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THIS HOUSE
The Constitutional Crisis of 1909-10
Gordon Smith

The Constitutional Crisis of 1909-10 was a long time coming. Arguably, the clash between the Commons and the Lords had been inevitable since the Representation of the People Act 1849. With every man entitled to vote, by what right did the Lords hold a veto on the actions of his elected representatives? With property requirements, it could have been argued that great landowners, as the Lords so often were, were entitled to more than simple propertied men. Without it, the defence had come down to tradition and the inherent superiority of the nobility.

It was fortunate for the Lords that they had not vetoed anything controversial enough to poke at this great iniquity. Home Rule had not made it to them, Gladstone having withdrawn his bill before Third Reading in the Commons. The National Insurance Acts they had accepted, even if a veto was close in the second month of Consideration of Amendments. The Imperial Federation Act, thanks to Prime Minister H. H. Asquith’s last-minute intervention, had not been brought down by them.

Asquith and Minister for the Federation H. L. Sykes-Emory, however, knew that the next battle would certainly involve a veto. Not only were they now forced, by their reliance on the Irish Nationalist Party in parliament, to push for Commonwealth Status for Ireland (a status that would inevitably provoke howls of Home Rule by the backdoor), but their plans for the Federation included reform of the Lords. Just as Scotland had gained representative peers in 1707, and Ireland in 1801, the new Commonwealths would require them if the settlement was to stick.

Most importantly, both Asquith and his new Chancellor, David Lloyd George, had long believed the veto would have to go for the more fundamental reasons of representation. After all, now it was so unjust as every man and woman having a vote, and yet some 680 peers still having a veto over their elected representatives. Both men knew that, given a sufficiently egregious veto by the Lords, the public would support them in an election where the main issue was removing that veto. They knew Ireland and Lords Reform of any kind would almost certainly draw vetoes, but were not convinced that these would be sufficiently damning in the eyes of the public. In this could be found the genesis of the People’s Budget; not only would it be in support of popular measures, but to never veto a budget was understood convention for the Lords.


lg and wsc - Copy.jpg

David Lloyd George, Chancellor of the Exchequer, and Winston Churchill, Financial Secretary, 1909
The two men who defined the substance of The People’s Budget, Churchill and Lloyd George would eventually become bitter rivals, even if the latter only ever considered it a political, rather than personal, disagreement

Of course, many of the proposals that eventually comprised the Budget and its justification had been floating around Liberal - and even more so Labour – circles since before the National Insurance Acts. For the past 15 years, the fact that NI did not extend to every industry had been a bone of contention. The long period of contribution required before eligibility for pay-out (especially as it included employers’ contributions, and employers had many ways to delay the start of those contributions) had been a great source of dissatisfaction. The expansion of health coverage was perhaps the most desired of all reforms.* There had also been long-standing calls for minimum wages and stricter enforcement of the 8-Hour Workday, mainly by narrowing the acceptable threshold before overtime pay kicked in.

Ultimately, the People’s Budget, as the Finance Bill and the various bills that would create the spending demand for it were known, was an answer to many of these proposals. Not without reason would Lloyd George frame it as ‘fulfilling Sir William [Sinclair’s] promise.’ While he and the Financial Secretary, Winston Churchill, drafted the budget in 1908-09 though, Asquith faced a battle with the INP’s more radical elements.

In an April 1908 Cabinet meeting, the Prime Minister had agreed with the leader of the INP, John Redmond, that the Irish Question would have to be answered. In a private meeting with Asquith a month later, Redmond had approved the plan of wrapping Commonwealth Status with Lords Reform, and the certain crisis it would cause. By early 1909 though, Redmond had become seriously ill. Barely capable of rising from his bed, he could no longer control the younger, more strident parts of the INP, personified most of all by Colin Ryan, the MP for County Cork South, whose Irish Commonwealth amendment to the Imperial Federation Bill had almost wrecked that legislation.

Asquith and Ryan were very much incompatible political personalities. The former – for all his daring, most famously in the Lords debate on the IFA – was fundamentally a careful operator. He and H. L. Sykes-Emory had a clear plan for how the Imperial Federation League could march to victory, and an even more meticulous sequence of events in mind for the triple blow of Ireland, Lords Reform, and the Budget. Ryan was a man of impulse and passion. It had taken all of Redmond’s considerable prestige and powers of persuasion to hold him in check, and now Ryan was practically the leader of the INP, a party that had become impatient after four years of promises that the government, reliant on their votes for its survival, would bring forth a Home Rule or Commonwealth Status Bill.

