Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Who cares who got the vote and when?

I guess the story of how we got the vote is just too complicated and boring to be taught in schools any more. Who wants to hear about £10 copyholders when they could be studying Nazis?

Earlier this year I visited a county archive to do some family history research and asked the county archivist for the 1830's electoral rolls, explaining that my ancestor had been a draper and I wanted to know if he had been enfranchised by the 1832 Act. "Oh no" she replied with an impressive air of authority. "Only the really big landowners were enfranchised in 1832."

A month later, during the general election campaign, I got talking to a man in his early twenties who told me that he wasn't voting. I told him that he should think about the fact that people died so he would get the vote (well yes, I was being a pompous ass -- but it had been a long day). He reacted with astonishment. It turned out he'd done the Suffragettes at school, but nobody had bothered to inform him that men hadn't always had the franchise.

Finally, I've just listened to the second instalment of this week's Women's Hour drama -- The Shooting Party by Elizabeth Colegate, set in 1913. In it, one agricultural labourer says to another "They'll never give the vote to the likes of we". His companion replies "And if they do, who will be next -- townsfolk?".

I have no idea whether this excruciating, historically illiterate dialogue is in the original 1981 novel or was added by the dramatist, but it makes me want to weep.

No comments: