Women in Democracy

Baroness Valentine

15-21 November is Parliament Week– an annual event that raises awareness about Parliament and democratic life in the UK. This year, the theme is ‘Women in Democracy’, and I am pleased to support it.

My first job was at Barings bank in the 1980s and I was one of the first female executives to work there. At the time, staff were in temporary accommodation in Leadenhall Street while a new office was being built. The office that was being replaced, though, still had a separate entrance for women to enter and leave the building. This picture in the Parliamentary Art Collection reminded me of that.


Sketch of a ventilator in the Ladies Gallery Attic in St Stephens, 1834

It is a very rare drawing showing the roof space about the House of Commons which was, until the New Palace of Westminster was built – the building we have today – following the 1834 fire, the only way women were allowed to view the proceedings of the House of Commons. The women gathered in the attic above the ceiling of the Chamber, around the ventilator shaft, which is shown. They were provided with chairs but only had a restricted view of what was going on. I imagine it as being rather like being in the “Gods” at the Royal Albert Hall.

As a painting I like the movement in the sketch and the focus on the lantern in the middle. And the attic looks structurally appealing.

It reminds me, too, of the awful damage done by fire to London in the past. But on the other hand we wouldn’t have St. Paul’s Cathedral without the Great Fire . . .

For anyone interested in the Parliamentary Art Collection, you can visit it here

6 comments for “Women in Democracy

  1. maude elwes
    30/10/2013 at 9:05 am

    I really don’t like to have to write this, but, I find the heading of ‘Women in Democracy’ an insult to our intelligence, society and to the very democracy you are crowing about. What on earth does ‘women in democracy’ have to do with the meaning of ‘democracy’ and its function?

    This constant and relentless attack on the male of our species is sickening. Men are every part of and the founders of ‘our’ democracy as we know it. And, as such, they cannot be divided from it. Look how far they have come. They stood back and accepted women in their quest to take over ‘their’ leadership. So all this anti male campaigning makes me cringe.

    I don’t hate men, or, their role in society. We are two parts of one sphere. And the constant underlying hammering of the notion that is opposed to the fact of men and women being complimentary to each other and do not happily function in isolation from each other, is insidious, unhealthy and nasty in its premise. Women are not separate from men or better than.

    So, from my point of view, I will not join this duplicitous ploy to elevate the idea of woman outshining and being above that of the role men play. They, are often, our saviours. I am not a sister and don’t want to be one. So called, ‘sisters,’ are repugnant in their role of male flagellation, it is so very masculine in principle. Why should women want to pursue such heavy handed practices, whilst referring to themselves as feminists? That being a misnomer.

    Please stop it.

    • Tom Payne
      07/11/2013 at 12:49 pm

      Maude’s rant is actually quite interesting after considering the question for several days!
      I have supported women’s rights over the years but at some cost to my own integrity as a male ,as she puts it, “of the species”!

      Reading the life work of Thomas Jefferson, which is highly instructive, since he wrote the constitution of the USA, I don’t think there is any mention at all of the “rights” of women, but that was at the beginning of the 19thC , the time of the French revolution.

      As models for democracy France and the USA are way ahead of the world, but are they ahead of the world for women’s rights, as democratic beings?
      I doubt it, even though, the “left” in politics, to which the Baroness Valentine is almost certainly not a contributor, nearly always occupies the high ground.

      If women are not mentioned, then can it be true that
      “Those who are least mentioned in public are those whose lives are happiest” (paraphrase TJ)?

      You might make the same comment about slaves of whom there vast number in Jefferson’s time….. they would not be mentioned because they were not involved in public life.. so they were the happiest!
      Now there is a false friend, so false as to be utterly treacherous!

      Democracy, for a former employee /managing partner of Barings bank, may only apply to those who are parishioners of the churches of the city of London, and you know how democratic they are!!!!!!!

      I doubt whether there are many in the city who espouse the cause of Karl Marx or Machiavelli, women or no women in democracy.

      Perhaps the baroness has been set up to speak to the subject knowing full well that it is a …… Nono…. (Cardinal Nono being a cardinal of the Catholic church who lived until he was 100 years old!) No! No! No!

  2. Gareth Howell
    30/10/2013 at 7:23 pm

    What on earth does ‘women in democracy’ have to do with the meaning of ‘democracy’ and its function?
    50% of voters presumably?

    The House of Lords committee bulletin is very useful to decide on what to interest yourself in; I recommend it to Maude Elwes. It is to be found on the parliament website.

    I was invited to attend an FOE (Friends of the Earth) meeting in about 1985
    and took the very unwise liberty of inviting a very-nearly-woman of 17 to accompany me. She was horrified when we got to Westminster Hall, that she was the only (woman) in attendance in the whole hall, full to the brim with, what must have been for her, smelly old men, with which, Baroness Valentine must agree are still a feature of the parliamentary chambers, albeit a lesser one than 25 years ago.

    Baroness Shirley Williams very kindly came to the rescue, without mentioning the insults she hurled at me, and taking the young woman to be escorted round parliament by Black Rod. I have often wondered since what the young woman’s recollection were of that day, but I shall let it pass!
    I have an idea that she works for the BBC. She was certainly a first rate public speaker.

    Today there are plenty of, some even very young and very good looking, women members to grace the chambers, and even first rate speakers and debaters.

