ‘An extraordinary meeting of the Council was held at 3pm at the Caxton  Hall Westminster to consider proposals for the complete amalgamation of the two wings of the Party’

Above: ‘The Chairman informed the Executive Committee that on the initiative of the Leader of the House of Commons a Special Committee of 10 members … have had under consideration the desirability of amalgamating the organisations of the Conservative Central Office, the National Conservative Union and the Liberal Unionist Council.’ (Executive Committee minutes, 15 March 1912, NUA 4/1/2)

Over the years since its emergence in 1886 as fierce opponent of Gladstone’s Home Rule scheme for Ireland, the Liberal Unionist Party, led pugnaciously in the Commons by Joe Chamberlain, had drawn so close to the Conservatives that the two Parties had come to operate in practice as two wings of a single entity, known generally as the Unionist Party, though the name had no official status. The historic conference a century ago united them formally. Crump’s motion was carried ‘ without a single dissentient’.

Above: Both the Executive and the Council had passed the resolution calling for the 9 May conference

Joe Chamberlain, incapacitated by a stroke six years earlier, sent of message of warm approval. ‘I believe’, he said, ‘that both wings of the party will reap advantage from an amalgamation which will give to the Unionist Party as a whole a single central organisation on a popular and representative basis’.

Up until the day before the conference the Conservatives had planned to ditch their name completely. They had come to be called Unionists in everyday usage, and preferred to be known as such for years to come. They agreed in early 1912 under the terms of the merger to adopt formally the title of the National Unionist Association (or Unionist Party for short). Only forceful last-minute protests saved the historic name. Hastily siding with the protesters, Crump explained that

‘they had had some strong criticism—he thought just criticism—of the name they proposed to adopt. (Hear,hear.) After consultation as late as the previous night with the Liberal Unionists they had decided to meet the objections—the great objection was the dropping of the word Conservative—by making their name the National Unionist Association of Conservative and Liberal Unionist Organisations. [Cheers.]’

Above: The Party structure in 1964, still using ‘National Union’ (PUB 89/3)

So the word Conservative did not after all disappear from the political lexicon: and between the wars under Stanley Baldwin the Party reverted to it, except in Scotland where the combined forces did formally become the Unionist Party in 1912 and so remained until 1965. On this day a century ago it was the campaign to defeat the Liberal Party’s third attempt to give the whole of Ireland self-government that made Unionism more important to the Party than anything else. Crump concluded by asking the Queen’s Hall conference

‘to show the United Kingdom and Ireland that they were prepared to stand shoulder to shoulder as a fused organisation [with the Liberal Unionists] to help in every way their brethren of Ulster, the loyalists who were calling on Englishmen to come to their help. [Loud cheers]’.

Alistair Lexden is the Party’s official historian; full details of his historical writing can be found on his website www.alistairlexden.org.uk. This article draws on papers in the Conservative Party Archive at the Bodleian Library in Oxford, copies of which were kindly supplied by the Party’s Archivist, Jeremy Mcllwaine.

30 years ago: The Falklands War

This week’s press is full of references to the Falklands War, which began 30 years ago on 2 April 1982. The anniversary comes while tensions are once again high over the question of the Falklands’ sovereignty, but the event has been celebrated with solemnity in the UK.

Although many of the Conservative Party Archive’s files on the Falklands remain closed, those that are available help to provide a picture of the UK government’s struggles and decisions during the first days of the conflict.

Politics Today (not pictured) provided background for politicians on current events and legislation, and ‘The Falklands Conflict’ issue (August 1982, PUB 221/40) provides information on the conflict, its resolution and the stance of other UK political parties on it.

The Conservative Research Department was responsible for providing briefs to MPs and Party members on various issues. This 1967 brief (pictured above) was produced after a group of Argentine nationalists forced an plane to land in the Falklands; the event was described by the Argentine President as ‘an act of piracy’ but raised questions over the place of a debate over sovereignty (CRD/B/14/2).

