Tuesday, 14 March 2017

When all eyes were on Chorlton, the local elections of 1928

Now I know that local elections do not fascinate everyone, but the 1928 election here in Chorlton had got the lot. 

It was fought out against a backdrop of worsening unemployment figures and an expectation that 1928 might be the year that the Labour Party became the largest group on the City Council.

Across the city the Manchester Guardian did not rate the chances of the Conservatives too highly and speculated that of the sixteen seats they were defending they might only hold eight.

The Liberals who were defending just five were reckoned to be safe in four of the five but it was Labour “with fewer seats to defend and a greater number of more vunerable positions [to] attack,” who were making an “audacious bid to secure a clear majority .... and although the attempt is hardly likely to succeed on the present occasion it is by no means a forlorn one.  The Labour representation has been steadily increasing and the at the moment only requires nine additional seats to give it the preponderance it desires”*

So attention focused here, where the Guardian told its readers the Conservatives were defending a slim majority and one that looked all the more under threat because the year before the Liberals had won the seat with a huge majority of nearly 2,500 votes, but as the Guardian went on to warn “it must be borne in mind that at the present occasion Mr Wicks, the Liberal candidate, is opposed by a serious Labour candidate in addition to the retiring Conservative.”

Sadly any campaign literature is unobtainable at present and we are forced back on the newspapers.  The Labour candidate was Alice McIlwrick who had stood the year before in Didsbury and gained  10% of the vote.

I wish I knew more about her.  She lived in various parts of south Manchester, had married at the age of 20 and was confident enough to issue a challenge to her Liberal candidate to “speak for a quarter of an hour in response to a challenge.”  

Moreover she was indeed seen by the Labour Party as a serious Labour candidate as they sent the Labour M.P., R J Davies and the Councillor Wright Robinson to speak on the same platform.

The result was not I suspect what many had expected.  The Conservatives retained the seat with 4, 788 votes to 3, 955 for the Liberals and a very creditable vote of 1,457 for Labour and 14% of the vote.  It was the first time the Labour Party had contested the seat and it would be another four years before they improved on that share of the vote.

What makes the election even more interesting was that it was rerun a month later.  The Tory councillor had died suddenly and the election was held just five days before Christmas.  Again the Manchester Guardian weighed in with the observation 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.”

And in an echo of a more recent Lib Dem assertion that the “Conservatives can’t win here” the Liberals pointed out that the Tory candidate‘s majority the month before was just 253 above what he had polled in 1925 while the Liberals had won the year before with a “record majority of 2,329 votes.”

None the less they were equally quick to point out that Labour “cannot possibly hope to win the seat and  suggest that a number of moderate Labour votes go to Mrs Pilling [the Liberal] who is a strong candidate.”

But in the event the Labour vote held with Alice McIlwrick obtaining 12% of the vote, the Liberals dropping three per cent and the Tories gaining an extra six per cent.

Now this may well have been simply because of the lower turn out by the electorate.  In the November election this had been 52% but a month later it had fallen to 28%.

And in part it may also have had something to do with the intervention of the Salford Diocesan Catholic Federation who had reported that “the questions addressed to the candidates on the education question have been answered satisfactorily by Mr Somervile the Conservative candidate; unsatisfactorily by Mrs Pilling the Liberal candidate, and that Mrs McIlwrick, the Labour candidate, has not replied to them.”**

The right of Roman Catholics to establish parochial day schools for children up to fourteen had become an important issue.  The Salford Diocesan Catholic Federation had held five meetings where candidates in the election were "invited to outline their attitude towards this educational problem.  In addition five test questions have been sent to each municipal candidate, and the answers to these will be published during the weekend. The views of each candidate will determine whether he shall have the support of local Catholics."***
The issue had arisen after a dispute in Levenshulme when the Education Committee had refused to approve plans for a parochial school.

Well I suspect the jury will be out until we can find some more first hand accounts of the election but like all these things I am confident they will turn up.

Picture; The Conservative Club and party headquarters, and the result of the election in November 1928.

* Manchester Guardian October 1st 1928
** Manchester Guardian December 18th 1928
***Manchester Guardian October 27th 1928

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