Today is the anniversary of the only day in the 20th century when the Liberal Party won two by-elections in one day - at Ely and Ripon on this day in 1973. They occurred under the leadership of Jeremy Thorpe at the time when Ted Heath’s Conservative government was beset by problems.
Clement Freud, journalist, author, chef, racing tipster, broadcaster and dog food advertiser won the Isle of Ely by-election for the Liberals, taking the seat from the Conservatives. He remained in parliament until 1987. He was the grandson of Sigmund Freud and said that when he met Winston Churchill’s grandson, it was the only time in his life that he had been ‘out-grandfathered’. Clement Freud died in 2009, just short of his 85th birthday.
The Liberal winner of the Ripon by-election was bookshop owner David Austick, who also took the seat from the Conservatives - although he only held it until the following general election in February 1974, serving as an MP for just 217 days. He died in 1997.
The Liberals had already won two by-elections, at Rochdale and Sutton and Cheam earlier in the parliament and the party went on to win Berwick-upon-Tweed later in 1973 – a seat still held by the same MP, Sir Alan Beith.
Clement Freud was famous for looking as miserable as his co-star, Henry the bloodhound, who appeared with him in the television dog food advertisements. But on this day in 1973 even he had cause to celebrate. It is not often that a dog meat advertiser wins a by-election for a party led by the son of a horsemeat butcher. (See my post on Jeremy Thorpe 12 February this year).