Monday, 30 January 2017

When the tide turns......... politics in Chorlton in the 20th century

The Conservative Club circa 1910
I wonder just what an ardent Conservative or Liberal voter born in the late 19th century in Chorlton would make of the local political scene today.

Their first port of call might be those large political and social clubs which were established within a few years of each other on the edge of New Chorlton.

Both were set up by subscription and those who subscribed were drawn from a wide section of the community.

The Conservative Club opened in 1892 and with its public hall and impressive clock tower seemed to mark the Tories out as a force to contend with which seemed borne out by the fact that during a large part of the 20th century Chorlton returned Tory MPs and councillors. From 1918 to ‘23 and again from 1931 to ‘87 we had a Tory MP.

But the Liberals may well have taken heart that political fortunes can fall as well as rise and so their decision to convert Laurston House into a permanent home for the Liberal Association was a sound one.

It opened in 1897 admidst a fanfare of optimism.  But nationally the years around the opening of the club were not good for the Liberals.  They lost both the 1895 and 1900 general elections and would not be returned to office till 1906.

The ups and downs of Liberal fortunes in the 1920s and 30s
Locally they fared better both on the old Withington District Council and after our incorporation into the city on the Manchester City Council and by the 1920s were so evenly balanced with the Conservatives that the Manchester Guardian reported in 1928 that

“there are few wards in which Conservative and Liberal opinion is so nicely balanced.  

Of the eight elections that have been fought in Chorlton since 1920 four have been won by the Conservatives and four by the Liberals.”*

But by the early 1930s the Liberals were on the defensive increasingly being challenged by the Labour Party.

They won their last seat in 1932, saw their sitting councillor Lady Sheena Simon loose to the Conservatives the following year and after 1935 did not  contest another election until after the war by which time Labour were asserting themselves as the real alternative.

That said it would not be until 1986 that Labour won its first council seat defeating the Conservative candidate by a significant margin. And while they failed to win the following year from 1988 they consolidated their position winning all three seats.

Not that they had it all their own way, for there was a challenge from the Liberal Democrats who at one point won two of the Chorlton seats.

The last decade
But in the last few years the Lib Dem share of the vote has been falling against that of Labour.

It is a reversal of political fortunes matched across south Manchester leaving a political landscape that our two visitors from the past would not recognise.

The Liberal Club quietly passed away and the building became the Laurston Club.

The Conservative Association lingered on but finally called it a day and their grand building with its Public Hall was sold to a developer.

By then its political fortunes had all but vanished. The last Conservative MP failed to be re-elected in  1987 and in the years since 2006 they have never achieved more than 7% of the total vote.

All of which would seem a grim scenario for both our Conservative and Liberal time traveller.

Pictures; from the Lloyd collection and election data from the Manchester Guardian and Manchester City Council.


*The Chorlton By-Election, Manchester Guardian December 18, 1928


No comments:

Post a Comment