Women’s suffrage advocates were encouraged in 1906 by the return to government of the Liberal Party whose sympathies, along with Keir Hardie’s Labour Party, had historically aligned most closely with franchise reform and women’s rights. Supportive Liberals included the newly elected William Wedgwood Benn.
However, when Prime Minister Henry Campbell Bannerman was replaced by anti-suffragist Asquith in 1908, the Government’s position changed. As Elizabeth Robins from the Actresses’ Franchise League, declared: ‘The women’s cause lost a weak friend and gained a determined enemy’.
Meanwhile, members of the growing number of woman suffrage societies had been enthused by the new militant tactics of the suffragettes. Men contributed to the suffrage organisations as speakers, lobbyists and funders. In 1907 the Men’s League for Women’s Suffrage was formed. Their strongest supporters in Parliament included Socialist MP Philip Snowdon and the Liberal MPs Sir Alfred Mond, Willoughby H. Dickinson, Henry G. Chancellor Henry G. Chancellor and the Earl of Lytton.
Between 1910 and 1912, under the chairmanship of Lord Lytton, an all-party Conciliation Committee inspired a series of Bills aiming to secure a limited measure of women’s suffrage. All but one passed a second reading. All failed to progress further. Some in Parliament blamed suffragette militancy on the lack of progress, but many regarded the Asquith Government and their persistent disregard of women’s suffrage as equally culpable.
‘Conciliation and militancy cannot go on side by side,’ said Lord Lytton in 1910. His sister, Constance Lytton, was a militant suffragette.