Afraid Ryan would scuttle his plan with an impulsive Home Rule Bill if told of it, Asquith attempted to calm him with vague assurances. On June 3rd, 1909, Ryan finally stopped listening, and gave the Prime Minister an ultimatum; an Ireland bill, or an election. Asquith chose the latter. Though the totality of the Budget was not yet drafted, he was sure that enough of the spending pledges could be laid out on the campaign trail to guarantee a Liberal majority. The Liberal vote did see gains on 1905, taking both from the Conservatives in Great Britain and INP in Ireland, but not enough. When the results came in on August 12th, the INP, though reduced, again held the balance in Parliament.


election 1909 - Copy.jpg

Results for the Imperial General Election of 1909

In the coalition talks, which quickly devolved to mere supply and confidence negotiations, Asquith was finally forced to reveal his plan to Ryan. Contrary to the Prime Minister’s expectations, Ryan endorsed it wholeheartedly. It was also Ryan who convinced Asquith that, with the previous rancour that had leaked to the press, it would look too suspicious to come out with an outright coalition. The supply and confidence arrangement was thus stronger than it seemed when first announced. Certainly, many expected the new government’s 20-seat cushion would prove far weaker than it did.

As the various Acts that formed the backbone of the Asquith Reforms to the fledgling welfare state made their way through Parliament, and various Committees began to scrutinise the spending the state had committed to, the sheer inadequacy of extant revenue-raising measures became apparent. Within the Lords, the atmosphere began to take on the febrile quality of the Commons. Then, in February 1910, the government introduced the two legislative linchpins of its plan; the Finance Bill and the Bill of Union 1910. Even before Second Reading in the Commons, the Lords exploded.

The Finance Bill proposed to return Income Tax, which had not been levied since 1816. Worse, it would have an additional surcharge of 2.5% on income above £2,000. And yet, Income Tax was not the most offensive proposition to the upper house. No, that was the complete valuation of land, and the subsequent introduction of a Land Value Tax, as advocated by the American economist Henry George. Lloyd George and Churchill had more than accomplished what they set out to do.

The Bill of Union meanwhile, contained two separate offences. The first, long sought, was Commonwealth Status for Ireland. The second dealt with the Lords themselves; each Commonwealth would receive two representative peers in the House, at first appointed by their respective governments, but later elected from amongst the peers of the relevant Commonwealth, once more than two existed. This perhaps might have flown, were it not for the removal of the veto. From the passage of the Act onward, the Lords would be able only to send back a bill, not outright reject it. A returned bill passed three times by the Commons, unamended, would then bypass the Other Place.**


1910 poster - Copy.jpg

A poster from the General Election of 1910
A measure of how long Asquith had known this battle would happen was that this famous work of electoral advertisement had already been in a Liberal Party Headquarters drawer during the election of 1909

As expected, the Lords rejected both bills outright. In the debate on the Bill of Union, Lord Brunel called the legislation ‘the most damnable and pernicious bill to ever make its way to this House.’ In Cabinet on March 29th, Asquith, Lloyd George, and Churchill, according to legend, arrived with champagne. The next day, Asquith called an election for the 12th of May. The question was clear; Peers or People?

The INP and Liberal Party did not renew their 1905 pact in 1910, despite the reconciliation between Asquith and Ryan. The reason was the crisis that had erupted in Ireland itself over the Bill of Union. Completely unwilling to accept the thought of being in a Catholic-dominated Commonwealth, the Ulster Volunteers, mostly based in the six northern counties around Belfast, began importing guns from various illicit sources (one of which was, most disconcertingly, Germany). By March 29th, when the election could be called, there had already been violent clashes as the Volunteers took to the streets. Asquith thus prepared to amend the Bill of Union to separate the six counties from the new Imperial Commonwealth of Ireland. Ryan, naturally, could not accept an electoral pact under such circumstances.

