SWINDON LITERARY FESTIVAL REVIEW: Women are the epitome of virtuous chastity, whilst men embody the opposite. Such were the stereotypes that gave rise to the fight for women to vote, as journalist Melanie Phillips fascinatingly explained at the Arts Centre.

Far from achieving equality, female suffrage was supposed to civilise men and introduce them to the heights of spirituality, previously confined to domestic life.

Judging from today's society, the mission has failed because sex is inescapably everywhere.

As for our "cleansing influence," we seem to be doing it in a startling state of undress. Paragons of self-restraint, she-queens of celibacy? Hardly and Melanie freely acknowledged that carnal appetites are pretty voracious among men and women alike.

Speaking more personally, she described her career in newspapers, currently as a columnist for the Daily Mail. Having spent 20 years working at The Guardian and Observer, Melanie realised her sense of morality was not shared by her colleagues. So she decided to leave an "extremely unpleasant" workplace, where everything she wrote became a "declaration of war."

But Melanie flinches at the thought of being labelled a conservative. Defending the moral values of authentic liberalism is more her style.

Oh yes and if you fancy hearing more about how poor guys were thought to be "intrinsically polluted" and girls regarded as perfection itself, Melanie's new book called The Ascent of Woman is a must-buy.

By Victoria Tagg