Bessie Braddock

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Bessie Braddock
Chance Meeting - DSC04935.JPG
Statue of Bessie Braddock at Lime Street Station
Member of Parliament
for Liverpool Exchange
In office
Personal details
Born (1899-09-24)24 September 1899
Liverpool, Lancashire, England
Died 13 November 1970(1970-11-13) (aged 71)
Liverpool, Lancashire, England
Nationality British
Political party Labour
Spouse(s) John 'Jack' Braddock

Elizabeth Margaret Braddock JP (née Bamber; 24 September 1899 – 13 November 1970), known as Bessie Braddock, was a British Labour politician. Nicknamed 'Battling Bessie', she was an ardent socialist and fiery campaigner. Throughout her long political career, she took a passionate interest in matters relating to maternity, child welfare and youth crime. At her funeral in 1970, Harold Wilson said "She was born to fight for the people of the docks, of the slums, of the factories and in every part of the city where people needed help".[1]


She was born at 23 Zante Street, Liverpool, as the eldest daughter of parents who were active socialists.[2][3] Her father was Hugh Bamber, a book-binder and guillotine worker at a newsagents.[4] Her mother was Mary 'Ma' Bamber, a local trade union organiser and Labour movement activist, a suffragette and a social worker.[2][4][5] Mary Bamber was described by Sylvia Pankhurst as the finest fighting platform speaker in the country.[3]

Braddock attended school in Liverpool until the age of 14, and initially was employed to fill seed packets for 5s. a week.[3] Later, until 1918, she worked in the drapery department of the Co-op Stores where her lifelong attachment to the union movement began.[3][5]

Liverpool in the early part of the 20th century was a city of intense social deprivation with the highest rates of pauperism and infant mortality in the country, and the experience of growing up amid these social conditions led Braddock to devote her life to fight for the disadvantaged.[6]

In her youth Braddock attended socialist Sunday school, and graduated to membership of the Independent Labour Party.[3] Braddock thought the ILP was not radical enough, leaving in 1920 to join the Communist Party of Great Britain.[3] In 1921 she made her first public speech at a political demonstration in support of the unemployed of the city.[4]

In 9 February 1922 Elizabeth Bamber married John 'Jack' Braddock.[5] Jack was a skilled railway worker who was blacklisted by the industry for campaigning for improved conditions[4] and he was later to become leader of Liverpool City Council, holding the position from 1955 to 1961 and again in May 1963.[3] The couple had a close marriage with many shared political interests,[3] and their wedding took place at Brougham Terrace Registry Office during their lunch hour.[4] They lived on Freehold Street in the Fairfield area of Liverpool.[4] Initially both were members of the Communist Party but became dissatisfied with its lack of commitment to democracy and left in 1924 to rejoin the labour movement.[3] They had no children but remained married until Jack's death in 1963.[3]

During World War II Braddock worked as an ambulance assistant officer.[2]

Together with her husband, Braddock was a dominating influence in Liverpool politics in the 1950s and 60s.[5] She was a fiery politician known for directness in her speech and was not constrained by politeness when dealing with political opponents and fighting for the people of the city.[6] Her obvious contempt was not reserved only for those outside her own party, and she would stand up very firmly for any cause she believed in without regard to party lines.[6]

Braddock was made a Freeman of the City of Liverpool in early 1970.[2] Following her death only seven months later, on 13 November 1970, the flags in the city were flown at half-mast.[4]

In 2009 a statue by the sculptor Tom Murphy was unveiled to commemorate her, in Liverpool Lime Street railway station.[7]

Political career[edit]

Braddock joined the Labour Party in 1926,[2] and in 1930 was elected to Liverpool City Council for St Anne's Ward, one year after her husband's election to the same Council.[5] She served on the Council continuously until 1961, and was active in the Liverpool unemployed movement and the Loyal Liverpool Unemployed Distress Committee.[5]

Braddock was a member of the Union of Shop, Distributive and Allied Workers for many years, and in 1945 became president of the Liverpool Trades Council and Labour Party.

In 1945 Braddock was elected Member of Parliament for Liverpool Exchange at the 1945 election and represented the seat for 24 years.[5] In the House of Commons, she fought to achieve better housing conditions, better educational opportunities, and support for workers' organisations.[6]

In 1954, Braddock was asked by her political opponent Winston Churchill to sit on the Royal Commission on the Law Relating to Mental Illness and Mental Deficiency.[2] The work of this Commission led to the enactment of the Mental Health Act 1959.[2]

Braddock was a key figure responsible for the flooding of Tryweryn, a valley in Wales, to create a reservoir to supply fresh water to the city of Liverpool. This was strongly opposed by residents of Capel Celyn and the neighbouring countryside, who were evicted from their family homes and farms before they were submerged, and by Welsh politicians of all parties.[8]

Braddock was also a member of the Labour Party National Executive Committee and served as vice-chairman of the Labour Party in 1968.