On the 12th, after a campaign that seemed to have reached a temperature just removed from ‘outright civil war,’ as Lloyd George would say in his memoirs, the Liberals came just short, again. They were neck and neck with the Conservatives, but would require the INP to support them if yet another election was to be avoided. Ryan, as expected, drew a red line on the six counties. So deadlocked did the negotiations seem that Asquith even approached Alexander Courtenay, leader of the Conservatives in the Commons, for support on the Bill of Union. Courtenay, of course, had a red line on the Lords’ veto.


election 1910 - Copy.jpg

Results for the Imperial General Election of 1910

Asquith returned to the negotiations with the INP, left with nothing but what might have been the greatest gamble in a career of gambles. At their next meeting, Asquith told Ryan it was the 26 counties or nothing. He would call another election, and, as quoted in his memoirs:

abandon [Ryan’s] project altogether. We [the Liberals] will win outright in England without your weight upon us, and you will lose your last, great chance to achieve what you have striven for. What I, too, in perhaps a different form, but similar spirit, have striven for. I do not wish to tear Ireland asunder, but it is the only option left if we are to have Irish self-rule of any sort. Be it by pen at the borders of Ulster, or by violence in an all-Ireland Commonwealth, the deed is done, and we have only to choose which poison we are to take.

When Ryan attempted to argue, Asquith produced reports from the Home Office. To show them to Ryan was, at that point in time, almost certainly illegal. They detailed the extent to which the Ulster Volunteers had armed themselves, and the IRA were arming themselves in response. This was what finally broke the deadlock. Faced with the grim numbers, and the grimmer still visions of what they meant for Ireland, Ryan relented on the six counties.

With a government formed, and one that was committed in the Supply and Confidence Agreement to push through the Finance Bill and Bill of Union (now amended to reflect the carve-out of Northern Ireland), Asquith could go to Buckingham Palace with a mandate to convince the King. George V, having presided over what seemed Parliamentary Crisis after Parliamentary Crisis in his nine short years on the throne, agreed to the Prime Minister’s request that, were the Lords likely again to veto the bills, he would ennoble enough men to override them. This threat was the deciding factor when, on July 15th, 1910, both bills passed Third Reading in the Lords and received Royal Assent. Before the King could breathe a sigh of relief at the end of the Constitutional Crisis of 1909-10 though, the drama had one more act.


george v - Copy.jpg

George V, 1911
Thrust into kingship early by the death of his father in 1899, the reign of George V proved one of the most tumultuous, both at home and abroad, in the history of Britain

Asquith, having delivered victory after victory, could hardly have thought his party was plotting against him after what he considered to be his greatest victory of all. And yet that is exactly what was happening. After ten years, the party, just like the King, was tired of crisis. Every year with Asquith seemed to pose an existential question about the very nature of the British state and English identity. Even as he proclaimed that what was to come next was management of the new settlement - not yet another reshaping - the very same Machiavellian, cards-close-to-the-chest strategizing that had brought him to the point it was no longer necessary, finally came back around on him. No one could believe he was truly done. Winston Churchill, in a private letter to his wife, Clementine, put it best.

We had followed Alexander from Macedon to India, and now we were spent. He did not have to say it, for we all knew there would be another push, another conquest. In the manner of the worst scoundrels, we thus mutinied.

On August 2nd, 1910, the Cabinet informed Asquith that he could go quietly, or he could face a Vote of No Confidence. Furious, the Prime Minister demanded to know which of them had set this up. Not a man answered. After two hours of shouting, pleading, long silences, and, finally, poorly suppressed tears by all involved, Asquith agreed to go. He was then told that David Lloyd George, as a popular figure associated with the People’s Budget, but not necessarily the great parliamentary wrangling of 1905-10, would replace him as Prime Minister.

The follow-up, and final, question restored some levity to proceedings. Asquith was asked if he wished to be elevated to the Lords, stay on the backbenches, or resign. The Prime Minister, as he still would be until later that day, replied, to great laughter, that ‘all things considered, perhaps it might be best if I wait a while before re-entering the Other Place.’***


* The Hospitals Act 1873 had created a common standard of care, and the NI Acts health insurance for the employed, so health coverage was still, in practice, limited to the wealthy and those who had been employed long enough to qualify for insurance under NI.

** The bill also included a provision by which Crown Colonies could apply for Commonwealth Status, one which Newfoundland took advantage of even before the legislation had reached the Lords to be rejected. News of the application contributed substantially to grinding to a halt the Canada Convention on potential accession.

