Westminster St George's by-election, 1931
The seat had become vacant on when the constituency's Conservative Member of Parliament (MP), Sir Laming Worthington-Evans, died on 14 February, aged 62. He been MP for the constituency since the 1929 general election, having previously sat for Colchester since 1910 and had served in the cabinets of David Lloyd George and Stanley Baldwin during the 1920s.
The by-election took place against the background of a campaign led by the press magnates, Lord Beaverbrook and Lord Rothermere to remove Stanley Baldwin, then Leader of the Opposition. The United Empire Party and the Empire Free Trade Crusade.
The campaign had had some success. The Conservative Central Office had withdrawn support for its own candidate at the Twickenham by-election, 1929, who supported the Empire Free Trade policy. The U.E.P. had won the Paddington South by-election, 1930 from the Conservatives, and their splitting the right-wing vote at the Islington East by-election in February had allowed Labour to hold a seat they had been expected to lose.
The industrialist Sir Ernest Willoughby Petter announced his candidacy as an Independent Conservative opposed to Baldwin's leadership of the Conservative Party on 28 February. Petter (26 May 1873 - 18 July 1954) had founded the Petters Limited engineering company from which Westland Aircraft was separated in 1915. Though he claimed to be free of party and running at the request of the electors, he was eagerly backed by the Beaverbrook and Rothermere papers, the Daily Express and Daily Mail.
The Conservative Party originally selected John Moore-Brabazon. He withdrew on 28 February, saying he could not defend Baldwin. Baldwin, under pressure to resign as Leader of the Conservative Party, toyed with the idea of resigning his safe Worcestershire seat of Bewdley and contesting the by-election himself.
In 1929, there had been a Labour candidate for the constituency, but Labour did not contest the by-election.
One notable speech of the campaign was by Stanley Baldwin. At the Queen's Hall on 17 March, he attacked the press proprietors, uttering the often-quoted "What the proprietorship of those papers is aiming at is power, and power without responsibility – the prerogative of the harlot through the ages".
The result was a victory for Duff Cooper. He won 59.9% of the votes. He was unopposed at the ensuing general election later that year. He remained MP for the constituency until 1945.
The result of the by-election was an important factor in Stanley Baldwin's retention of the leadership of the Conservative Party. Following the collapse of the Labour Government, the Conservatives would unite with the Prime Minister Ramsay MacDonald to form the National Government, which enjoyed a sweeping landslide victory later in the year.
|By-election 1931: Westminster St George's|
|Independent Conservative||Sir Ernest Willoughby Petter||11,532||40.1|
|General Election 1929: Westminster St George's|
|Conservative||Sir Laming Worthington-Evans, Bt.||22,448||78.1|
|Labour||J G Butler||6,294||21.9|
- Westminster St. George's constituency
- List of United Kingdom by-elections
- United Kingdom by-election records
- Craig, F. W. S. (1983) . British parliamentary election results 1918-1949 (3rd edition ed.). Chichester: Parliamentary Research Services. ISBN 0-900178-06-X.
- Chris Cook and, John Ramsden. By-Elections in British Politics. Routledge. ISBN 1-85728-535-2.