‘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

Saturday, 8 June 2013

Is admitting to 'Not very frequent' adultery a good defence?

Today is the anniversary of the Heywood and Radcliffe by-election of 1921, caused by the elevation of the sitting Liberal MP, Albert Illingworth, to the peerage.

Albert was the elder brother of Percy Illingworth, Liberal Chief Whip from 1912 until 1915, when he had died after eating a bad oyster.

Albert Illingworth had served as a Liberal MP from 1915 to 1921, when he was created Baron Illingworth, having served as Lloyd George’s Postmaster General from 1916 to 1921.

Albert was almost as unfortunate at picking employees as his brother had been at picking crustaceans. The by-election resulting from Illingworth’s elevation was won for the Labour Party by one of his own farm labourers.  Albert’s wife then had an affair with another of her husband’s former employees. She wrote an incriminating letter to her lover, which fell into Illingworth’s hands. Illingworth decided immediately to divorce her. He confronted his wife, who countered that she had not committed adultery ‘very frequently’.  The next day he filed his petition and saw nothing more of his wife until the petition came to court.

Illingworth’s abrupt ending of his marriage was echoed in the manner of his eventual departure from the Liberal Party, in April 1930. By then he was a director of The National Provincial Bank and The Ford Motor Company. Illingworth wrote to Lord Salisbury, the Conservative leader in the Lords: ‘As I am unable to support the present policy of the Liberal Party I have decided to leave them, and if you have no objection I should like to join the Conservatives.’  The Times reported Illingworth’s ‘revolt’.  As well as his new political allegiance, Illingworth also remarried the following year; both new alliances lasted until the end of his life in 1942.

Albert Illingworth is one of the 122 defectors who feature in my book ‘Defectors and the Liberal Party, 1910 to 2010’. The book was recently reviewed by the LSE Review of Books, which concluded that it gives a ‘valuable new perspective on the decline of Liberal Party'.

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