*** He eventually would enter the Lords, as the Earl of Oxford and Asquith, a decade later, in 1920.
 
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TheButterflyComposer

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Britain was far more aggressive ITTL thanks to Salisbury's 'Imperial Expansion for Domestic Conservatism' strategy, as can be seen in the map from the Foreword, as was Spain. France is therefore less established in Africa than IOTL, but does have the lion's share of the Congo. Please see a map of the continent as of 1911 below:
the continent as of 1911 below:

africa 1911 - Copy.jpg

Look at that! A connected African empire already, no German muck...Portugal and Spain as close colonial partners in no danger of ever posing a threat to brittania at home or abroad...excellent stuff. That all landed very well, except France getting the Congo instead of Belgium (but probably better for the natives...).

Since I don't fully answer these questions in the update, I'll say that the Act of Union 1910 attempts to fudge question A, the situation in Ireland somewhat forces Westminster's hand on B, and Ireland retains its seats in the regular UK apportionment rather than being handed specific Commonwealth Status seats (thanks to the aforementioned fudge).
Not only were they now forced, by their reliance on the Irish Nationalist Party in parliament, to push for Commonwealth Status for Ireland (a status that would inevitably provoke howls of Home Rule by the backdoor), but their plans for the Federation included reform of the Lords. Just as Scotland had gained representative peers in 1707, and Ireland in 1801, the new Commonwealths would require them if the settlement was to stick.

Looks like the answer seems to be Ireland is NOT part of the UK, but an equal British commonwealth. Except of course, for the dratted six counties...

Thrust into kingship early by the death of his father in 1899, the reign of George V proved one of the most tumultuous, both at home and abroad, in the history of Britain

Probably for the best for both the crown and country that he's the one in the hotseat.

The bill also included a provision by which Crown Colonies could apply for Commonwealth Status, one which Newfoundland took advantage of even before the legislation had reached the Lords to be rejected it. News of the application contributed substantially to grinding to a halt the Canada Convention on potential accession.

Huh...interesting. wonder if they'll back out down from commonwealth to dependency again as in otl or never get off the ground in the first place???

All very interesting stuff. It certainly promises that the next Great War will not be so global in scope with Africa so solidly in the hands of Western European empires who all (mostly) get on with each other.
 

stnylan

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Asquith leaves on a high. Have to say I think that will do his reputation no harm at all.
 

TheButterflyComposer

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He'll be back.
 

DensleyBlair

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Lots to chew over from that one. Squiffy hatched his final few schemes and, as has been pointed out, probably secured his reputation even if he would've liked to have clung on. I do wonder what this will mean for the Liberals further down the line – whether we'll start to see a mess of a divided party by the end of the Tens, or whether they'll hold out for longer at Labour's expense (as Vicky often favours).

Lloyd George in starting in peacetime will be a fun one. And who knows, maybe significant for the war whenever it comes.
 

TheButterflyComposer

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I don’t really like Mr A being kicked out for grand planning, when all his plans worked and were moves to fix things for the future, rather than just the here and now.

Since he didn't take the red chair yet, he could always come back in a crisis period. DLG is known for a few, peace and war.
 

Specialist290

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Well, that ended up being quite the tempest. I have a feeling that, for all the chaos he stirred up during his term as PM, future generations will probably look upon Asquith favorably for the most part -- he does seem to exit the stage at just the right moment.
 

El Pip

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My normal reaction to David Lloyd George is - "It would have been better for everyone if he had been pushed face first into a mincing machine.". While reading the recent essays my main thought was "It would have been better for everyone if he had been pushed face first into a mincing machine." so congratulations on getting that bang on. ;)

I am mildly surprise this all got through, for at least the previous 3 elections the pattern has been - Conservatives win an absolute majority in England/Wales/Scotland, then the Liberals use the INP to get into power and force through major changes that E/W/S didn't want. Now you can say that is a feature of democracy and that some sub-region is always getting 'the other lot' imposed on them and that is true, but a key feature of a working democracy has to be the Demos, that the people in the sub-regions all feel 'British' and so don't see it as an impostion.

Given that the INP's entire point is that they don't see themselves as British then surely that must be generating at least a degree of ill will at them making the British government dance for their amusement? If the Lords had made their stand on the People's Budget that it is the INP voting in taxes that the Irish will never have to pay (due to buggering off into a detached Commonwealth) and that the majoriy in Britain opposed, they probably could have won the battle of wills. Or at least made a better fight of it.
 

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A Land Value Tax!


