Luke Pollard MP Member of Parliament for Plymouth Sutton and Devonport
Today the crowdfunder campaign for the Nancy Astor statue was launched by campaign chair, Labour MP Luke Pollard, alongside former MP Linda Gilroy, Plymouth City Council Cabinet Member Cllr Sue Dann and a packed crowd outside her former home in Elliot Terrace on the Hoe.
This campaign was an election pledge from the Plymouth Sutton and Devonport MP, Luke Pollard. Nancy Astor, MP for Plymouth Sutton from 1919 to 1944, Lady Mayoress of Plymouth from 1939 to 1944 was the first woman ever to take a seat in the House of Commons.
It is hoped enough funds will be raised so that a statue will be built on Plymouth Hoe in November 2019, marking 100 years since she was elected.
Launching the campaign today, Luke Pollard MP said:
“I’m proud to chair this crowdfunder to ensure we have a statue in Plymouth of Nancy Astor, our own MP who has the first woman to take her seat in Parliament. This was an election pledge I made and I’m so pleased we have so many cross-party, pro Plymouth voices backing this campaign today.”
“Plymouth has a proud and rich political history and we need to celebrate our succceses as a city. That’s why I think it is time to remember properly the public service of Nancy Astor who was not only the first woman to take her seat but was a Plymouth MP. As a city we are sometimes slow to celebrate our history and that needs to change. The 100th anniversary of Nancy Astor’s election gives us the chance to remember her contribution to our city and the nation and how she opened the door to more women standing for election.”
I was elected on a platform to put Plymouth first, ahead the interests of my party and that’s what I am doing here. In 1919 Plymouth Sutton elected Nancy Astor as a Conservative MP. In 2017, Plymouth Sutton and Devonport elected me as a Labour and Co-operative MP. Plymouth should come ahead of party and that’s why so proud to be part of this appeal.”
Nancy Astor and I would disagree on a lot politically and I’m not a big fan of some of the things she stood for, but her election opened the door to women taking their seats in Parliament. She wasn’t just Plymouth Sutton’s MP she was the Member of Parliament for Women and its right that this is celebrated. I am determined to work cross-party, in her memory and her name to garner support to get more women to stand and be elected in Parliament.”
“Next year marks 100 years since she was elected. Let’s make that a special year where we unveil her statue on Plymouth Hoe, where we can tell future generations of her contribution to our city and British politics, opening the door for more women to get elected. We are not at 50:50 yet in terms of equal representation. I want us to get there at the next general election. Let’s inspire more women and young girls that their future can be in public service.”
About Nancy Astor
Nancy Astor was born in Virginia, USA, in 1879 to a wealthy family and moved to England in 1904 after her first marriage failed. In 1906, she met and married politician Waldorf Astor who became the Conservative MP for Plymouth Sutton in 1910. He relinquished his seat when his father died, when he inherited his title of Viscount Astor and his place in the House of Lords. She then stood for Plymouth Sutton in his place.
She won the election in November 1919 beating her main rival, Liberal Isaac Foot, father of 1980s Labour leader Michael Foot. The first woman to be elected to Parliament was Constance Markievicz in 1918, but as a member of Sinn Fein she did not take her seat as she refused to take the oath.
In Parliament she was a key supporter of women and children, speaking about childcare and standing for single parents. She was a pioneer and introduced crucial legislation to protect minors under 18 from alcohol abuse.
During her years in parliament, Nancy Astor got quite a name for herself. Her difficult relationship with Winston Churchill, helped create the famous exchange: When Nancy Astor is reported to have said: “If I were your wife I would poison your tea” and Winston Churchill replied: “if I was your husband, I would drink it.”
How can I get involved?
A competition for local artists to design the statue will be launched with the aim to unveil the statue before 15 November 2019 – the centenary of Nancy Astor’s election.
The crowdfunder is now live at https://www.crowdfunder.co.uk/lady-astor-statue-100-campaign. There’s lots of prizes on offer for different amounts of donations including putting your name in the time capsule to buying a brick on the plinth. £20 donation will get you a copy of Lady Astor’s powerful maiden speech in the House of Commons. Donating £500 will get you a talk from world expert and Astor Scholar Dr Jacqui Turner from the University of Reading on Nancy Astor’s life and legacy.
Dr Jacqui Turner from the University of Reading is a specialist on Nancy Astor and is a key supporter of the campaign. Present at the launch today, she said:
“She [Nancy Astor] was important for the whole of the UK. The moment she walked through those doors, politics and democracy changed forever. It must have been intimidating, but she wasn’t intimidated, she sat there and she provided that platform for women to build on today.”
This is the first woman who had any say on asking questions to change the law and voting to change the law. Before Astor there was no female voice and no female point of view.”
She introduced the first piece of legislation by women which is the Intoxicating Liquor Act which is the reason we have to wait until we are 18 to drink today.”
This campaign has been backed by former MP, Linda Gilroy who is on the campaign committee. It has also received the full support of Plymouth City Council.
Linda Gilroy former MP for Plymouth Sutton from 1997-2010 said:
“This is a great Plymouth story. She was fearless. She carried a torch for women and children across the country and it’s time we carried a torch for her.”
Cllr Sue Dann Cabinet Member for Plymouth City Council said:
“Plymouth is a pioneering city. As a city council we are so proud of what Nancy Astor achieved. The legacy of what she achieved – childcare, health, housing, licensing laws. All those were set when Nancy was in the House.”
About women in Parliament Today
Earlier this year The House of Commons Library published new research and statistics on women in Parliament and politics. The research shows that:
- 208 women were elected to the UK Parliament in 2017, a record high of 32%. In January 2018 there were 206 female peers, 26% of Members of the House of Lords.
- There are currently six women in Cabinet including the Prime Minister, 26% of the total 23 permanent Cabinet posts.
- Just over one-third (36%) of members in the Scottish Parliament are women, compared to just over two-fifths (42%) of members of National Assembly for Wales and 30% of Members of the Northern Ireland Assembly. Following the 2014 European Parliament elections, 41% of UK MEPs are women.