‘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, 19 February 2013

How successful would hybrid candidates be?

Today there may be some who are tempted by the idea of a Con-Ukip hybrid candidacy. Hybrid Lib-Lab and Lib-Con candidates have been tried on several occasions. What does history tell us about the fortunes of hybrid candidates?

Before the formation of the Labour Party, the Liberals put up candidates styled as Lib-Labs. They provided a route for working class candidates to get into parliament, where they then took the Liberal whip. These candidates achieved some electoral success, reaching a peak of 12 in 1885. However, after this their numbers declined and once the Labour Party was operating as an independent party, the remaining Lib-Labs were absorbed into the Liberal Party. There was no viable future for these hybrid MPs.

At the 1924 election, with a widespread fear of communism heightened by the Zinoviev letter, some hybrid Lib-Con candidates emerged, styling themselves Constitutionalists. Churchill is their most famous example, but in total there were ten. Seven won their seats. After the election they went their separate ways. Four of the victors re-took the Liberal whip and three (including Churchill) joined the Conservatives in the new parliament. The Constitutionalists’ electoral performance did not represent an electoral breakthrough, or the formation of a viable new party and the experiment was dropped.

In the late 1940s and 1950s, some rather bogus labels were used at elections by the Conservative Party, incorporating the word Liberal, even though the candidates had nothing to do with the Liberal Party. They used names such as ‘Conservative and Liberal’, appearing to be hybrid candidates. Their electoral performance was generally in line with what a pure Conservative candidate would have achieved in these seats. Some voters may have been taken in, while others were put off by the deception. This was really an example of deliberate mis-labelling, rather than an exciting new product in the political stable.

A bit like hybrid cars, hybrid candidates may sound like an exciting and radical idea, but in reality they actually perform about the same as the conventional versions.


  1. I am studying this period of History in my A2 course and it is truly fascinating. One important question that I have come across is the time at which the Labour Party replaced the Liberals as the principal rivals to the Conservatives. Logically such an event would be following an election, and there are a number of possible answer. It could be 1918, where Labour won 63 seats and because the main opposition to the Lloyd George coalition. Or it could be 1923, where the first Labour government was formed, albeit with strong parliamentary Liberal support. Or even 1929, wher the Liberals won all but 59 seats (if my memory is correct). Any comment on this would be appreciated, thanks!

    Young Lib Dem

  2. The most notable Liberal and Conservative candidate was Gwilym Lloyd-George, son of the Prime Minister, who was elected under that label for Newcastle-upon-Tyne North in the 1951 and 1955 General Elections. He served as Minister of Food (finally ending rationing) from 1951-54 and then as Home Secretary until his retirement in 1957.

    Although elected as a Liberal MP he accepted appointment as Minister of Fuel and Power in Churchill's Caretaker government from May-July 1945 after the rest of the Liberal Party, led by Sir Archibald Sinclair had left. As Home Secretary he signed the death warrant for Ruth Ellis in 1956.