‘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

Wednesday, 6 March 2013

A dubious transfer, but no coercion in St. Ives

Today is the anniversary of the St Ives by-election of 1928, when the Liberals won a seat from the Conservatives. The contest had many unusual features, which resonate down the ages.

After a decade of serious decline, St. Ives was one of a group of by-election victories for the Liberal Party in the late 1920s, under Lloyd George’s leadership. However, Lloyd George did not approve of the actions of the Liberal candidate, Hilda Runciman.

Hilda Runciman had an unusual motive for standing in the by-election. Her husband, Walter, former President of the Board of Trade, was sitting as Liberal MP for Swansea West, but was due to transfer to St. Ives at the following general election. The by-election arrived at a rather inconvenient time for him, so his wife agreed to fight the by-election and, if she won, to keep the seat warm for her husband.

The plan worked. Hilda won the by-election, beating a Conservative newspaper editor and a Labour vicar. Hilda became only the third female Liberal MP, after Margaret Wintringham and Vera Terrington. Hilda and Walter Runciman became the first married couple to sit together in the House of Commons.  At the general election held only just over a year later, Walter transferred to St. Ives and held the seat for the Liberals.

Some wives do facilitate rather dubious transfers in the interests of their husbands’ political careers. Hilda Runciman never claimed she was coerced, even though her husband was literally standing there.

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