December 31, 1912, The Newcastle Daily Chronicle, “A Lesson in Tactics”
These two letters, one embedded in an article in The Newcastle Daily Chronicle, the other from Davison to that paper, span the end of 1912 and the beginning of 1913. To the optimistic—if complex—political tactics of Secretary Acland’s call to vote in earnest, not in principle, for woman suffrage, Davison turns a skeptical ear and eye, based on her own calculus that the parliamentary session will likely develop to the disappointment of the suffragists, whose cause seems always to be postponed.
“A Lesson in Tactics” –story
Mr. F. D. Acland, Under-Secretary for Foreign Affairs, has sent the following letter on the subject of woman suffrage to the January number of the ‘Englishwoman’:–
‘It is rumoured that the anti-suffragists in the House of Commons do not intend to divide the House upon Sir Edward Grey’s amendment to omit the word “male.” If there be such an intention, and it be carried out, anti-suffragists will, no doubt, explain that they regard this amendment not as a positive but a permissive one. They would say, “All right. If the House wants an opportunity to decide for or against particular plans for woman suffrage we have no objection. Let’s get to practical business. We don’t want to fight on preliminaries.”
‘Now what is our position in view of this possible attitude? Let us take honest account, both of our strength and our weakness. Three points are to be noted. We cannot force a division on Sir Edward Grey’s amendment. So we cannot maintain that the amendment is more than an enabling one without agreeing to the contention of the “Times” that it is a women-hood suffrage amendment. At the most a vote in its favour is a declaratory vote on the principle. But we are not out this time for a vote on principle but on practice. It has been the weakness of our cause in the House of commons hitherto that we have had votes ad nauseum on the principle of woman suffrage, but no vote on carrying the principle into actual practice. Essentially it does not matter to us at this juncture whether or not we obtain another vote on the bare principle. In [the fact?] fact we should gain by carrying out Sir Edward Grey’s amendment without a division is simply a demonstration that the “antis’ dare not challenge a division in the House on the principle. They rely now solely on the hope of splitting up our forces and beating us in detail on the question of precisely what classes of women, and how many women are to be enfranchised. Personally I cannot complain of this attitude. I do not think it is a discreditable trick or manoeuvre, but it is a direct challenge to us. It narrows the issue. It is a direct challenge to suffragists of every shade of political opinion to concentrate on that amendment which by consent of all parties is known to have the best chance—the Dickinson amendment.
‘Incidentally this reported manoeuvre of the “antis” cuts the ground from under the feet of some half-hearted supporters of ours, who have been thinking they might save their face by voting for Sir E. Grey’s amendment, and subsequently only for one or other of the amendments which can not be carried, and not for Mr. Dickinson’s which can. There are, we know, a great many suffragists in the House who would prefer either a wider or a narrower franchise for women than that to be proposed by Mr. Dickinson. To all of those who are in earnest we must appeal once again, and can do so with renewed force in view of these latest rumours of anti-suffragist intentions to vote solid for the amendment standing half-way between the other two, which respectively represent the ideal of the Democratic and the Conservative wings. Let every suffragist member of Parliament realise that he is a unit in a majority so undeniable that the anti-suffragist minority fear to meet it. And let him take the field this January armed, not with the dummy rifles of good intentions and votes on principle, but with the powder and shot of firm determination to see the women citizens of his country, married and unmarried, represented in the next Parliament. Let adultists follow Mr. Henderson, let Conservatives follow Lord Robert Cecil into the lobby on the division on Mr. Dickinson’s amendment, and we have nothing to fear from our declared opponents.
To which Davison replies, using the same expression, “when pigs fly” that she used in her previous correspondence in The North Mail:
January 1, 1913, To the Editor of The Newcastle Daily Chronicle
Sir, of what use is Mr. F.D. Acland’s ingenuous letter sent to the January number of the ‘Englishwoman’ as to the duty of suffragists to support the Dickinson amendment to the Reform Bill? It’s common knowledge to anyone who has an ounce of political sense that any woman suffrage amendments to the Bill have as much chance of being brought forward as that ‘pigs might fly,’ for something has to go by the board in this tremendously full session. At first there was a whisper of Welsh Disestablishment going, but owing to the immediately militant attitude of the Welsh members of the Cabinet and the House of Commons, that was soon disavowed. Then there was a rumour of the Trade Union Bill being dropped. Labour members (who could not bring themselves to oppose the Government for women’s sake) pretty soon rectified that! What, then, remains? Why, of course the adult suffrage proposition, which none want and which was only brought forward to checkmate the women’s cause. All that will be taken is a Plural Voting Bill! And if the impossible should happen, and the amendments ever came forward, has not the fate of the Conciliation Bill and Mr. Snowden’s amendment to the Home Rule Bill shown clearly enough what will happen? A proper Government measure for woman suffrage is the only right and dignified thing—Yours, Etc.,
EMILY WILDING DAVISON
Longhorsley, Dec. 31