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Tony Benn – feminist

14 March 2014

You may not have agreed with the late Tony Benn’s politics, but as Mary Wakefield points out in her interview with him, ‘his faith in humanity had deep roots’.

And here’s an example of it. Back in 2001, Benn took it upon himself to erect a plaque in the broom cupboard where Emily Wilding Davison hid during the night of 2 April 1911, the night of the Census, so that she would be registered as a resident at the House of Commons. As a woman – with no right to elect who could stand in Parliament – it appealed to her sense of irony that she would be recorded as a resident.



Speaking in the House of Commons in 2001, Benn said:

‘I have put up several plaques—quite illegally, without permission; I screwed them up myself. One was in the broom cupboard to commemorate Emily Wilding Davison, and another celebrated the people who fought for democracy and those who run the House. If one walks around this place, one sees statues of people, not one of whom believed in democracy, votes for women or anything else. We have to be sure that we are a workshop and not a museum.’

And here’s the extract from the Census:

The 1911 Census, which reads ‘Miss E W Davidson [sic], found hiding in the crypt of Westminster Hall since Saturday’ (Images: Crown Copyright Images, reproduced courtesy of the National Archives, London)

It’s easy to forget the huge battles fought to give women the vote. Incidentally, the broom cupboard is in the same chapel where Margaret Thatcher’s body spent the final night before her funeral. Without the suffragette movement, Britain could never have elected a female Prime Minister. Benn – despite his politics – knew this. Davison’s contribution – and Benn’s recognition of it – are important milestones in the fight for equality.

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  • MikeF

    The normal convention in journalistic articles is to refer to people by their fullname in the first instance e.g. ‘Tony Benn’ and then by their surname only subsequently e.g. ‘Benn’. It would have been seemly for you to have accorded that dignity to Margaret Thatcher as well in this article.

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