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The “Reform Bill”

After long years of promise the Liberal Party have drawn up a Suffrage Reform Bill. With a long sham fight about “Home Rule” and “Welsh Disestablishment” in front of them, the measure seems to have had its last and first reading.

Although a majority of the Liberal Members of Parliament have “won” their seats by reason of their sympathy (real or feigned) with “Woman Suffrage”, that proposition is left entirely out of the Bill! Many of the Liberal employer M.P.’s are now opposing female franchise on the grounds of “unfitness”, calmly ignoring the fact of the millions who are “fit” enough to make huge fortunes for Liberal masters in the factories and mills. But such hypocrisy is in keeping with Liberal traditions!

The fraud of the Bill, though, is plainly shown in its fancy franchise for men. According to Mr. McKenna himself in his introductory speech, the total number of males over 21 in the United Kingdom is 12,032,000. The number of voters at present is 7,409,986, and of the 4½ millions would remain he computes that about half will be entitled to vote.

The measure stipulates for an eight month’s residential or occupational qualification – that is, you must be at an address from December 25th to August 1st.

If the Liberals were in earnest even about this question of suffrage they could quite easily have given a vote to every man instead of leaving 2½ millions out in the cold. The long residential conditions in these days of a drifting working class, make it result that those who, because of deepening destitution, need a voice most are deprived of a vote.

Another typically peculiar Liberal decision is that their Reform Bill only applies to Parliamentary elections, not to those concerning local bodies.

The bill is essentially and undisputably a mere shop window affair. It is drawn up and announced for the specific purpose of enabling its authors, the Liberal party, to win bye-elections. The prevailing “labour unrest” and the only-to-be-expected, but nevertheless dirty and despicable part played therein by the Government is slowly but surely making many working men to doubt their so-called Liberal friends, and this latest Liberal fraud is brought in in order to make a fresh show of democracy – and this in spite of the fact that the rich man, in accordance with the capitalist commandment, is always more sure of his vote than is his “poor brother”.

The suffrage for women, too, seems to have been left out of this Government measure in the hope that will help to keep the fires of controversy burning – and perhaps to sufficient effect as to cremate the Bill.

One way or another we are no deeply interested parties. We know that Socialism includes democracy, and can only come when a majority of the working class voice their will and desire in favour of it. But this Bill does not provide the democracy which is to be such a vital part of Socialism. Already Liberals and Tories alike have spoken about all kinds of amendments making even more fanciful the paltry provisions of the measure. We have seen very often the difference between the first appearance and the final form of Government Bills. The Shop Act was boomed as a sixty hour Bill, but when Liberal and Tory shopowners had completed their dirty work the sixty hour clause was as dead as a “Labour” leader’s conscience, and instead it provided that those under eighteen could not be employed more than seventy-four hours a week. Those over that age could be worked as many hours as the profit-grinders desired!

To us as Socialists the vote itself is not the thing. Millions of working men have had the vote for forty years, but lacking knowledge of how to use it in their own interest, they have steadily voted their masters into power; voted the continuance of the system that keeps them poor.

We know that there are enough working-class voters to-day to defeat the capitalist class – but it wants intelligence behind the vote. Our work, therefore, is to convert the workers from supporters of capitalism into fighters for Socialism. And as the vote is extended by our masters, pushed by the development of their system, so, too, our work will still be needed, for the workers, voters and non-voters alike, to-day are against Socialism.

We are not advocating reform, whether Reform Bills or Adult Suffrage. We want to enlist a membership for Socialism, to build up a party of men and women who realise Socialism to be their only hope. When the Revolutionists are strong enough to elect one of themselves to Parliament, then he will have behind him a solid body of men and women who mean Revolution. He will voice their interests, expose the bunkum bills of the workers’ enemies, and drive home the Socialist position upon every question that arises. He will occupy his seat wholly as a fighter for Socialism, and will regard all his activities from the standpoint of their helpfulness to the speeding of Socialism.

Hence, although we are necessarily and without any qualification democrats, we do not, and never have, and never will, support such swindles upon the working class as the Liberal Reform Bill.

(Socialist Standard, July 1912)