I was surprised that the Irish Nats gave in on the Ulster Question. I suppose the moderates are still dominant - but I can imagine we will see something of a surge for Fiennism in response to Partition.
 

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A Land Value Tax!


I was surprised that the Irish Nats gave in on the Ulster Question. I suppose the moderates are still dominant - but I can imagine we will see something of a surge for Fiennism in response to Partition.

It was never going to happen without deporting a lot of Irish people from the North. Not in 1900 anyway. The first response after initial poltical pressure didn't immediately halt the idea was to arm the populace and go for insurrection.
 

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Damn, election after election without a clear majority. I'm sure Ireland will come and bite the Empire in the backside but it's good to see that it's somewhat settled for now.
Such a swift fall for Asquith. I wonder if he will find a way to trip up Lloyd George.
 

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Look at that! A connected African empire already, no German muck...Portugal and Spain as close colonial partners in no danger of ever posing a threat to brittania at home or abroad...excellent stuff. That all landed very well, except France getting the Congo instead of Belgium (but probably better for the natives...).

Looks like the answer seems to be Ireland is NOT part of the UK, but an equal British commonwealth. Except of course, for the dratted six counties...

Probably for the best for both the crown and country that he's the one in the hotseat.

Huh...interesting. wonder if they'll back out down from commonwealth to dependency again as in otl or never get off the ground in the first place???

All very interesting stuff. It certainly promises that the next Great War will not be so global in scope with Africa so solidly in the hands of Western European empires who all (mostly) get on with each other.

The Entente including America from the outset will set some hares running that mean the Great War is far more inescapable, so I wouldn't count the peace chickens just yet.

Ireland is an odd duck, which the fudges in the AoU 1910 were supposed to allow to gently find a balance between Commonwealth and UK. Of course, the war coming so soon will lay waste to the idea of a gentle easing into the new settlement for any part of it.

George is definitely a steadier hand than Eddy, and being thrust into it early certainly can't have hurt when deciding whether or not to exercise his power or listen to the Prime Minister.

Canada and Newfoundland will both be handled by next week's essay, so I'll keep mum for now.

Asquith leaves on a high. Have to say I think that will do his reputation no harm at all.
He'll be back.

The Squiffynator.

Come with me if you want to welfare state.

Lots to chew over from that one. Squiffy hatched his final few schemes and, as has been pointed out, probably secured his reputation even if he would've liked to have clung on. I do wonder what this will mean for the Liberals further down the line – whether we'll start to see a mess of a divided party by the end of the Tens, or whether they'll hold out for longer at Labour's expense (as Vicky often favours).

Lloyd George in starting in peacetime will be a fun one. And who knows, maybe significant for the war whenever it comes.

One would certainly expect less intra-party squabbling if Asquith isn't there to be indecisive, but then again, it's a (somehow) bigger war than IOTL.

I don’t really like Mr A being kicked out for grand planning, when all his plans worked and were moves to fix things for the future, rather than just the here and now.

Since he didn't take the red chair yet, he could always come back in a crisis period. DLG is known for a few, peace and war.

I think much of the Cabinet's opinion of what they, wrongly, expect Asquith to keep doing is that 'the inner idealist is willing, but the outer politician is spongy and bruised.'

Well, that ended up being quite the tempest. I have a feeling that, for all the chaos he stirred up during his term as PM, future generations will probably look upon Asquith favorably for the most part -- he does seem to exit the stage at just the right moment.

Yes, he does seem so. I've not yet quite gamed out the Great War in head and on paper, so we may yet see him try for a last hurrah as some have speculated.

I should note that Vic II is so woefully inadequate for the size and scale this war would be if it actually happened, so after 1911 we're very much moving off in-game developments.

My normal reaction to David Lloyd George is - "It would have been better for everyone if he had been pushed face first into a mincing machine.". While reading the recent essays my main thought was "It would have been better for everyone if he had been pushed face first into a mincing machine." so congratulations on getting that bang on. ;)

I am mildly surprise this all got through, for at least the previous 3 elections the pattern has been - Conservatives win an absolute majority in England/Wales/Scotland, then the Liberals use the INP to get into power and force through major changes that E/W/S didn't want. Now you can say that is a feature of democracy and that some sub-region is always getting 'the other lot' imposed on them and that is true, but a key feature of a working democracy has to be the Demos, that the people in the sub-regions all feel 'British' and so don't see it as an impostion.

