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‘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

Monday, 1 July 2013

The strange defection of Cecil L’Estrange Malone

Of all the convoluted career paths of former MPs who defected from the Liberal Party, Cecil L’Estrange Malone’s is probably the most unorthodox. Malone went from being elected in 1918 as a Coalition Liberal MP and a supporter of the fiercely anti-Communist Reconstruction Society, to being the UK’s first Communist MP. Although he later denied ever having been a Liberal, his 1918 election address described him as the ‘Liberal, Radical and Coalition Candidate’. 

By July 1919 Malone declared his 'inherent personal bias leads me more and more to the Left’. His changing political allegiance gave rise to what must have been one of the strangest exchanges of correspondence between a constituency chairman and an MP. The chairman wrote to Malone to say that he ‘found it very difficult to form any opinion as to what your political views really were and as to what party you, in fact, belong.’ Malone officially joined the Communist Party in July 1920. 

After a speech at the Albert Hall on 7 November 1920, Malone was charged with sedition. He had argued that during a revolution, it would be legitimate to execute leading members of the bourgeoisie. He was convicted and sentenced to six months’ imprisonment and he had his OBE withdrawn. On his release, Malone returned to the House of Commons.

However, during his time in prison, he had decided to change his political alignment again and leave the Communists to join the Independent Labour Party. The Communist Party later concluded that his temporary allegiance had been genuine, despite allegations that he had been an infiltrator. However, they believed that ‘the suddenness of his conversion’ meant that his ‘intellectual understanding of Communism was certainly questionable’. Malone did not contest the 1922 election, but was eventually elected as Labour MP for Northampton at a by-election in 1928, holding the seat until his defeat in 1931.

Cecil L’Estrange Malone – certainly a strange defector and one of the characters who appears in my book ‘Defectors and the Liberal Party 1910 to 2010.’

1 comment:

  1. Also remarkable was the first elected Communist MP Shapurji Saklatvala an immigrant member of the Tata family and another 2 (maybe 3) party man - they seem to have been more relaxed about these things at that time. (Not the least remarkable being that the British Battalion in the Spanish Civil War was officially named after him.)