Theresa May praises ‘heroism’ of suffragettes

Theresa May has praised the “heroism” of Britain’s suffragettes as politicians across the UK mark the centenary of some women being granted the vote.

The Prime Minister hailed “the enormous strides we have taken as a society” ahead of a speech in Manchester, the birthplace of universal suffrage leader Emmeline Pankhurst.

In it, Mrs May will announce a crackdown on social media abuse to stop women being deterred from entering public life because of online “bitterness and aggression”.

Britain's Prime Minister Theresa May returns to 10 Downing Street in London, February 6, 2018. REUTERS/Hannah McKay

Image: Theresa May wore a purple outfit to mark the centenary

Home Secretary Amber Rudd has announced the possibility of more legislation to celebrate 100 years since the Representation of the People Act was passed in Parliament.

She has thrown her backing behind a proposal from the Fawcett Society and Scottish Conservative leader Ruth Davidson to give posthumous pardons to women jailed for fighting to win the vote.

More than 1,000 women were arrested and many were imprisoned in the early 19th century campaign.

Speaking to Sky News, Ms Rudd said: “It’s something that I will look at.

“We have done things like this in the past. It’s quite complicated elements of law which can’t be overstepped because we’ve changed our views on things. But I have said that we will take a look at it.”

However, Caroline Criado-Perez, who led the campaign for a female figure to remain on UK banknotes, warned against the move.

She said the suffragettes “deliberately broke the law to make a point” – for example, by demanding “no taxation without representation”.

“Pardoning them now whitewashes their radicalism — and that is wrong,” she wrote on Twitter. “They were radical. They did break the law. They did so knowingly.”

Meanwhile, Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon pointed out the transformation of a site once used to detain women, posting a picture of Scottish government headquarters St Andrew’s House on Twitter.

“Thank you to all the women who fought for our right to vote – and enabled a woman to occupy the office of FM,” she said.

In Westminster, hundreds of female MPs, including Mrs May, posed around a copy of the original bill that gave votes to women over 30 and who owned a property or land.

Later, organisers say the largest ever gathering of Britain’s women politicians will take place at a reception to launch Parliament’s “Vote 100” campaign.

Three other historic bills will also go on display: the Parliament (Qualification of Women) Act 1918, which allowed women to become MPs, the Equal Franchise Act 1928, which gave women complete voting rights parity with men, and the Life Peerages Act 1958, which allowed women to become life peers in the House of Lords.

And Labour is holding its shadow cabinet meeting at the Museum of London, where a large “Votes for Women” exhibition has just opened.

Labour MP Jess Phillips during a Period poverty protest opposite Downing Street in Whitehall, led by Free Periods, a group which is asking for free sanitary products for all girls on free school meals. The protest features speeches from among others.

Image: Labour MP Jess Phillips said she would be thinking of murdered MP Jo Cox

Backbencher Jess Phillips said she would be thinking of murdered MP Jo Cox on the centenary, and revealed she sang a pro-suffragette song with colleague Anna Turley as they walked “arm in arm” to her memorial.

The Jo Cox Foundation said the former Batley and Spen MP “had the highest ambitions for herself and all women”, posting a photo of her as a child in Downing Street.

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It came as the Tory civil war over Brexit spilled out into social issues, with outspoken former business minister Anna Soubry announcing she could not serve in a Jacob Rees-Mogg-led party because of his views on abortion.

“Somebody who says that he’s had six children and never changed a nappy; somebody who says that even if you’ve been raped by your own father you couldn’t choose to have a termination; I’m sorry, but I couldn’t stay in a party led by someone like him,” she told ITV’s Good Morning Britain.