Labour tried to stifle Thatcher's role in women's suffrage celebration

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The 50th anniversary of equal women’s suffrage was a cause for celebration in 1978, but James Callaghan and his allies were determined that Margaret Thatcher did not feature too strongly in the commemoration.

As Leader of the Opposition, she was the most prominent female politician of the day and there was concern that she might steal the limelight.

Michael Foot’s wife, Jill Craigie, had suggested a programme of celebration as a means of helping the beleaguered Labour Government to appeal to women. A committee was formed and an exhibition at Westminster Hall was devised, along with a garden party and a special gala performance at the Palladium starring Twiggy, to be staged on the July 2 anniversary itself.

It was then that Callaghan and his advisers apparently realised the potential advantages that this could bestow on Mrs Thatcher. As Ken Stowe, principal private secretary to the Prime Minister, wrote on May 26: “With hindsight, the only thing one can say charitably is that we were all asleep when this proposition was first mooted: a celebration of 50 years of women’s suffrage can hardly exclude a political dimension or women and it is inescapable therefore that the leading woman politician of the day is going to get a fair amount of the limelight.”

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