Pardoning the Suffragettes

It is a century since women were given the right to vote in the UK. Not all women, just those over the age of 30 who owned land or a home. It followed a long campaign that perhaps began with the formation of the Women’s Suffragette Committee in 1867. Over time some supporters became more militant, fighting, causing explosions at Westminster Abbey and other places, including the Chancellor’s house, and burning down properties. These activities deter the current Home Secretary, a woman, from offering a pardon to the suffragettes.

In recent years pardons have been issued to the soldiers executed for cowardice in World War I and men jailed for being homosexuals. The difference is that arson and violence remain on the statue books. If a seventeen-year-old today began attacking people and burning houses, it is unlikely that he or she would escape punishment because they campaigned for a teenager’s right to vote.

Yet, in a week when the heckling of MPs was described by the latest victim as the lifeblood of politics, it is worth remembering that this was the only crime of many suffragettes. They interrupted political debates to state their case and were violently removed, despite having the right to a peaceful protest. That deserves an apology, at least, and we should all be grateful that someone was brave enough to fight for equality.

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