19/1/1919 Germany goes to the polls, rejecting the extremes of right and left

Today Germans vote in their country’s first ever fully free elections. Voters are choosing the members of an assembly that will write a new constitution for the country. Proportional representation has been introduced to prevent the overrepresentation of rural areas seen in elections to the imperial Reichstag, while for the first time women are voting on the same basis as men. All men and women aged 20 or over are entitled to vote, with property qualifications and various Wilhelmine-era chicaneries used to minimise the vote of unsound elements eliminated.

The results show strong support for the parties of the current status quo. The Social Democrats (the SPD) win 38% of the vote, the Centre Party (mainly representing Catholics) wins 20%, and the liberal German Democratic Party wins 19%. The reactionary conservative German National People’s Party wins just 10% of the vote. To the left of the SPD, the Independent Social Democrats (the USPD) gains less than 8% of the vote. The Spartacists meanwhile boycott the election, a decision taken by them before their failed uprising.

The constituent assembly will meet soon to begin its work. Because Berlin is still in a somewhat restive state, the new parliament will assemble in the quieter Thuringian city of Weimar.

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“Women! Same rights, same responsibilities. Vote Social Democrat!” (DW: Weimar, 1919: Birth of Germany’s first democracy)

28/12/1918 Ireland’s election results: Sinn Féin landslide and the first woman elected to the House of Commons #1918

Ireland voted on 14 December as part of the United Kingdom’s first general election since 1911. Today the votes are finally counted and the results reveal that Sinn Féin has definitively supplanted the Irish Parliamentary Party as the voice of Irish nationalism, with the IPP winning just 6 seats to Sinn Féin’s 73. John Dillon, the IPP’s leader, loses his East Mayo seat to Sinn Féín leader Éamon de Valera, who is currently in prison in England after being arrested earlier this year on suspicion of involvement in an outlandish German plot to invade Ireland. Unionist parties meanwhile dominate in the north east of the country, where many Protestant voters fear the consequences of self-rule in mainly Catholic Ireland. This is also where the Irish Parliamentary Party wins most of its seats; IPP candidates are more used to battling on against adverse circumstances here.

Apart from the north east, the electoral map of Ireland is now a sea of dark green, representing Sinn Féin victories. The only exceptions to the Sinn Féin sweep are Waterford City, where William Redmond is elected to the seat previously held by the late John Redmond, his father and the former leader of the IPP, and Rathmines in Dublin, where Unionist candidate Maurice Dockrell is elected.

Two women ran for Sinn Féin and one of these, Constance Markievicz, is elected. Like De Valera she played a leading role in the 1916 Rising and like him she is also currently in jail in England.

Sinn Féin candidates have secured election on an abstentionist ticket: they have promised not to take their seats in Westminster but instead to assemble as an Irish parliament in Dublin. Now those elected Sinn Féin representatives who are not on the run or in jail prepare to meet in January as the first sitting of a sovereign Irish parliament, to be known in the Irish language as Dáil Éireann.

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Sinn Féin election poster (RTÉ: Election 1918 – what you need to know about how Ireland voted)

Constance Markievicz (Wikipedia: Constance Markievicz)

28/12/1918 Britain’s votes are counted: Lloyd George’s coalition wins a landslide victory #1918Live

Two weeks ago the United Kingdom held its first election since 1911. Because of the large numbers of postal ballots from men serving overseas with the armed forces, the votes are only counted today. And the result is a landslide victory for the Conservatives and Prime Minister Lloyd George‘s faction of the Liberals. Lloyd George has just led the country to victory against Germany, so it is perhaps not too surprising that voters have rallied to him and his Conservative allies.

Asquith‘s faction of the Liberals win an impressive number of votes (only slightly less than Lloyd George’s) but lose most of their seats; Asquith himself fails to secure re-election. Aside from the coalition’s popularity, Asquith suffers from his own association with the less successful early years of the war. His long opposition to votes for women may also have counted against him now that women are voting for the first time. Labour meanwhile win more seats than the Asquith Liberals and substantially more votes than Lloyd George’s Liberals; although they are only the fourth largest party in parliament, their power is clearly on the rise.

