Today, local elections are taking place across England and Wales, and in South Shields a parliamentary by-election after David Milliband’s recent resignation (yesterday, the Victorian Commons blogged on 19th century by-elections, which you can read here).
For many of the former MPs interviewed for our oral history project, their political careers began in local councils, for example Michael English in Rochdale, Peter Fry in Buckinghamshire, or Jill Knight in Northampton. Unsurprisingly, as our interviews cover the politicians’ entire careers, elections and election campaigning are thoroughly covered in many of the interviews. Here’s some of our interviewees’ election memories.
For several, election campaigns had something of a carnival atmosphere. James Ramsden, conservative MP for Harrogate (1954-1974) remembered the ‘good clean fun’ of campaining in Dewsbury in the 1950s, then a safe Labour seat. He remembers children singing (although mostly for his opponent!) and legendary film producers arriving at town hall meetings:
In October 1968, the Labour MP Joe Ashton worked hard to create a similar atmosphere during the by-election campaign for the Nottinghamshire seat of Batteslaw. Ashton felt he ‘hadn’t got a prayer’ of winning, given Labour’s performances elsewhere in the country, and losing would have ended his chance of becoming an MP. He went on the campaign trail, again, encouraging children to sing for him, announcing his arrival in villages with loudspeakers, giving out badges and so on. As in modern by-elections, such as today’s in South Shields, several party figures turned out in support: ‘Nobody in Batteslaw had seen anything like it before’.
Ashton won the election and held the seat until 2001. For more from him, visit here.
David, now Lord, Owen (MP in Plymouth seats from 1966 to 1992) remembers the 1983 general election in his interview. This was the first contest after he left the Labour party to help create the Social Democrat Party (SDP) – several others involved in the SDP are featured on our website, such as Dick Taverne and William Rodgers. Lord Owen recalls the demonstrable public support he had in Plymouth at this time, when ‘practically every council house ha[d] got a Vote for Owen poster’ and the effect this reportedly had on the then Labour leader, Michael Foot.
Perhaps, instead of waiting for tomorrow’s count and results, you can predict the results in your area by just looking out the window! Let us know how you get on…
For more on our oral history project, and to hear clips from others, click here, and look out for new interviews in the future!