1921 Bedford by-election

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1921 Bedford by-election

← 1918 23 April 1921 1922 →
  Frederick Kellaway crop.jpg
Candidate Kellaway Riley
Party Liberal Labour
Popular vote 14,397 9,731
Percentage 59.7 40.3

MP before election


Subsequent MP


The Bedford by-election, 1921 was a parliamentary by-election held for the House of Commons constituency of Bedford on 23 April 1921.


The by-election was caused by the appointment of the sitting Member of Parliament (MP) for Bedford, Frederick Kellaway, to the office of Postmaster General.[1] Under the Parliamentary procedures of the day, he was obliged to resign his seat and fight a by-election.


Kellaway, who was originally a journalist by profession,[2] had first been elected as Liberal MP for Bedford at the general election of December 1910, narrowly beating the sitting Unionist member, Walter Annis Attenborough. After 1916, Kellaway supported the Coalition government of David Lloyd George and held ministerial office at the Ministry of Munitions and as Secretary for Overseas Trade. At the 1918 general election he was awarded the Coalition coupon and easily held his seat in a straight fight with an Independent candidate.[3] He was again described as a Coalition Liberal for the by-election and was supported by both local Liberals and Unionists.[4]

He was opposed for Labour by Frederick Fox Riley, an assistant secretary of the Union of Post Office Workers.[5] Riley stood for Parliament a number of times for Labour and was later MP for Stockton-on-Tees from 1929-31.


Kellaway’s election address announced that he was a ruthless enemy of waste in all areas of public expenditure. In his own field, the General Post Office, he declared a policy of making the GPO self-sufficient. He was also pressed by electors on the expansion of telephone services to rural areas. Riley questioned the government’s policy towards Ireland, especially its repression of nationalist protest and called for a capital levy to help reduce the national debt.[6] The coal dispute was also an issue which dominated debate.[7]

In his letter of support for Kellaway the prime minister described the Coalition as an example of a government committed to all regardless of class, clearly making a contrast with the centre-right view of Labour as a socialist and sectarian party. Lloyd George also attacked Labour for fomenting industrial strife and so threatening national unity against the interests of working people.[8] To emphasise this distinction Kellaway told the electorate that the choice was between the red flag of revolution and the Union Jack.[9]

Dame Margaret Lloyd George campaigned in the by-election on behalf of the Coalition. Permission was apparently given for schoolchildren to take time off lessons to cheer her and sing for her and to parade in several of the constituency’s villages. The Bedfordshire Education Committee felt obliged to set up an inquiry into how consent for this was granted.[10]

The result[edit]

In what was described as a high turn-out, particularly amongst women voters [11] Kellaway retained his seat but by a reduced majority. The by-election turn-out was 73% as opposed to 45% at the general election. At the previous general election Kellaway had had a majority of 6,837 over an Independent candidate. His by-election majority over Labour was 4,666.[12] Kellaway declared the result a triumph for Parliamentary government and against direct action, nationalization or other ‘foreign fads introduced into the country’. Riley said the heavy Labour poll was a victory in itself and looked forward to closer election results in the constituency in times to come.[13]

The Votes[edit]

Bedford by-election, 1921
Party Candidate Votes % ±
C Liberal Frederick Kellaway 14,397 59.7
Labour Frederick Fox Riley 9,731 40.3
Majority 4,666 19.4
Liberal hold Swing
C indicates candidate endorsed by the coalition government.


  1. ^ The Times, 6 April 1921 p14
  2. ^ The Times House of Commons 1911; Politico’s Publishing, 2004 p32
  3. ^ The Times House of Commons 1919; Politico’s Publishing, 2004 p46
  4. ^ The Times, 15 April 1921 p7
  5. ^ The Times, 15 April 1921 p7
  6. ^ The Times, 16 April 1921 p5
  7. ^ The Times, 25 April 1921 p7
  8. ^ The Times, 18 April 1921 p7
  9. ^ The Times, 22 April 1921 p7
  10. ^ The Times, 23 April 1921 p7
  11. ^ The Times, 25 April 1921 p7
  12. ^ F W S Craig, British Parliamentary Election Results, 1918-1949; Political Reference Publications, Glasgow, 1914 p289
  13. ^ The Times, 26 April 1921 p10

See also[edit]