Sir: In his article ‘Failure of the Feminists’ (12 March), Paul Johnson asserts that some women would have got the vote in Britain well before 1914 if ‘feminists’ had been willing to accept property qualifications. In fact the stated aim of the major suffrage societies was to achieve the vote on the same terms as men, which before 1918 meant with a property qualification. They had been quite happy in the 1890s to accept the municipal vote on these terms. It was the Liberal leadership (and, initially, the Labour party) that opposed women’s suffrage on the grounds that the class of women who would get the vote under equal franchise would be likely to vote Conservative. And of course in 1918, when all men finally got the vote, suffragists were happy to accept a measure involving not only a property qualification but a minimum age of 30 — which, incidentally, excluded a good many if not most of the young women who had volunteered for war work. So it is a little hard to blame the intransigence of some supposed ‘feminists’ for a resistance which in fact was at least partly due to the perceived electoral advantage of the Liberal party.
Sir: As anyone who knew me from my days in the National Organisation of Labour Students in the 1970s could tell Rod Liddle (12 March), I was never ‘a grim Trotskyite’. Indeed, on the contrary, I was an active member of the anti-Trotskyist Broad Left in the National Union of students, and founder convenor of the ‘Clause Four’ Group whose successful ‘Operation Ice Pick’ campaign wrested control of NOLS from the Militant Tendency in 1975. An apology and correction is in order.
Labour and Co-operative MP for Ilford South, House of Commons, London SW1
An un-English state
Sir: I cannot tell you how much it rejoiced my heart to read in James Forsyth’s column (Politics, 26 February) that the ‘Cameroons’ are finally getting wise to the full extent of the threat to our freedoms from the EU. I speak as a Germanophile who has lived very happily here in Germany for 15 years. There are many advantages to a well-run, orderly society. Yet I can never reconcile myself to the unquestioned assumption here that the government sets the limits to my rights. The governing elite are the wise ones who know what is best for us. The English tradition, going back at least to Magna Carta, could not be more different: the people set the limits to the government’s powers. New Labour appears to have been oblivious to the way their surrender to EU hegemony undermined a millennium of political development, and introduced an alien political philosophy into our affairs. I regret that after being resident abroad for 15 years, I am disenfranchised and will be unable to do my patriotic duty in the referendum on withdrawing from the EU. Perhaps the Spectator could campaign to re-enfranchise long-term exiles?
Revd Martin Reakes-Williams
Does Italy exist?
Sir: In Barry Unsworth’s review (Books, 5 March) of David Gilmour’s book The Pursuit of Italy we read that the unification of Italy 150 years ago was a terrible mistake. It is a fashionable view of some commentators today, especially if they are members of the Lombardy League, who have been seeking the creation of an independent state, ‘Padania’, in the north of Italy, or nostalgic supporters of a return to the independent state of the Bourbons, which included most of the south of Italy before the unification of Italy in 1859. It is a profoundly wrong opinion. The current celebrations to mark the 150th anniversary on 17 March show that vast majority of Italians are proud of the unification of Italy, in spite of the problems of lawlessness and corruption to which Unsworth refers.
There are strong historical reasons for the unification of Italy, and in spite of regional differences, a common language and culture. So let’s reject the view that unification was a terrible mistake.
Sir: I greatly enjoyed Barry Unsworth’s review of The Pursuit of Italy. A very timely book, given that this year sees the 150th anniversary of the unification. The Risorgimento was the work of a small elite group, mainly from Piedmont, with the aid of Garibaldi and his northern romantic mercenaries, at a time when over 80 per cent of the population was illiterate and had no idea what was going on. There are certainly more people now who would opt for separation than there ever were who wanted unification. During these 150 years the differences in the culture and mentality of the country’s diverse population (mainly the north/south divide, but not only that), far from blending to make a nation, have become more evident and incompatible. I fear that there will be no country to celebrate the 200th anniversary.
Sir: In his rant against the EU’s assault on herbalists (‘Allergic to freedom’, 12 March), Daniel Hannan proposes that the most powerful reason for the EU’s action is lobbying by the giant pharmaceutical companies, who see an opportunity to put their rivals out of business. Is he seriously suggesting that these companies are troubled by competition from herbalists? Moreover, he argues that it is unreasonable to require herbalists to prove that their products are non-toxic. Is Mr Hannan unaware that pharmaceutical companies are required rigorously, and at great expense, not only to prove that their products do what is stated on the packet, but that they too are non-toxic? Presumably he favours abolition of these regulations in the interests of a level playing field with the herbalists.
Professor P.G. Isaacson FRS
UCL Medical School, London WC1