‘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, 31 July 2013

William Jowitt – a Clever but Tortured Defector

Today is the anniversary of an unusual by-election. It was caused when William Jowitt, who had been elected as the Liberal MP for Preston in the general election of 29 May 1929, resigned his seat on defecting from the Liberals to Labour less than two months later.

Jowitt had nine older sisters and a vicar for a father and in life he always seemed to be searching for guidance from above. He wrote to his friends that he was ‘tortured to know what to do’ and ‘much too sensitive’ to deal with the trauma of defection.

Jowitt confusingly faced a Conservative challenger called Howitt and an Independent Labour candidate, but no Liberal candidate at the by-election. Jowitt beat Howitt and retained his seat and went on to serve as Attorney General in the second Labour government of Ramsay MacDonald.

Jowitt followed MacDonald into the National Government in 1931, for which he was expelled from the Labour Party. He found himself out of Parliament at the 1931 general election, but eventually managed to persuade the Labour Party to re-admit him in 1936. He was re-elected unopposed as a Labour MP in October 1939 and went on to serve in the governments of Churchill and Attlee. He was created Viscount Jowitt in 1947 and Earl Jowitt in 1951.

Only two other Liberal MPs since the First World War resigned their seats on leaving the Liberal Party to join Labour – Joseph Kenworthy and William Wedgwood Benn. Benn also served in MacDonald's second government, but stayed with the Labour Party in 1931. He was eventually created Viscount Stansgate. This became the first ever title to be renounced under the Peergage Act 1963, passed exactly 50 years ago today, after it had been inherited by his son, Tony Benn.

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