Elections Churchill Contested

Churchill and...Politics

All the Elections Churchill Ever Contested

Douglas J. Hall
Published in Finest Hour 103

In a parliamentary career spanning sixty-four years Churchill represented five constituencies and served under thirteen Prime Ministers (Lord Salisbury, Balfour, Campbell-Bannerman, Asquith, Lloyd George, Bonar Law, Baldwin, MacDonald, Chamberlain, Attlee, Eden, Macmillan and Douglas-Home—-and, of course, his own Premierships, 1940-45 and 1951-55.

Churchill from the beginning invariably addressed national rather than local issues. Oldham (for which he sat in 1900-06) was an important cotton-spinning centre whose electorate favoured the Conservative policy of Protectionism, which advocated duties on cheap foreign textiles. Churchill’s Free Trader stance and consequent defection to the Liberals was based on national rather than local considerations, but as a result the Oldham Conservative Association passed a resolution that he "had forfeited their confidence in him."

Following his deselecrion at Oldham, Churchill was invited to stand for North West Manchester, one of nine of that city’s constituencies, with a tiny electorate of just 10,000, of whom almost a third were Jewish. Churchill polled 5,639 votes with a majority of 1,241. He represented the constituency for just over two years. By now a junior minister (Under Secretary of State for the Colonies), he was almost entirely concerned with national and international affairs. The Liberal government brought in an Aliens Act which angered the powerful Jewish element in Churchill’s constituency, and local Catholics were incensed because he would not commit himself over Home Rule for Ireland. When, in the custom of the day, he had to submit to reelection on being appointed to the Cabinet as President of the Board of Trade, he was narrowly defeated by the Tory candidate.

Just two weeks later Churchill found a "seat of convenience" at Dundee. He polled 7,079 votes while the Conservative and Labour candidates split 8,384 votes between them. He remained MP for Dundee for over fourteen years, during which time he was almost continuously a Cabinet minister.

Churchill initially saw Dundee as "a seat for life," but suffered the inconvenience of its being 440 miles from Westminster and, in those days, only practically accessible by a rather joyless overnight sleeper train from King’s Cross. Scotland’s third largest city, Dundee was

hardly a joyful place in which to arrive of a morning, dark, tall and grimy, with much unemployment, poverty and drunkenness. Curiously, the electorate at first felt honoured to be represented by a Cabinet minister and seemed prepared to overlook Churchill’s long absences. But the relationship became strained after World War 1, when Churchill’s own controversial escapades compounded with much local bitterness and disillusionment led to his defeat in the 1922 election. Shortly before polling day Churchill had been stricken with appendicitis, which limited his campaigning. He finished fourth behind a Prohibitionist, a Labourite and a local Liberal, and later wrote: "I found myself without an office, without a seat, without a party and without an appendix."

Churchill was out of Parliament for almost two years, unsuccessfully contesting by-elections at Leicester West and Westminster in 1923-24. In the 1924 general election he was adopted as the "Independent Constitutionalist anti-Socialist" candidate for Epping, which effectively remained his constituency for the rest of his political career.

In his five years as Chancellor of the Exchequer Churchill was engrossed in national issues: the General Strike; pensions for widows, orphans and the elderly; taxes and the Gold Standard; unemployment and the Depression. Constituency concerns received scant attention. Churchill’s visits were mainly whistle-stop tours and an occasional summer fete. Nevertheless, in that "semirural constituency among the glades of Epping Forest," the voters seemed content with their MP’s high profile, and prepared to overlook his limited parochial presence. He was popular, respected, even regarded as something of a Colossus.

The May 1929 election swept the Tories from office and Churchill’s majority was slashed to 5,000, his smallest ever for Epping/Woodford. Through 1939 he was out of office, increasingly isolated from his party, first over Dominion status for India, then over rearmament. In the 1935 election he faced considerable hostility at several meetings but polled almost 35,000 votes and recorded his largest majority (20,419). During its record run (1935-45), the new Parliament saw Churchill return triumphantly to the centre of affairs, but not before he had ruffled constituency feathers with his attacks on

Chamberlain’s policy of appeasement. Several constituency branches passed resolutions of censure and Churchill later regarded the episode as "one of the major political crises" he had faced in his career.

In 1945 Epping was subdivided. The new Epping Division looked marginal (in fact it was won by Labour) so Churchill stood for the new Woodford Division. He won by a majority of over 17,000, but nationally Labour won 393 seats to only 189 for the Tories.

Churchill now became Leader of the Opposition. During the election of February 1950, he polled more than 37,000 votes, double that of his challenger. Nationally the Attlee majority was reduced to six. This was not enough to sustain a radical programme and when Attlee called another election in 1951 the Conservatives won 321 seats to Labour’s 295. Churchill returned to Downing Street with a personal record: 40,938 votes.

Woodford sent him back again in 1955, despite some rumblings that he was now eighty, and no longer Prime Minister. His vote (25,069) was the lowest since 1929, though there had been some population decreases and he did retain a huge majority. Once more he won in 1959—by nearly 15,000 votes. Churchill served as MP until October 1964, although age and infirmity limited his appearances both in Commons and in Woodford. When he finally resigned he was nearly ninety. The electors of Woodford had clearly, in Burke’s phrase, "chosen a member indeed." Mainly they remained unperturbed by his age. They were represented by a legend.

6Jul99:

1Oct00:

13Jan06:

24Apr08:

9May08:

18Jan10:

9Dec10:

29Jul17:

14Dec18:

15Nov22:

6Dec23:

19Mar24:

29Oct24:

30May29:

27Oct31:

14Nov35:

5Jul45:

23Feb50:

25Oct51:

25May55:

8Oct59:

Totals:

By-election (Qldham) -lost

General election (Oldham) -won

General election (NW Manchester) -won

By-election (NW Manchester) -lost

By-election (Dundee) -won

General election (Dundee) -won

General election (Dundee) -won

By-election (Dundee) -won

General election (Dundee) -won

General election (Dundee) ~lost*

General election (West Leicester) -lost

By-election (Westminster, Abbey) -lost

General election (Epping) -won

General election (Epping) -won

General election (Epping) -won

General election (Epping) -won

General election (Woodford**) -won

General election (Woodford) -won

General election (Woodford) -won

General election (Woodford) -won

General election (Woodford) -won

21 campaigns; 16 wins and 5 losses

* The 1922 election was lost to Ernest Scrymgeour who had fought and lost Dundee to WSC in the previous five elections.
** Woodford was a division of the former Epping constituency.