"Freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction. We didn't pass it to our children in the bloodstream. It must be fought for, protected, and handed on for them to do the same."
- Ronald Reagan
Those of a horse racing inclination will know this Saturday is the Epsom Derby. It will also mark 100 years since the death of Suffragette Emily Davison in 1913 shown in the clip above.
Whether Davison intended to die under the King's horse has always been one of historical controversy. Whatever her intentions however the outcome meant she was to go down in the history books as an iconic figure of the women's suffrage movement, despite her actions often overshadowing other arguably more effective women, such as Millicent Fawcett who lived long enough to see the campaign of women's suffrage through to the end. It's a lesson also in how political movements often split over method.
No doubt the papers this weekend will be full of articles praising the bravery of Emily Davison and what she fought for - already illustrated by the Guardian earlier this week. Ironically what will be hailed as an example of "progressive politics" was at the time ridiculed, dismissed and patronised:
Intuition is far more largely developed in women than in men, but instinct and intuition, although good guides, are not the best masters so far as Parliament is concerned. This is the quality, either of feeling or emotion, which would impress and make itself more distinctly heard in this House if this Bill became law. Parliament is the ultimate seat of authority, where grave questions have to be decided, where men have to use their reasoning faculties which they have gained either in college, business, or commercial life; those reasoning faculties which they have purchased through centuries by hard and bitter experience. Parliament exists for the very purpose of opposing feelings, fancies, and inclinations by reason. The cold light of reason has been and should continue in the future to be the one guide so far as Parliament is concerned... I can only state a plain, undisputed matter of fact. It is for that reason that I oppose the granting of Women Suffrage.One is reminded of the dismissive tone used to describe current movements and parties that are against the prevailing political consensus.
Not that such lack of self-awareness will prevent comforting self-congratulatory adulation of Davison and women's suffrage in general; an inevitability to be conducted this weekend by newspapers such as the Guardian, Daily Mail and the Telegraph, who fully support our membership of an international organisation that is designed, by its own admission, to remove the very thing she fought for - democracy.
How ironic as we celebrate the actions of Davision, that she would be no more enfranchised today than 100 years ago. Women (as do men) have the symbolic right to enter a polling station and mark a ballot paper with a cross but such actions do not automatically confer democracy. It's not the mark of a cross that counts but what that mark can achieve in practice.
An obvious example of a disconnect between the act of voting and democracy is the EU itself - specifically EU parliamentary elections. Yes, we can vote for MEPs but by doing so we are still unable to change the executive, a government nor are MEPs' able execute their voters' mandate. Similarly in the old USSR, the Supreme Soviet was elected but no-one could seriously suggest as a consequence that the country was democratic.
On a personal note I have two recent relatively simple examples of the current futility of Davison's actions.
My mother-in-law sadly suffers from an eye condition called Retinitis Pigmentosa. This means that although she can still see her sight is progressively failing. Understandably she is more comfortable in her house lit with high wattage incandescent bulbs that can be adjusted to her satisfaction via dimmer switches. She now bitterly complains at uselessness of the pathetic illumination of low energy bulbs and their incompatibility with dimmer switches. Such a ban on incandescent bulbs has been introduced by the European Union, thus, 100 years after Davison, it has rendered my mother in law effectively disenfranchised despite having the right to mark a piece of paper. She is unable to change this law without our exit.
Another example is my next door neighbour who has recently completed her qualifications for being a mid-wife. When signing my nomination form to stand as a local council candidate, she articulated to me her acute frustration at not being able to obtain insurance as an independent mid-wife, instead she could only be insured if she worked as an NHS one. Needless to say:
On October 25th 2013, it will become illegal for independent midwives to practise as they do now. EU Directive 2011/24 on patients’ rights in cross-border healthcare, once implemented in the UK, will require all healthcare professionals to have professional indemnity insurance or an equivalent guarantee or other scheme to be in place. The legislative proposals for implementation of this Directive have not yet been published for consultation but it is assumed that insurance cover will be made a condition of registration as a midwife with the Nursing and Midwifery Council. In 2002 the last commercial insurer offering insurance to independent midwives withdrew from the market as it was not commercially viable given the small numbers of independent midwives in the UK. As a result professional indemnity insurance is no longer commercially available for self-employed independent midwives.Another lady...deprived of her voice via the ballot box. No doubt among all the exaltations, all political parties will attempt to claim Davison as their own. But the brutal truth is, among the fine words, their actions have let her down.
As a nation we betrayed her; a 100 years on and nothing has fundamentally changed. We owe her, and her legacy, big time - we have a duty to try to right a massive wrong in her memory at the very least.