Given that the INP's entire point is that they don't see themselves as British then surely that must be generating at least a degree of ill will at them making the British government dance for their amusement? If the Lords had made their stand on the People's Budget that it is the INP voting in taxes that the Irish will never have to pay (due to buggering off into a detached Commonwealth) and that the majoriy in Britain opposed, they probably could have won the battle of wills. Or at least made a better fight of it.

Thank you. Good to know I'm getting the broad strokes, even if the circumstances might be somewhat different.

The Irish fudge and government's reliance on the INP is definitely something that will come to haunt everyone involved.

A Land Value Tax!


I was surprised that the Irish Nats gave in on the Ulster Question. I suppose the moderates are still dominant - but I can imagine we will see something of a surge for Fiennism in response to Partition.

I initially had Ryan as a hardliner's hardliner, but realised some of what I wanted to do with him would fit better if something of Asquith had rubbed off on him.

It was never going to happen without deporting a lot of Irish people from the North. Not in 1900 anyway. The first response after initial poltical pressure didn't immediately halt the idea was to arm the populace and go for insurrection.

Ulster, or 'This is Why We Can't Have Nice Things.'

Damn, election after election without a clear majority. I'm sure Ireland will come and bite the Empire in the backside but it's good to see that it's somewhat settled for now.
Such a swift fall for Asquith. I wonder if he will find a way to trip up Lloyd George.

In the concluding remarks, I have a sentence or two on Cabinet nearly deposing Lloyd George within a year because he wants to call yet another GE in 1911. Would very much have caused a collective 'Brenda from Bristol' moment if that had happened ITTL.

Speaking of Concluding Remarks, 1901 is now a finished work of some 100 pages in Word, barring new essay ideas before we get to Colthurst's concluding remarks some ten weeks from now. But fear not, I very much intend to continue the AAR into the Great War and beyond. We will simply switch books, perhaps even formats, and sprinkle in extracts from other works.
 
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VOTES FROM WOMEN
The First Women MPs and the Battle for the Women’s Vote, 1892-1910
Elizabeth Astor

In the summer of 1892, the Conservatives had feared giving women the vote would leave them locked permanently out of power. Half the population would forever be indebted to the Liberals. This was a belief naturally strengthened by their own arguments against Suffrage; women, a naturally meek and subservient sex – yet somehow also over-emotional and prone to irrational choices – would of course vote for their liberators. The 1892 election proved this theory wrong.

Not only did women vote for the Conservatives by a six-point margin, but one of the three women elected to the Commons was a Conservative. Lady Millicent Hawkins (Liberal, Reading, 1892-1917), Jane Randolph (Liberal, Manchester South, 1892-1930), and Alice, Viscountess Ellesmere (Conservative, Plymouth Sutton, 1892-1925), would all serve more than two decades in Parliament. In the age before Baring’s polls were fully transparent or trusted, Ellesmere would be instrumental in convincing Lord Brunel that women were not a lost constituency for the Conservatives.

For the Liberals, the way to winning the women’s vote in 1897 seemed clear; the extension of National Insurance to those industries that had been left out of the first NI Acts, and which were disproportionately occupied by women. For the Conservatives, the argument thus became that National Insurance would put women out of a job. The grand estates so many women worked on would certainly have to let go of maids and extra cooks first. Ellesmere also successfully argued that effectively regulating midwifery would be more of a draw for women voters as a whole than employment protection for the relatively few unmarried women in work.


viscountess ellesmere 1894 - Copy.jpg

Alice, Viscountess Ellesmere, 1894
While many expected her to be, at most, a token woman for the Conservatives, Ellesmere proved to be highly influential through sheer determination

On the Liberal side of the aisle, Lady Millicent Hawkins proved to be the mover and shaker. It was reportedly she who convinced Sinclair that the extension of National Insurance to women’s occupations would be a vote winner. It was also she that most vehemently argued the corollary to Ellesmere’s argument that women were not lost for the Conservatives; women were not a lock for the Liberals. In the background of the parties, women were already making waves.

In the early years of Suffrage, it was the Conservatives that continued to win out. In Baring’s polling, women consistently voted Conservative. Even in 1900, when the gap was smallest, the Conservatives won women by 2 points. There has been much written on the consistency of this gap, but no clear answer has emerged. Some have theorised that women at the time were naturally more small-c conservative voters. Others that Liberal proposals focussed largely on what were fringe issues for most women, and that Ellesmere was correct; safety of birth and the extension of a husbands’ NI rights to widows were more important than workers’ rights.

