Assess the significance of popular protest in challenging authority and its success in bringing about political change in the years 1880-1992. Jake Uchiki-Parker
The years 1880-1992 encompass a broad span of British history during which the very nature of government and political representation would change. The exact extent to which popular protest influenced these changes is the subject of much debate amongst historians. This essay will explore the key changes that occurred during this time period-the extension of the franchise, the change in the role of the state, and the growth of working class representation-evaluating the precise role of popular protest in each area of change. Between 1880-1969, the voting franchise saw progressive adjustment and extension. With the 1918 Representation of the People act, it is evident that public protest in the form of WSPU militancy proved effective in raising publicity and support for the cause of female suffrage. The dynamic actions of the WSPU-involving setting fire to property and smashing windows-captured public attention and stood in stark contrast to the diplomatic methods of the NUWSS. The first instance of window smashing was on June 30th 1908, when suffragettes Mary Leigh and Edith New threw stones at the windows of 10 Downing Street, and were arrested. Historian Katherine Connelly highlights the political message behind the window smashing campaign: 'The suffragettes were exposing that the government cared more about a pane of glass than a woman’s life...'1 The success of WSPU militancy in gaining support can be clearly seen in donation and membership records. Between 1907 and 1914 over 50 new women's suffrage societies were founded and from March 1913 to February 1914 the movement collected over £28,000 in donations. Historian Constance Rover remarks: ‘…there is a fair measure of agreement that it (militancy) was positively helpful in its early days…the militants kept the movement in the public eye…’2...
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