Above, an early CRD/International Office Brief issued shortly after the beginning of the conflict provides background for those MPs going into the Falklands debate in the House of Commons on 7 April 1982. It covers the historical situation, the British response and international reactions. A second brief (not pictured), circulated later that month, provided background on the UN’s stance, international opinion and the sequence of events (CRD/B/14/5).

This Briefing Note published by the Party gives highlights of the Prime Minister’s speech to the Commons on 14 April 1982. Mrs. Thatcher opened with the words:

‘Our objective, endorsed by all sides of the House in recent debates, is that the people of the Falkland Islands shall be free to determine their own way of life and their own future.’

She closed by expressing her determination to combat any aggression in the islands:

‘The eyes of the world are now focussed upon the Falkland Islands. Others are watching anxiously to see whether brute force or the rule of law will triumph. Wherever naked aggression occurs it must be overcome. The cost now, however high, must be set against the cost we would one day have to pay if this principle went by default. And that is why, through diplomatic, economic and if necessary through military means, we shall persevere until freedom and democracy are restored to the people of the Falkland Islands.’

On the 25th anniversary of the Falklands conflict in 2007, former Conservative Party Chairman Cecil Parkinson travelled to the islands; these commemorative items are part of the papers he donated to the CPA.

All images © The Conservative Party Archive Trust

Today in 1936: Edward VIII relinquishes the throne

Instrument of Abdication, from The National Archives

From Politics in Review, Oct.-Dec. 1936 (PUB 220/81):

In the Commons, December 10, 1936, the Prime Minister brought a message from His Majesty King Edward VIII, which the Speaker read, as follows: –

‘After long and anxious consideration, I have determined to renounce the Throne to which I succeeded on the death of my father, and I am now communicating this, my final and irrevocable decision.

Realising as I do the gravity of this step, I can only hope that I shall have the understanding of my peoples in the decision that I have taken and the reasons which have led me to take it.’

The decision, however, cannot have been an easy one, and it had thrown the nation into confusion and turmoil. Edward’s abdication – primarily to allow him to marry American divorcée Wallis Simpson – created political, constitutional and religious uproar.

A young Edward (1925) (The National Archives)

Edward’s relationship with Wallis Simpson, though conspicuously withheld in the British press, generated what Conservative Prime Minister Stanley Baldwin called ‘perturbation and uneasiness’ across the Atlantic and in Europe. After the abdication, Baldwin spoke to Parliament of the strength of the monarchy and the respect upon which this strength depended; he had told the King:

‘It might not take so long, in the face of the kind of criticisms to which it [the monarchy] was being exposed, to lose that power far more rapidly than it was build up.’

Marriage to Mrs. Simpson would require the British public to accept her as their Queen, and neither the King’s advisors nor the Government itself were at all sure that the public was willing to do so. Nor, perhaps, were the Church of England or the English courts, whose views on divorce may have blocked any marriage between the King and a twice-divorced woman with living ex-husbands.

The situation broke in the British press in early December 1936. Initially stubborn, Edward eventually responded to criticism by telling Baldwin, ‘I am going to marry Mrs. Simpson, and I am prepared to go.’ Other options were considered, including a morganatic marriage (in which the King would have been free to marry Mrs. Simpson but she would not have been Queen) but it soon became clear these would not have been ideal, and the King had to make a decision between remaining King and giving up his relationship and leaving the kingdom to his brother.

The King chose the latter, and by 11 December all the nations of the Commonwealth (with the exception of Ireland, which took another day) had approved the Abdication Bill. The former King addressed his people on 11 December:

‘A few hours ago I discharged my last duty as King and Emperor, and now that I have been succeeded by my brother, the Duke of York, my first words must be to declare my allegiance to him. This I do with all my heart.

