‘Honoured that you are writing my father’s biography’ the late Tony Benn, ‘...wonderfully written’ Hilary Benn

‘Sparkles with fascinating detail…a remarkable story of Liberal and Labour politics in the first half of the twentieth century.’ Michael Crick, Political Correspondent, Channel 4 News

‘Casts much light both on the evolution of British radicalism, and on the legacy which he bequeathed to his son, Tony. Professor Vernon Bogdanor, King's College, London

‘Brilliant biography…wonderful reading about the father and...discovering more about the son.’ Steve Richards of The Independent

‘Well-written and carefully researched, this fascinating biography brings to life a major figure in British political history…an excellent job of weaving together the strands of a complex life…as well as filling in the background of the Benn family’ Richard Doherty, military historian

Tuesday, 13 November 2012

Controversial link between Croydon North and Middlesbrough by-elections

On 29 November 2012 there will be by-elections in Croydon North and Middlesbrough, both caused by the death of the sitting Labour MP.

These two geographically distant constituencies have an interesting link - Air Vice-Marshal Donald Bennett. Bennett had a successful, but controversial, career in the RAF Pathfinder Force during the war, marking targets for bombing raids. Before the operation of the Pathfinders, only 25% of bombs had been on target. And in this case ‘on target’ had been defined as within 3 miles of the point of aim! An outsider, being Australian by birth and aloof in personality, Bennett fell out with his superiors and was the only bomber group commander not to be knighted after the war. 

Bennett became one of the shortest-serving MPs of all time when he was elected unopposed as Liberal MP for Middlesbrough West in a by-election on 14 May 1945 (caused by the death of Harcourt Johnstone – see post for 14 October), only to lose the seat at the general election held on 5 July - just 73 days later.

Having been ousted in Middlesbrough, Bennett was keen to return to parliament and contested the 1948 Croydon North by-election as the Liberal candidate, only to come a poor third and lose his deposit.

Bennett continued to court controversy in his post-war career. He was sacked as head of British South American Airways when he refused to ground his planes after several crashes. He became embroiled in court cases involving commercial litigation and taxes and he was sued for libel by another former Air Vice-Marshal who objected to Bennett’s revealing in a book that he had worn shorts to a meeting!

Bennett eventually took flight from the Liberal Party and stood as a far-right candidate in a by-election in Nuneaton in 1967. He died on Battle of Britain Day in 1986.

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