Bolton Evening News libel case[edit]

In 1948 Braddock sued the Bolton Evening News who were represented by Walter Monckton and Peter Carter-Ruck in his first libel case, for reporting that she had "danced a jig on the floor of the [House of] Commons".[9] The incident referred to occurred in 1947 during a debate on the Transport Bill, when it was said that Conservative MPs had all walked out of the Commons in protest against the use of a guillotine motion to cut short the debate.[2][10] A number of Labour MPs moved across the house to sit on the empty Opposition benches.[2] The Bolton Evening News reported that Braddock was "dancing a jig" as she crossed the floor referring to it as an "unlovely burlesque" and noted that the "whole performance was nauseating, a sorry degradation of democratic government by discussion, the nadir, let us fervently hope, of this parliament".[2] Braddock was offended both by the suggestion that she had shown disrespect to the institution of the House of Commons and by the moral slander implicit in the use of the word burlesque at that time.[2] The newspaper opted for trial by special jury.[2] Since there was a restriction on who could sit on a jury in terms of their level of income, it consisted of a group of people from a particular socio-economic background quite different from that of Braddock.[2] The trial was presided over by the Lord Chief Justice, Lord Goddard, in the King's Bench Division.[11] Reference was made during the trial to comments made by Braddock while serving on Liverpool City Council: that she had referred to a fellow councillor as a "blasted rat" and expressed the desire to "take a machine gun" to a group of Tory councillors, which were not disputed.[2] The jury found in favour of the newspaper, and Braddock made an apology to the House of Commons.[2] Braddock appealed against the decision on the grounds that fresh evidence had been found concerning previous convictions of a principal witness for the defendants such as would have undermined his credibility if raised at the trial.[12] The Court of Appeal dismissed this appeal, noting that although the fresh evidence may have had a material impact on the outcome of the trial if it had been known, it was not inevitable and they did not want to set a precedent which would undermine the finality of litigation in this way.[12]


Braddock was a friend of Sir John Moores, founder of the betting organisation Littlewoods, even though Moores himself was a Conservative voter, and also a Conservative councillor for the Sefton ward between 1933 and 1940.

She is often cited as being part of a celebrated but disputed exchange of insults with Winston Churchill (although Nancy Astor has also been mentioned as the female protagonist):

Braddock: "Winston, you are drunk, and what's more you are disgustingly drunk. "
Churchill: "Bessie, my dear, you are ugly, and what's more, you are disgustingly ugly. But tomorrow I shall be sober and you will still be disgustingly ugly."[13][14][15]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "MP born to fight for the people". Liverpool Echo. 4 October 2001. 
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o "BBC Local legends". 2004-01-16. Retrieved 2010-10-16. 
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h i j Vallance, Elizabeth; rev. Robert Ingham (Jan 2005). "Elizabeth Margaret Braddock (1899–1970)". Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. doi:10.1093/ref:odnb/37214. 
  4. ^ a b c d e f g "Bessie Braddock (1899-1970)". National Trust - E. Chambré Hardman Archive. Retrieved 9 March 2014. 
  5. ^ a b c d e f g Lane, A Thomas (1 January 1995). Biographical Dictionary of European Labor Leaders. Greenwood Publishing Group. p. 128. ISBN 9780313299001. 
  6. ^ a b c d Hartley, Cathy (15 April 2013). Historical Dictionary of British Women. Routledge. p. 127. ISBN 9781857432282. 
  7. ^ Statues of Ken Dodd and Bessie Braddock are unveiled at Liverpool’s Lime Street Station Liverpool Daily Post, 12 June 2009
  8. ^ "The Flooding of Tryweryn". 1957-08-01. Retrieved 2010-10-16. 
  9. ^ "The Case of Mrs. Braddock, MP: Did she jig or not?". The Courier-Mail (Brisbane, Qld). 12 November 1948. Retrieved 8 March 2014. 
  10. ^ "Mrs. Braddock's Libel Action: MPs' Evidence on Incident in the Commons". The Guardian. 11 November 1948. p. 6. 
  11. ^ "Mrs Braddock Loses Her Case". The Guardian. 12 November 1948. p. 3. 
  12. ^ a b "Mrs Braddock's Appeal Fails". The Guardian. 23 June 1949. p. 3. 
  13. ^ "Hague's baseball cap, Mandelson's mushy peas: True tales or just great political myths? | Mail Online". 2007-02-07. Retrieved 2010-10-16. 
  14. ^ Richard Langworth (ed.) Churchill by Himself: The Definitive Book of Quotations, p.550
  15. ^ Even if the exchange did happen, the insult itself originated over 60 years prior. See "Yes, I Am Drunk, But Tomorrow I Will Be Sober, And You Will Still Be a Fool". Quote Investigator. 2011-08-17. Retrieved 2015-06-02. 

External links[edit]

Parliament of the United Kingdom
Preceded by
John Joseph Shute
Member of Parliament for Liverpool Exchange
Succeeded by
Robert Parry