Although women now have the vote, the election is not a particularly successful one for women candidates. Christabel Pankhurst, a leading suffragette, narrowly fails to secure election and is defeated by John Davison of Labour. The only one of the sixteen women’s candidates elected is Constance Markievicz of Sinn Féin. Markievicz stood on an abstentionist ticket and is currently in jail, so she will not be taking her seat in the House of Commons.

Markievicz was elected in Ireland. The results there have followed an entirely different pattern to the rest of the United Kingdom.

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David Lloyd George (Wikipedia: David Lloyd George)

Constance Markievicz (Badass of the Week)

Results map (Wikipedia: 1918 United Kingdom general election)

14/12/1918 Britain votes #1918Live

Today the people of Britain go to the polls. The electorate has been greatly expanded since the last election in 1911: all men aged 21 and over are now able to vote, as are women over 30 if they meet minimal property requirements. No one is quite sure how this extension of the franchise will affect the composition of the House of Commons but all parties are competing for the attentions of the new voters. Prime Minister David Lloyd George hopes that the coalition government of Conservatives and his faction of the Liberals will be returned to office, while Labour and Asquith‘s Liberals are trying to overturn the government’s majority.

As well as voting for the first time, women are now also able to run for office, following a change to the law in November. However, only a small number of women have put themselves forward for election, including former suffragette Christabel Pankhurst, standing for the Women’s Party. Other candidates are running as independents or for Labour or the Liberals. In Ireland Sinn Féin has put forward two women candidates, Winifred Carney and Constance Markievicz.

Although Britain votes today, it will be some time before the results are known. Because so many voters are still serving overseas in the armed forces, the results will not be counted until the 28th of December.

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Lloyd George campaigning (University of Oxford World War 1 Centenary: Lloyd George’s Ministry Men)

Cartoon from The Railway Review, newspaper of the National Union of Railwaymen (University of Warwick Library – ‘The parliamentary battlefield’: Government, Labour and the khaki election)

6/2/1918 Votes for (some) British women and all British men

A series of Reform Acts in the Nineteenth Century greatly widened the franchise in Britain. This transformed politics, making it far less of a game played by elites and forcing politicians to pay some attention to the concerns of ordinary people. But the Reform Acts still left large numbers of people without the vote. All women remained disenfranchised, as did the 40% of men over 21 who did not meet property requirements.

Before the war there had been an upsurge in campaigning to widen the franchise, particularly to obtain women’s suffrage. The suffragettes attracted much attention with their radical and sometimes violent campaign. The force-feeding of imprisoned suffragettes who were refusing food shocked many across the country.

At the start of the war, the suffragettes largely halted their militant campaign. The government in turn released all suffragette prisoners. Many of the campaigners for women’s suffrage now became vocal supporters of the British war effort.

The terrible sacrifices endured by the men serving in the army have led to a sea-change in British political opinion: it no longer seems reasonable that so many men are being killed or injured for their country but are unable to vote in its elections. Likewise the work of women at home in jobs that had previously been the domain only of men has forced a reappraisal of their potential role in society.

As a result, Parliament has passed a Bill greatly widening the franchise, which today comes into law as the Representation of the People Act. Now all British and Irish men over the age of 21 will have the vote and so will women over the age of 30 who meet certain property qualifications. So women are not yet able to vote on an equal basis to men, but the reform has nevertheless given the vote to millions of them.

The United Kingdom is long overdue an election, with the last one taking place in 1912, but the next one will not take place until the war is over. Given that the war is expected to continue until at least 1919, it will be some time before the newly enfranchised are able to exercise their democratic rights.

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Annie Kenney and Christabel Pankhurst, leading suffragettes (Wikipedia)

Suffragette poster opposing force feeding (Wikipedia)

Pre-war Suffragette poster opposing the Liberal government (Wikipedia)