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‘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

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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
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Friday, 29 November 2013

‘Dribbling Sheep’ attracts 82.8% Turnout in Hull By-election


When an MP defects from one party to another, it is rare for them to resign their seat and re-contest it at a by-election. The Kingston upon Hull Central by-election in 1926 was caused when the sitting Liberal MP, Joseph Kenworthy, resigned after he defected from the Liberals to Labour.

Kenworthy was a would-be polar explorer turned naval officer, and heir to the Barony of Strabolgi, created in 1318. His parents were Conservatives. Kenworthy was brash and confident and developed a ‘hectoring’ style in Parliament. At the previous election in 1924, he had held the seat against only a Conservative opponent. Kenworthy had therefore been elected with the support of Labour-inclined voters, who had no candidate of their own. He also did not have to displace a prospective Labour candidate to stand in the by-election.

The by-election on 29 November 1926 attracted a great deal of interest, resulting in a turnout of 82.8%. Kenworthy won with an increased majority and 52.9% of the votes. On hearing of the result, John Simon commented:

‘Kenworthy having thus forced his fat body through the hedge you may be sure that a large number of sheep will go dribbling through the gap’.

Two other Liberal MPs did resign their seats on crossing to the Labour field. William Wedgwood Benn resigned his seat at Leith in 1927, but declined to stand again in the same constituency. He was elected as a Labour MP for Aberdeen North the following year. William Jowitt won back his seat in Preston under Labour colours in 1929.

Also among the rare breed of MPs who re-contested their seats on changing party allegiance was Dick Taverne. Taverne resigned his Lincoln seat on leaving the Labour Party in 1972 and was re-elected the following year as an independent Democratic Labour MP (presaging the formation of the SDP in 1981). When 28 Labour MPs and one Conservative defected to join the SDP, only one - Bruce Douglas-Mann - resigned and fought a by-election. He lost. 

None of the more recent defectors from the Conservatives to Labour - Quentin Davies, Alan Howarth, Peter Temple-Morris, Robert Jackson or Shaun Woodward - resigned his seat when he defected, nor did Emma Nicholson or Peter Thurnham who defected from the Conservatives to the Liberal Democrats.

It is indeed a rare breed of politician who will re-contest their seat when they change parties.

So, a dribbling sheep could attract a lot of interest in Hull - at least in the days before it became a city of culture.

1 comment:

  1. Temple-Morris's defection was particularly disreputable as it came not long after a General Election at which he'd been elected as a Conservative. Possibly Labour promised him a peerage when he stood d0wn at the next election

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