Victory for votes: Annie Kenney’s history-making role

Daily Issues2

IT’S EXACTLY 100 years ago this week that women were finally granted the vote.

On February 6, 1918, The Representation of the People Act passed into law giving the vote to all men over the age of 21 – and to certain women over the age of 30.

Those women also had to meet a property qualification so it would actually be another decade before all women got an equal vote.

Nonetheless 1918 was a political earthquake and historians still debate what won the day.

There were many factors involved including years of suffragette campaigning – both constitutional and militant – plus the need to extend the vote to soldiers after World War One, the pressure to recognise women’s war work, and the exit of figureheads opposed to female suffrage from the political stage.

It’s a common misconception that Britain was somehow an early adopter of votes for women. New Zealand did it first back in 1893 and seven more nations had followed suit before we finally caught up with the times.

Local women played a significant role in making this victory happen, not least Springhead’s Annie Kenney, Chadderton’s Lydia Becker and Werneth’s Marjory Lees (pictured above, left to right).

AKSIGNKenney was born in 1879 as the fourth daughter of 12 children and started work at a mill in Lees Brook in Lees at the age of just 10. She was employed there as a “tenter”, spending 15 years fitting bobbins and fixing broken strands of fleece. During that time she also lost one of her fingers, which was ripped off by a bobbin.

Determined to better herself, Annie self-studied and began taking part in trade union activity before getting involved in the Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU) in around 1905.

In October that year she made national headlines after attending a Liberal meeting at Manchester’s Free Trade Hall with Christabel Pankhurst.

Annie had the temerity to ask Winston Churchill and Sir Edward Grey if they believed woman should have the right to vote. Neither would answer. The pair were then ejected from the meeting after unfurling a ‘Votes for Women’ banner. Outside they were arrested for causing an obstruction and a technical assault on a police officer.

Kenney served three days behind bars on that occasion – becoming the first to be jailed for direct action – and this was to be one of 13 spells for her in prison.

Some may look back and say that suffragette violence against property was unnecessary and put many off their cause, but it’s also too simplistic to overlook the level of state violence these women faced.

Rough-handling by police was commonplace, imprisonment was frequent, and there can be few more brutal acts than physically holding someone down whilst force feeding them against their will to end a hunger strike.

Annie Kenney wasn’t the only local suffragette, of course – there were many others – but what was special about her was her roots and influence.

She’s widely acknowledged as the only working class woman to have reached the top of the WSPU (she was deputy by 1912) and there remains a feeling that, compared with the Pankhursts and others, her contribution still isn’t fully recognised.

Oldham Council did install a blue plaque at Leesbrook Mill acknowledging her contribution many years ago and we recently cleaned it.  Unfortunately that did not make it look much better so it is being repainted as soon as possible.

This centenary is an ideal moment to ensure we preserve the memories of Annie Kenney’s struggle for future generations, so please visit the website here to learn more about the local efforts to erect a statue of Annie Kenney in Parliament Square.

hatecrimeBack to 2018 and the battle against injustice still continues in many other ways…

This week Oldham Council is supporting workshops, information stalls and activities as part of Greater Manchester’s Hate Crime Awareness Week.

Latest Home Office statistics show that hate crimes nationally went up 29 per cent to 80,393 offences in 2016-17: yet even that doesn’t give us the full picture because so much of it goes unreported.

As an Oldham resident you should not suffer a hate crime in silence. If you’re attacked because of your difference – your religion, sexuality, colour of your skin or disability – then you should report it.

By speaking out you can help send the message that hate has no place in modern society and that perpetrators will feel the full force of the law.

A full programme of what is taking place in each part of the borough until February 9 is here. For more information on hate crime you can also visit letsendhatecrime.com or call the Victim Support Services helpline on 0161 200 1950.

Prejudice, it seems, is always with us – and that’s why we must never stop fighting it.

Jean

Strictly just great fun!

skershawsI REALLY didn’t know what to expect when I first agreed to take part in Strictly Kershaw’s dance fundraising event – but now I’m so glad that I did it.

Last Friday night was an experience that left me breathless but buzzing and I’m so pleased now that I that stepped outside my comfort zone and took up the challenge.

Part of what made it such a memorable night was the incredible effort that had been put into making this a success by the Hospice’s organisers and volunteers.

The QE Hall looked simply fabulous – with all the glitz and glamour you could hope for – and, best of all, it was absolutely packed.

Having been drawn to go on and perform first I will admit to having had some initial butterflies, but these were quickly forgotten once the music began.

From that point on you have to focus incredibly hard to keep yourself co-ordinated and be in the right place at just the right time.

What helped everyone taking part was that the crowd were so enthusiastic and they whipped up an atmosphere that inspired us all.

Looking back it was, for me, quite a risky thing to agree to take part in this. Too few of us step out of our comfort zone like that very often and I really hadn’t enjoyed my previous brief flirtations with dancing.

Now, however, I certainly understand the great pleasure that dancing gives to so many people. It’s not just a great physical challenge but also helps you forget a bad day, to put things into perspective – and you also get to meet some simply fantastic people.

I would like to take this opportunity to thank everyone at Dr Kershaw’s, Madd for Dance in Shaw, my dance partner Marco Maestro, and and all those who have helped me on this journey.