    My own presnce in the hoC chamber was certainly not just curtailed but entirely inhibited by the dash for seats by women in the 1997 election, which left me very bitter about their new presence in parliament but the general effect of women in democracy and parliament has been excellent.

    My own mother’s name was Christobelle,(named after Pankhurst in 1907) so our own family has a long tradition of concern for the Reform Acts dating back to that of 1841, which concluded the episodes of the swing riots and Union martyrs trials of 1834

    Not for nothing was I interested in the Lords reform Act of 2005.

  3. Gareth Howell
    31/10/2013 at 12:09 pm

    I have got to add to the above, that in view of living so near to the Martyrs Union village of Tolpuddle, and having a written history of revolt against the poverty of those days, my repeating the story of the transportation of a forefather for the sabotage of a farm machine, has prompted local people to describe ME as a “wicked criminal”, which of course parliament, and all members of the house of lords, know very well I am not! I have yet to introduce myself, without being un-introduced.

    The difference between the union martyrs of 1834 and the swing rioters of 1830 was of course considerable. The poor law unions is an interesting subject, but more interesting still is the PEACEFUL nature of the first union, which the swing rioters were not.

    There were no women amongst those first unionists nor any amongst the first Labour members of parliament due to the reform act of 1841, which paid elected labour members to go to parliament to take up their seats.

    There were a number of women who left the country in disgust for Canada with their absolved martyr husbands in the 1840s, but they did not get any kind of vote until 1927…. the next reform act. My late mother voted for the first time in 1931 and she was proud to do so. She was a conservative all her life, but made little comment about people like Edward Heath (rip) or John Major. She had finer people to think about.

    I may say that my own life has suffered from the overweaning powers my late mother unwisely had over me as a child. in the word of the actor in one West End play od recent year,

    “Mother!You gave me life and you have spent the rest of it doing your best to stifle me!”

    Having a mother as a self employed person in a not entirely insubstantial business, (an advantage of democracy perhaps, business ownership and so on) did little to promote my own interests in my own chosen profession, which is proably why I sit here now, writing post in reply to B Valentine, rather than sitting comfortably in the red leathered chamber!

    Though I say so myself, for the benefit of the local community, in Dorset
    I am a man of the utmost integrity, and I add , cautiously, I hope of honesty as well!

    Women in substantial business employment, or with senior roles in the police force, creates different problems to be solved by those who, for example, encounter their non-siginificant husbands, but not have the ‘nous’ to do so properly,who may endeavor to grind the axes of their working wives, present company excepted.

  4. Honoris Causa
    02/11/2013 at 6:27 pm

    Thinking of the question, the influx of women to the HofC in 1997 was the first move towards democratising parliament in favour of 505 female membership. Some, if not many, of those 60 plud women may have taken their seats in the lords after due service in the other place. I don’t know.
    Labour people tend not to go in to the HofL on the strength of unicameral labour principle, the same as labour men tend not to accept knighthoods.
    some may have accepted the high honor of Privy Councillor instead of, rather than as well as, membership of the HofL, and at least one had to retire in disgrace.

    Equality itself tends to be more of labour principle than a conservative on yet there are now plenty of women like B Valentine who have had fine professional careers, and know how to deal with the procedure of chambers
    in such a way that they become useful peers. So the blue rinse brigade of the tory party has come of age not as blue rinse peeresses but as entirely respectable professional women.

    Let us not forget though that democracy is NOT aristocracy, and elitism and exclusivity is very much what the HofL is about….. or it used to be, so talking about democracy it is not much use talking about the HofL. It might have been if the ill fated Lords Reform bill for the sop to the Libdem coalition had come to pass. If you are talking about the voting democracy within the chamber itself then perhaps you would have some justification in describing the work of the lords today as “democratic”, but otherwise there is none at all. in deed there is even an “appointments” board, which can have little to do with voting rights.

    I would be interested to see the numbers of women in both chambers now compared with 25 years ago, when there may have been about a dozen in both put together.

    It is worth remembering what “class” of person most of the members of the HofL now are. Apart from the Hereditary peers, (one of two of whom may consider themselves to be working class) the rump of members are upwardly mobile middle class people who are thrilled to have made it to be Peer or peeress; From the voting democracy but not of it.

  5. Honoris Causa
    02/11/2013 at 7:24 pm

    The women gathered in the attic above the ceiling of the Chamber, around the ventilator shaft, which is shown. They were provided with chairs but only

    The gallery in the Chapel Royal is still like that, if you like!

    The historical aspect of women in democracy is non existent before the 1927 Act. Women in Aristocracy is a different matter.

    The Labour movement has a good deal of advantage regarding democracy. it is a good thing that the heading is not “Women’s Rights in Democracy” or the “Women’s Movement in democracy” both of which have a distinctly leftward lean, if not sapphic and donwright lesbian. I am sure that the meeting will “not want to go there”, as the cliche goes.

    Finally, voting with one’s feet to go to a demonstration is surely one of the basic rights of a democratic society. We saw some rather serious ones in Greece a couple of years ago, in Cairo recently, in Syria frequently AND recently. The attempt to exercice some form of democratic power is probably attended in the case of the Peace demonstration in Trafalgar Sq
    in early 2003 by 30% women. I don’t know. I didn’t go and i was unwell too, but my surmise is that there were more women there than there have ever been for such exercices of democratic rights in the past.

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