…I want you to understand that in making up my mind I did not forget the country or the Empire which as Prince of Wales, and lately as King, I have for 25 years tried to serve. But you must believe me when I tell you that I have found it impossible to carry the heavy burden of responsibility and to discharge my duties as King as I would wish to do without the help and support of the woman I love.’ (PUB 220/81)

Stanley Baldwin, Prime Minister during the abdication crisis (PUB 210/1)

The press reacted fairly positively to the solution, although they were shocked and frustrated at the crisis that it had caused. Stanley Baldwin was heralded for his negotiations – ‘his courage and firmness’. The former king’s younger brother became King George VI on 11 December and ruled until his death in 1952.

On this day in 1954: Food rationing ends after 14 years

‘Rationing ends this weekend. Appropriate enough, the first day of freedom is July 4th – Independence Day.

Gone are coupons, counterfoils, ration periods, registrations, and all the paraphernalia of Food Office rule. Here at last is the ‘Victory Day’ for housewives, wistfully anticipated by Dr. Edith Summerskill when she was at the Ministry of Food in 1946. Under a Conservative Government scarcity has been replaced by abundance, austerity by variety, restriction by choice, and frustration by freedom.

 (CCO 4/6/342)

At midnight on 3 July, the rationing limits initiated in January 1940 finally ended. Members of the London Housewives Association held a ceremony in Trafalgar Square to commemorate the occasion, while Minister Geoffrey Lloyd burned his ration book.

Rationing began in the UK on 8 January 1940 with limits on butter, bacon and sugar. Wartime efforts – including the North Sea blockade – made it difficult to ensure the availability of certain everyday provisions. Petrol had been rationed since 1939, and button and bacon were soon followed by meat, tea, eggs, sweets and more. By the end of the war, most common foodstuffs were limited as well as clothing, cigarettes and other necessities. Ration books (click here for examples) were issued to all citizens based on age and status (pregnant mothers, for instance, were often granted higher rations). 

Weekend Talking Point addressing reactions to the end of rationing (CCO 4/6/342)

Citizens were encouraged to do their part on the ‘Kitchen Front’ and grow their own food; price gauging and unlawful rationing were subject to heavy fines. Nevertheless, people quickly tired of shortages. Rationing continued post-war as industrial action and rebuilding efforts in Europe disrupted the food supply. The Conservatives’ 1950 general election manifesto urged the end of rationing, which they portrayed as an effect of a Socialist government and ‘incompetence.’  Following a Conservative return to power in 1951 and the stabilization of the European economy, rationing was slowly phased out; meat was the last product to become freely available.



On this day in 1984: The Iron Curtain visits the Iron Lady

Although he didn’t take the role of General Secretary until 11 March 1985, Gorbachev was already a high-ranking member of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union by the late 1970s.

Gorbachev’s role in the Party allowed him to travel regularly, and he had already visited Canada and a number of Western European nations, but his trip to the United Kingdom marked the first visit by such a high-ranking Soviet official in almost three decades.

The visit to the UK lasted eight days, but its highlight was a five-hour meeting with Margaret Thatcher in her country residence, Chequers. The meeting was hailed as an important stepping stone in the thawing relationship between the Soviets and the UK – and the west as a whole.

Confidential Party briefing paper dated March 1984 outlining the UK’s stance on relations with the USSR, suggesting that although the UK was open to dialogue, its patience was limited [CRD 95]

The discussion focused on subjects like arms control and communication channels, and although the leaders are said to have disagreed on certain issues, the visit marked a softening between the two national figures. Thatcher seemed to warm to Gorbachev’s concepts of perestroika (restructuring) and glasnost (openness). The Prime Minister, famous for her ‘iron’ stance towards the Soviets, commented in an interview with the BBC, ‘I like Mr. Gorbachev. We can do business together.’ She continued:

‘We both believe in our own political systems. He firmly believes in his; I firmly believe in mine. We are never going to change one another. So that is not in doubt, but we have two great interests in common: that we should both do everything we can to see that war never starts again, and therefore we go into the disarmament talks determined to make them succeed. And secondly, I think we both believe that they are the more likely to succeed if we can build up confidence in one another and trust in one another about each other’s approach, and therefore, we believe in cooperating on trade matters, on cultural matters, on quite a lot of contacts between politicians from the two sides of the divide.’

