It has been a green, purple and white week as we broke out the ribbons and rosettes to celebrate the momentous anniversary which fell this Tuesday – the 100th year to the day of the passing of the Representation of the People Act, which first gave some women the right to vote. This momentous legislation, which was bought forward by Conservative Home Sectary George Cave after a successful and tumultuous Suffragette campaign, gave at first, voting rights to all men aged 21 and over, but only to women over thirty “with property” – which means that my Granny Gwendoline who turned 18 that year would not have been enfranchised. However, ten years later the Conservative government, led by Stanley Baldwin, brought in the Equal Franchise Act which extended the vote even further and set in train the unstoppable enfranchisement and representation of women and minority groups in all forms of politics.
I marked the day doing some things that would have been unthinkable in my Granny’s era, starting off with opening the London Stock Exchange to celebrate the work of my Green Finance Taskforce, then raising the Suffragette flag outside the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, and attending Cabinet, which is 30 per cent female and chaired by our second female Prime Minister. Then it was off to the House to hear Amber Rudd, the Home Secretary’s statement on the occasion at which women – and men – from across the political divide both celebrated the occasion, but noted now much more we need to do to get to a truly representative Parliament. Much of the focus was on what the PM has called the “coarsening of the political debate” and which others call sexism, anti-Semitism, racism and the threats of violence and intimidation which have become a sad and disturbing feature of day to day political life over the last few years. This was so sadly brought into focus this week with the actions of a little but aggressive mob of black balaclava wearing Momentum activists trying to shout down meetings at universities – surely a place where people go to expand their minds and thinking, and to understand better the views of others? However, despite this negativity which can put people off politics for ever, there are more women than ever in the House of Commons, brave women on the opposition benches speaking out against the bully-boy tactics of Momentum, girls and young women right across the country campaigning ever more actively for what they believe in and a national £5m fund available to celebrate, educate and encourage more women to participate in politics – find out more at www.womensvotecentenaryfund.co.uk.