Thursday, 4 May 2017

A photograph, and an election campaign in the summer of 1945

A photograph is not much without the story that goes behind it.

This one was supplied to me by my old friend Andrew Simcock who of course also supplied the story.

It is 1945 and we are in Stone in Staffordshire and the event is one of those unrehearsed shots during the General Election of that year.

The war in Europe had ended in May and the wartime Government announced a General Election for July 5th.

It was the first in ten years and given the popularity of Winston Churchill many assumed the Conservative Party he led would be victorious.

But while the war time leader was popular there was a mood for change and one that the Conservatives were not seen to be able to deliver. For many they were associated with the grim years of the 1930s dominated by mass unemployment, the Means Test and appeasement.

Some with longer memories reflected on the failure of the 1918 Conservative dominated government of Lloyd George* and succeeding Tory governments to make Britain a land fit for heroes after the Great War.

This was in direct contrast to the policies of the Labour Party who were committed to social reform, ranging from a national health service, a new housing policy and an expansion of state funding for education.

Their slogan And Now Win the Peace offered a bright new future which reflected the aspirations of those who had fought in the Peoples’ War.

And so to the campaign and our picture.

At the centre is Andrew’s grandfather “William Simcock who was a Labour Councillor in Stoke on Trent in the twenties and stood for parliament three times in the rock solid Tory seat of Stone, Staffordshire.

In 1931, in Labour's darkest hour, he came bottom of the poll behind the Conservative Sir J Lamb and the Liberal candidate with just 5,993 votes. The Tory secured 20,327.

In 1935 Sir J Lamb again won with 20,498 votes but my grandfather's vote moved up to 13,099 - a majority of 7,399.

In 1945 Hugh Fraser won the seat with 20,279 votes to my grandfather's 18,173 - a majority of 2,106.

"The photo shows my grandfather on his bike, cigarette in hand, and my father, newly demobbed from the army and a team of canvassers.

My father told me how many of the Labour meetings took place in the open air. 

On one occasion he thought the turn out at the meeting was low until he looked behind a wall and saw a line of farm labourers listening to the speeches but not wanting to be seen - the power of the landed aristocracy in the area might have led to repercussions had they been spotted.”**

Like all good photographs it is the detail that also makes this such a fascinating image.

In an age of sound bites, high profile advertising and the all important need to “keep on message” there is something refreshing about seeing the candidate on a bike, and a campaign still reliant on people knocking on doors and making direct contact with the electorate.

It is something we used to do here as well as in Stone.  As later as the 1960s election meetings were held on Chorlton green as well as in the Public hall on Wilbraham Road and in school halls.

And all of those elections depended on an army of local party workers.  Some dleivered the leaflets while others called on houses to find out how people were going to vote, and then on the day going back the promises  to ask if they had voted yet or might need a lift to the polling stations.

All of which is something that Andrew himself has done.  He has lived in south Manchester for 26 years, participated in his local community and twice been elected as  a local councillor and is now is seeking the Labour Party nomination as Prospective Parliamentary Candidate for Manchester Withington.

Picture; campaigning during the 1945 General Election, from the collection of Andrew Simcock & Labour Party Campaign poster 1945

*This was a coalition of 332 “Coalition Conservatives” and 127 “Coalition Liberals” with Lloyd George who had been Prime Minister since 1916.  It won the 1918 General Election but against a backdrop of an economic downturn serious industrial unrest and scandals to do with the sale of honours, the Conservatives ditched the coalition which resulted in a general election.

**All of which has echoes of that 1835 General Election when voter intimidation here in Chorlton and across the Parliamentary seat of South Lancashire organised by Tory grandees led to a Tory victory.

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