(Margaret Thatcher Foundation, Thatcher Archive: COI transcript, 17 December 1984. The video of the press conference is available on the Thatcher Foundation website)

While Gorbachev was in office, he and Thatcher, often in conjunction with Reagan, worked cautiously but consistently towards a thaw in East-West relations. Gorbachev remained in power until 1991, and his efforts at opening the USSR to reform and the outside world earned him a Nobel Peace Prize in 1990.

Thatcher and Reagan in discussion

More material on Thatcher’s reactions to and relationship with Gorbachev is available on the Thatcher Foundation website, including:
-The text of the December 1984 press conference
-Thatcher’s memoir account of the 1983 Chequers seminar on the USSR
-Thatcher’s memoir account of the 1984 visit of the Gorbachevs to Chequers

68 years ago today: The Beveridge Report goes public

Well, it’s not an even 75 years ago, but 2 December 1942 was a particularly relevant date, especially given the recent political debates over public sector funding. In November 1942, Liberal economist and social activist Sir William Beveridge presented his Beveridge Report – ‘Social Insurance and Allied Services’ – to the coalition Government, changing the face of social welfare forever. Although the Report was not implemented until Clement Attlee and the Labour Party gained power in 1945 (and indeed was not specifically intended to be implemented before the end of WWII), it set out proposals for the National Insurance contribution system as we know it today, as well as various social benefits such as free medical care and paid maternity leave.

This pamphlet provides a summary to the 400-page book, Full Employment in a Free Society, which Beveridge produced as a sequel to his 1942 Report. [PUB 121/18]
 

The Report was the result a tremendous effort ‘to undertake, with special reference to the inter-relation of the schemes, a survey of the existing national schemes of social insurance and allied services, including workmen’s compensation and to make recommendations’ (Report, p. 5). Although Beveridge was generally complementary of Britain’s efforts to provide for the poor, he clearly stated, ‘In a system of social security better on the whole than can be found in almost any other country there are serious deficiencies which call for remedy’ (Report, p. 6).

Beveridge’s proposals were radical. He insisted that the war offered a ‘clear field’ and an opportunity to take revolutionary steps. His report suggested that social insurance should be only one part of the United Kingdom’s comprehensive attempt at social policy: ‘Social insurance fully developed may provide income security; it is an attack upon Want. But Want is one only of five giants on the road of reconstruction and in some ways the easiest to attack. The others are Disease, Ignorance, Squalor and Idleness.’ (Report, p. 6) But he also suggested that social support should not ‘stifle incentive, opportunity, responsibility’ and should ‘leave room and encouragement for voluntary action by each individual to provide more than that minimum for himself and his family.’ (Report, pp. 6-7).

The Report was based on extensive research conducted between the two World Wars (the results of these surveys are provided in Report appendices). Beveridge made wide-ranging suggestions, discussing the problems of an increasingly aged population and giving ‘first place in social expenditure to the care of childhood and to the safeguarding of maternity’. (Report, p. 8).

The Labour Research Department released
its own analysis in 1943 [PUB 121/19]

Although there was debate in the House, the Report was publicly released on 2 December 1942. It sold half a million copies, and received rave reviews by in the national papers. The government quickly instituted a Beveridge Report Committee to evaluate the proposals; when the Committee’s analysis was published on 17 December, it admitted that the great publicity the Report had received meant that many assumed ‘that it represents Government policy and is likely to be carried into speedy effect as soon as the war is over’. (CRD 2/28/6, p. 1). Although the Committee’s report urged some caution and expressed concern over various practicalities (especially where it was concerned over stamping out private practice or encouraging private industry), it was generally supportive of the proposals, stating ‘It is our aim as Conservatives to build up a brave, healthy and industrious population devoted to the cause of freedom and alive to the responsibilities which such a cause demands’ (CRD 2/28/6, Note by the Chairman, p. 1).