Unfortunately for Ellesmere, conventional Conservative traditionalism meant she would get nowhere near the frontbench. A woman MP was perhaps an unavoidable reality, but a woman in the Cabinet? That was a way off. Even amongst Liberals, the orthodoxy was that women had the right to choose their representatives, and could even be representatives, but the rigours of decision-making on the ministerial level would be far too much of a strain. The weight of responsibility would cause their emotions to overcome them. Sir William apparently felt more confidence in the ability of women, but would always defer to his fear of ‘outright revolt in Cabinet’ were he to appoint a woman.

In her memoirs, Lady Hawkins would heap praise on Sinclair for most of his achievements, but reserved a certain level of, perhaps undeserved, scorn for his cowardice on the matter of women in Cabinet. In 1905, Lady Hawkins would eventually become the first female Cabinet minister. Asquith, eager to secure what he called his ‘wife-side flank’ of female MPs when dealing with such a precarious majority, appointed her to the Education Ministry, a department she had advocated for the creation of in the run-up to the election. During the seemingly endless tumult of the next 12 years, she became a fixture. The national curriculum is sometimes still colloquially referred to as The Lady Hawkins.


millicent hawkins 1905 - Copy.jpg

Lady Millicent Hawkins, 1905
This portrait of Lady Hawkins was taken to honour her appointment as Minister for Education, a post she ended up holding until her retirement in 1917

The third member of the 1892 Three, Jane Randolph, has often been overshadowed by Lady Hawkins and Viscountess Ellesmere. Not being related by blood or marriage to a member of the Lords, she had less connections to lean on when entering Westminster. Noting the sheer impossibility of learning the many shibboleths and traditions of Parliament alone, she resolved to exhaustively document them so as to offer advice for new MPs, particularly women, who she rightly guessed would find even less help than most from the existing membership.

In 1897, she was able to act as guide to four new female MPs. In 1900, to two more. Though, technically, Viscountess Ellesmere was the first woman to be sworn in, it was Randolph who would become known as the Mother of the House. This status finally became technical fact as well in 1925, when Ellesmere’s retirement left Randolph as the last of the Three in Parliament. By the time of her retirement in 1930, she was closing in on being the longest-serving MP altogether.

The election of 1905 was the breakthrough for women. From the nine MPs of the previous election, women’s representation more than tripled to 33. It was amongst these women that Randolph’s advice, having now to be distributed wider, became a small written pamphlet. Over the years, ‘Randolph’s Guide’ has become a must for new MPs. Ironically, keeping its contents secret from those not elected to the House has become something of a tradition itself.


mrs jane randolph - Copy.jpg

Jane Randolph, 1902
With less publicity in her time, Randolph often receives less attention than Lady Hawkins and Viscountess Ellesmere, but as the longest-serving, and only one to not be nobility, of the 1892 Three, she has undoubtedly had the most influence on parliament itself

The new MPs were a mix of women who had fought for Suffrage and those who had always had the right to vote. The former group were reformists, with high hopes for what they could achieve with a lobby of some size, but also a healthy appreciation of just how small a group they still were. The latter were, like the young INP MPs elected alongside them, radical and ready to fight for progress with everything they had. 10 of them were, in fact, INP. Of the major parties, the Irish Nationalists had indeed proven the most willing to give women a tilt at seats. Nearly every tenth INP MP was a woman, compared with just over 6% of Liberals and less than 3% of Conservatives.

Chief among the more radical new MPs was Christabel Pankhurst (Liberal, Manchester South West, 1905-1925).** Daughter of a famous Suffragette (the more militant side of the Suffrage movement that had appeared in the decade leading up to Suffrage, and convinced Sinclair of its necessity) Pankhurst founded the Women’s Club just a month after arriving in Parliament. With its simple criteria for membership - one had to be an MP and, more importantly, a woman - the Club’s meetings quickly became the centre of feminism in Westminster. In the next six years, both the Sex Discrimination (Removal) Act and the Law of Property (Women’s Ownership) Act would be proposed by members of the Club.

