‘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

Sunday, 14 July 2013

Anniversary of two by-elections with the same Moral Dilemma

Today is the anniversary of the 1966 Carmarthen by-election, notable for the ground-breaking result and a moral dilemma, shared with another by-election on this day in 2005. 

Carmarthen had more than its fair share of deaths, defections and by-elections - in 1924, 1928, 1941, 1957 and the one on this day in 1966. It also had a chequered political past. It was represented by MPs of four different parties between 1926 and 1966. 

Prior to 1926, it had been fairly consistently a Liberal seat, represented by MPs such as William Llewellyn Williams and Ellis Ellis-Griffith – so good they named them twice! In 1926 the sitting Liberal MP, Alfred Mond defected to the Conservatives. After he left the House of Commons on being ennobled in 1928, the Liberals and Labour alternated in holding the seat until 1945.

In 1945 Rhys Hopkin Morris won the seat back for the Liberals and held it until his death in 1956. The resulting by-election was won by the former deputy leader of the Liberal Party, Megan Lloyd George, who had defected to the Labour Party (on which occasion the Liberals, always respectful of titles, sang the song ‘Lady Megan is a traitor’ at the party conference.)

Megan Lloyd George held the seat for Labour at the 1959, 1964 and 1966 general elections. However, by the time of the general election held in March 1966, Megan was terminally ill with cancer, although the seriousness of her illness was unknown to the public.

This raises a moral dilemma. Should voters be presented with a candidate who is unlikely ever to be well enough to represent them? But, conversely, should seriously ill MPs be forced to stand down against their wishes when they are locally popular and they are still hoping to recover and return to their work.

Megan Lloyd George died six weeks after the 1966 general election. The by-election held on 14 July 1966 resulted in the first ever election of a Plaid Cymru MP, Gwynfor Evans.

The same dilemma arose with Lib Dem MP, Patsy Calton in 2005. Patsy had been elected Lib Dem MP for Cheadle in 2001 and was re-elected, though suffering from cancer, in 2005. She died just 24 days after the general election. By coincidence, today is also the anniversary of the by-election resulting from Patsy Calton’s death. The 14 July 2005 Cheadle by-election was won by Mark Hunter for the Lib Dems.

So the 14 July is the anniversary of two by-elections with the same moral dilemma and the anniversary of the election of the first Plaid Cymru MP.

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