The National Insurance Act was instituted in 1946, followed by the National Health Service in 1948.

More information on the Beveridge report and on Beveridge himself is available both in Oxford and outside. Nuffield College Library holds a small collection of documents from Beveridge’s visit to America in 1933 and from the International Labour Organization consultation in Montreal in July 1943. The London School of Economics houses many of Beveridge’s papers, both political and personal.

100 years ago today: 300 suffragettes clash with police over Conciliation Bill

Letter to The Times on the subject of women’s suffrage, 4 July 1910 [The Times’ Digital Archive]

A seemingly innocuous sentence hidden away in the ‘Diary’ pages of the National Union’s December 1910 edition of National Union Gleanings belies a story with much wider significance:

‘November 18. The Parliamentary Franchise (Women) Bill, 1910. – A letter published which Mr. H.H. Asquith, K.C., M.P., the Prime Minister, addressed to the Earl of Lytton with regard to the refusal to grant further facilities to this Bill.’

National Union Gleanings, Vol. 35, Jul-Dec 1910 [PUB 220/35]

As the momentum towards the enfranchisement of women picked up speed, several successive Private Members’ Bills introducing female suffrage failed in the Commons (see snippet from The Times noting one such occasion). On 12 July 1910 the Parliamentary Franchise (Women) Bill – or Conciliation Bill – was introduced by the Labour MP DJ Shackleton with the compromise proposal of giving the vote to one million wealthy property-owning women.

Despite The Times’ 4 July publication of a memorial showing the support of 196 MPs, the Bill failed. It passed its second reading by 299 votes to 189 and was referred to a Conciliation Committee consisting of 25 Liberal MPs, 17 Conservative, 6 Irish Nationalist and 6 Labour, under the chairmanship of Lord Lytton. But owing to the opposition of the Prime Minister, Asquith, no further time was given to the Bill in that Parliamentary session, though it was eventually altered to enfranchise a larger number of male voters. The Bill’s failure led to increasingly militant tactics from the frustrated Women’s Social and Political Union.

Copy of the Memorial concerning the Conciliation Bill, as published in The Times, 4 July 1910 [The Times’ Digital Archive]

On 18 November, 300 Suffragettes clashed with police outside Parliament; the encounter resulted in the death of one Suffragette, and the day came to be known among those involved as ‘Black Friday’. The following week, a further column of about 100 Suffragettes headed for Downing Street, sparking further violent clashes (The National Archives has a poster advertising the second march). The Times reported,

‘The rioters yesterday appeared to have lost all control of themselves. Some shrieked, some laughed hysterically, and all fought with a dogged but aimless pertinacity. Some of the rioters appeared to be quite young girls, who must have been the victims of hysteria rather than of deep conviction….The women behaved like demented creatures, and it was evident that their conduct completely alienated the sympathy of the crowd.’

[Transcript of The Times, 23 November 1910, following the Suffragettes’ attack on Downing Street the previous day].

Despite the words of The Times, the incident turned into a PR disaster for the government as the press printed pictures of policemen assaulting the protesters.

The annual Conservative Party Conference, meeting in Nottingham that year, had already ended its final session on 18 November. Despite the controversy surrounding the Conciliation Bill, the enfranchisement of women had received little discussion during the conference. Although three motions had been tabled on the subject in advance, two of which were in favour of votes for women, the conference ran out of time and did not vote on them at all – though Conference had given its support on several occasions back to 1887.

Three motions on the subject of the women’s suffrage – two in favour, one against – put before the 1910 Conservative Party Conference [NUA 2/2/4 – p.41, 1910 conference agenda]

It was not until 1928 that women in the UK were allowed to vote on equal terms to men.

Images and text may not be used without the permission of the Conservative Party Archive Trust.