Until the election of 1910, both bills went nowhere. The government blamed the Lords as an almost certain block (in reality, Asquith was probably terrified of breaking his wafer-thin majority on a women’s issue). With the removal of the Lords’ veto in 1910, and the arrival of Lloyd George in Downing Street, this calculus changed. Armed with not only a stronger majority, but a stronger personal support for their cause, he was willing to help Pankhurst and her colleagues shepherd the Acts through parliament. Another factor in his willingness to do so was Lloyd George’s conviction that Liberal reticence on women’s issues had cost them an outright Liberal majority in the recent election.


christabel pankhurst - Copy.jpg

Christabel Pankhurst, 1905
The daughter of a famous Suffragette, Emmeline, Pankhurst founded the Women’s Club, the first Parliamentary association purely for female MPs

By the outbreak of the war then, women had gone from a novelty in parliament to double digits (had they been their own party, they could have been kingmakers in every election from 1905-1910). Two of their number had even been Cabinet ministers.** In the last year before the Great War swallowed the world whole, they had achieved equal rights to the inheritance of property with their husbands, and the removal of legal barriers to the Civil Service, judiciary, university, and many other institutions.***

Throughout the politics of the day, however, there was still a base assumption that women were fit mainly to be mothers and homemakers. This was what the successful Conservative pitch was built on, and, more than is usually admitted, the Liberal pitch as well. The Liberal extension of NI even had a provision for women that lowered the amount of contributions required to qualify; after all, the thinking went, they would not have as long a career as a man. Soon enough, they would be married. It would be the war that did more than almost anything else to break this assumption.


* Noting her youth and status as unofficial leader of the more radical end of a newly strong group (one that disproportionately included the INP), some MPs took to calling her ‘Christabel Ryan of the Skirtish Nationalist Party.’ In a case of truth being stranger than childish Parliamentary name-calling, Pankhurst’s diaries would later reveal that she and Colin Ryan did, in fact, have a lengthy private relationship before the latter’s death.

** In addition to Lady Hawkins, there was Isabel Wilkinson, who was Minister for Health for a short time in the Lloyd George pre-War Ministry, until the influx of war wounded forced the Prime Minister to remove her in favour of Sir Alexander Wootton, a former military doctor.

*** The preamble of the Sex Discrimination (Removal) Act lays out much of what was achieved: A person shall not be disqualified by sex or marriage from the exercise of any public function, or from being appointed to or holding any civil or judicial office or post, or from entering or assuming or carrying on any civil profession or vocation, or for admission to any incorporated society (whether incorporated by Royal Charter or otherwise), and a person shall not be exempted by sex or marriage from the liability to serve as a juror.
 
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TheButterflyComposer

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The war is going to be a game changer. Hopefully not too many people and too much money is lost.
 

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Bit of luck the first batches of Female MPs were all amazing and wonderful Parliamentarians with not a single Nancy Astor-esque liability amongst them. If they can keep up that impressive record things will be very different.

That said there is the sad news that Lloyd George will be in power in and around the war, which is definitely an ill-starred omen for that conflict.
 

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Bit of luck the first batches of Female MPs were all amazing and wonderful Parliamentarians with not a single Nancy Astor-esque liability amongst them. If they can keep up that impressive record things will be very different.

That said there is the sad news that Lloyd George will be in power in and around the war, which is definitely an ill-starred omen for that conflict.

Maybe he'll take the sea mine for Kitchener.
 

stnylan

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A very determined group of new MPs, eager to make their mark.

Though I am sure some Liberals took some time getting used to the fact that giving women the vote meant they might vote Tory.
 

TheButterflyComposer

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The age old problem that just because your party is set up to appeal to a certain voter base doesn't mean that they will vote for you, or that your policies automatically appeal/benefit them.

This has been a huge problem for pretty much every party that isn't the conservatives since the split between whigs and tories. And even they struggle at times when a particular policy becomes incredibly divisive.

In this case however the outlook seems bright. Multiple good MPs with influence over parliment, and a diverse vote share for women means all parties view them as fair game rather than lost causes 'destined' for one party. This should therefore make parliamentary discourse and the country itself more feminist and push an equality agenda. Or at the least, minimise the inevitable backlash and pushback from traditionalists (that is to say in this case, sexists) trying to roll back to prior status quo.
 

TheButterflyComposer

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Just read up on this, and altough I always dislike the description of the (Second) Boer War a a guerilla, with how it is described here I can kinda agree with it

Well...in parts it was. But the British didnt want it to be and did everything in their expansive power to stop it being a guerilla war.