And we also mustn’t forget the incredible people who keep Dr Kershaw’s going all year round, plus all those who sponsored me (which you can still do!) here.

Boundary-Commission-EnglandMoving onto other matters now and I was disappointed to see the latest version of the proposed Boundary Commission for England (BCE) changes that was published last week…

This is its third and final consultation on proposed new Parliamentary constituencies as part of a move to reduce the number of MPs from 650 to 600.

We made representations last year to the BCE on their initial proposals to create two Parliamentary constituencies within the borough boundaries.

There were clear flaws in those proposals which, in particular, ignored important long-standing local associations and identities.

This new version does at least no longer propose to split the two Royton wards into different constituencies – as was initially put forward – and also now keeps the Saddleworth wards together.

However, I  do not view these plans as a good deal for Oldham because they are still breaking up the direct links with local authority boundaries, which is very important.

We will be putting our concerns forward again to the Boundary Commission and urging the public to do the same before the final December 11 deadline. You can do this by visiting the BCE website here.

BIGBANG2017Finally this week a reminder that with the end of British Summertime upon us this weekend, and with the nights drawing in, it’s almost time again for the Big Bang bonfire at Oldham Edge.

I will be talking more about this in my blog next week, but for now please mark Thursday, November 2 (5pm onwards) in your diary for this fantastic free event.

You can also visit our webpage here to see everything we’ve got planned to make this a ‘Feast of Fire’ – and our biggest and best event yet.

Jean

Local press is vital to communities and democracy

CHRONADMIN

IT WAS devastating to learn that the Oldham Evening Chronicle had closed its doors last week.

After almost 164 years of continuous publishing, millions of words, hundreds of controversies and stories, and the production of dozens of fine journalists, KPMG were swiftly appointed administrators of the firm last Thursday afternoon.

At the time staff were unwittingly filing their stories, taking advert placements and making calls for a Friday morning edition that would sadly never see the light of day.

Within an hour they were gathered together and told their fate – and that they did not even get the chance to write their own obituary edition seemed particularly cruel to me. They deserved that at least.

I knew the paper had been having financial problems for some time – in particular with a pension deficit – but had always hoped that a solution to be found.

DWhaleyDave Whaley, the Editor, called in to confidentially update me on the issues just a few weeks earlier.

Characteristically defiant and pragmatic about what might happen his chief thoughts, typically, were for the fate of all his 49 staff. Dave was, however, also deeply concerned about the impact the paper’s potential closure would have for Oldham – and he was right.

I’ve seen some say on social media that Oldham Council will now be quietly rejoicing the Chronicle’s demise, but nothing could be further from the truth.

Many people have already told me they cannot get their head around not being able to go and buy their ‘Chron’ and there is a genuine sense of loss that extends even to ex-pats who still looked forward to reading from afar.

Local media has a vital connection to its people that provides an unmatched service to everyone. It is crucial for communities and democracy.

Many Oldham residents will have appeared in its pages at one time or another and will still have a proud cutting gathering dust somewhere in their home.

If you were on the wrong side of the law in court you could expect to be identified in the Chron. If you were fundraising in your community for a good cause you could expect to be supported by them. And you could expect to find out news from the families of long-lost friends, neighbours or relatives in the births, deaths and marriages pages.

In recent years the Chronicle had also been a positive ambassador for Oldham as a place.

It backed us as a council when we showed ambition, but it was also ready to give us very public criticism when we deserved it. We may have squirmed and fumed at the time, but that is the scrutiny that comes with local democracy and it is a deal that works.

I sincerely hope a ‘Phoenix Chronicle’ may yet rise from the ashes, albeit likely in a weekly or bi-weekly form, and we will do anything we can to assist and encourage that to happen.

Oldham as a town needs a newspaper so we will be keeping a keen eye on developments: not least because it’s also vital that other elements of the old Chronicle brand and products are not lost.

prideoinoldhamThe Pride in Oldham awards, for example, was a fantastic community event that highlighted the incredible contributions of ordinary people in a way that nothing else could.

And let’s not forget the importance of the newspaper’s archive too.  Thousands of plates, negatives and digital content are all there on Union Street telling the story of our town and they simply must not be lost. I know people are working hard behind the scenes to ensure it can be preserved and enjoyed for generations to come.

Moving onto brighter news this week, I was delighted to open the EPIC Talks at the Your Oldham Festival in the Old Town Hall on Monday. It was inspiring to see important issues like inclusive growth and social contracts being discussed here in the heart of our town.

There’s still chance to catch some fantastic events across the borough until Saturday, so please visit our website here and book your free place.

Oldham_Live_Web_BannerOn Saturday our exciting Oldham LIVE event will be taking place offering fun for all the family from Noon followed by established music artists from 6pm onwards.

We’ve now updated our webpage with more detailed information – including site maps and FAQs – so please give it a visit here and support us.

This is a pilot event designed to show that Oldham has an appetite for and can deliver top-quality events that re-establish it as a destination.

Parliament Square is the place to be this Saturday – and it’s all completely free. Please come along, spread the word with your friends and neighbours, and help us to make it a day to remember.

Jean