May proves she’s her own worst enemy on centenary of first women getting the vote

To mark the 100 years of suffragette success, the Prime Minister wants to curb free speech in a draconian new law.

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Parliament is preparing to mark 100 years since the first enfranchisement of women and 90 years since all women received the vote. The relevant acts of Parliament, plus the Life Peerages Act of 1958 which allowed women to become members of the House of Lords, will go on display in Westminster Hall from today.

For Theresa May, it's an opportunity to talk about the work she did and still does to advance other women in the Conservative Parliament, through Women2Win, which has been instrumental in increasing the number of women being elected as Tory MPs. She could announce that the Domestic Violence Bill, a bill that enjoys cross-party support, and, as Jess Philips tells the Progress podcast today, could save real lives in the present day, is being taken up again having been mothballed after the snap election.  She could use the occasion to show that she is capable of a tone other than grim partisanship and is familiar with the existence of a policy lever other than repression.

But instead she's marking the occasion by calling for new laws to ban intimidation of politicians. ConHome'sMark Wallace makes a compelling case against the proposal, and as Diane Abbott, who receives more abuse than every other politician combined, points out, it is “unclear" why MPs should have special rights. The problem is that existing laws aren't enforced.

But of course the new law is only partially – if you're being generous – about tackling the real issue and is largely about finding a stick to beat Labour with. Anyone with even a cursory knowledge about even the recent past - anyone who either visited or organised a visit by a Labour politician following the Iraq war to a university campus, or who remembers Keith Joseph's campus tour, or Enoch Powell's treatment on universities – knows that the governing party has almost always got a rough ride from a politically-motivated few on campus and that any proposal to tackle the problem, such as it is, looks an awful lot like “curbing free speech” the closer you look at it.

And the sad thing is that May does actually have a more positive story to tell, from a Domestic Violence Bill she supported to a generation of Conservative women she has mentored. Instead she will nod to the most self-defeating of Conservative delusions and unveil a policy that is marked by her most negative instincts. A reminder that she, not George Osborne, is her own worst enemy.

Stephen Bush is political editor of the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to domestic and global politics. He also co-hosts the New Statesman podcast.

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