Great Grimsby by-election, 1914

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The Great Grimsby by-election was a Parliamentary by-election. It returned one Member of Parliament to the House of Commons of the United Kingdom, elected by the first past the post voting system. It was one of the last by-election contests to take place before the outbreak of war, and provided a good indicator of how the main parties would have performed at an anticipated 1914/15 general election.

Vacancy[edit]

Sir George Doughty had been the MP for Great Grimsby since 1895, apart from the period from January–December 1910. Doughty was first elected as a Liberal before switching to the Liberal Unionists in 1898. He died suddenly, at the age of 60, of a heart seizure on 27 April 1914.[1]

Previous result[edit]

George Doughty
General Election December 1910: Grimsby[2] Electorate 17,541
Party Candidate Votes % ±
Liberal Unionist George Doughty 7,903 52.3
Liberal Thomas Wing 7,205 47.7
Majority 698 4.6
Turnout 15,108 86.1
Liberal Unionist hold Swing

Candidates[edit]

  • Early possibilities to be the Unionist candidate included former Brigg MP Sir Berkeley Sheffield and local party chairman RW Roberts.[3] On 30 April jam manufacturer Thomas Tickler was chosen by the Unionists as their candidate to defend the seat. He was a local JP and Town Councillor, having served as Mayor in 1907.[4]
  • The Liberals had already selected James Whitely Wilkin as their prospective parliamentary candidate for a general election expected to occur later in 1914/15. However he was at the time travelling in the southern hemisphere and was not expected to be able to return in time. James William Eason, the local leader of the party was mentioned as a possible replacement.[5] Their previous candidate, the former MP Tom Wing had been returned to parliament in March following the Houghton-le-Spring by-election, 1913. On 30 April they selected local Cleethorpes man Alfred Bannister. He also lived in the constituency, he served as a Justice of the Peace and was a Town Councillor who had served as Chairman of the Council.[6] He was involved in the local fishing industry as a steam trawler owner.[7]
  • The Grimsby Trades and Labour Council considered supporting Ernest Marklew as a British Socialist Party candidate.[8] The BSP however did not feel they were able to mount a campaign in the time available and refused to sanction Marklew's candidature, forcing him to withdraw.[9]

Campaign[edit]

The Unionists moved the writ to get polling day fixed for 12 May, a Tuesday. This was expected to be of benefit to them as Tuesdays tended to be days when large numbers of fisherman, who would have been likely to vote for the Liberal candidate, were going to be away at sea.[10] The Liberal candidate's direct links to the local fishing industry were expected to help him pick up a few votes who had previously voted for Doughty.

The Tariff Reform League, the Unionist Association of Ireland and the Unionist Defence League all opened campaign offices in Cleethorpes in support of the Unionist candidates campaign.[11] The debate between Tariff Reform and Free trade did not play much of a part in the campaign but the issue of Irish Unionism versus Irish Nationalism did.

Irish Home Rule[edit]

The Liberal government was in the process of steering through parliament the Third Irish Home Rule Bill with the support of the Irish Nationalists. The bill was opposed by the Unionist opposition and most infamously by the Irish Unionist Leader Sir Edward Carson who in 1912 had urged those who disagreed with the government to use any means to oppose the measure. This was meant as a call for Ulstermen to take up arms. Furthermore, Unionist politicians had been encouraging British Army officers to disobey orders to quell any Ulster uprising. At a Liberal campaign meeting on 2 May, three MPs spoke in support of Bannister. Tom Wing the former Grimsby Liberal MP, Francis Neilson and Irish Nationalist Richard McGhee. McGhee attacked the Unionist leader Sir Edward Carson for his treasonous position. Bannister added that "If he were King, he would chop off Sir Edward Carson's head."[12] Unionist leaders Carson and Bonar Law responded to criticisms that they had deliberately stirred up unrest in Ulster by sending letters of support to the Unionist candidate in which they blamed the resulting unrest on the Liberal government for introducing its Home Rule policies.[13] Both H. H. Asquith and Lloyd George sent letters of support to the Liberal candidate. Lloyd George reminding him of Unionist Party attempts to create civil war in Ireland and mutiny in the British Army.[14] On 9 May, leading Irish Nationalist MP T.P. O'Connor visited Grimsby in support of the Liberal campaign. He highlighted the activities of Unionist politicians who sought to encourage British army officers to mutiny. Carson, who had been widely criticised for his utterances on Ulster went to the extent of posting a letter to Grimsby electors, defending his militant position on Ireland.[15] The Unionist campaign decision to focus on Irish Home Rule might have seemed difficult to understand. However, in past Grimsby elections, the issue had seemed to be the one that had served them best.

National Insurance Act[edit]

As with previous by-elections, the Unionist campaign sought to attack the Liberal government's National Insurance Act. However, this issue back-fired on them early on and they subsequently dropped the issue from their campaign. At a Unionist campaign meeting on 4 May Lord Robert Cecil attacked the National Insurance Act, arguing that employers should not me made to contribute. The following day, a deputation of local insurance agents met with Tickler to point out that without employer compulsion, the scheme would not work. Tickler's response was one of support for Cecil.[16] The deputation of insurance agents then met with Bannister who assured them of his support for the act and his opposition to any voluntary system. This resulted in Tickler changing his position to one of support for the act.[17]

Result[edit]

There was a small swing of 1.5% to the Liberals, not quite large enough to re-gain the seat.

By-Election 12 May 1914: Grimsby[18] Electorate 20,688
Party Candidate Votes % ±
Unionist Thomas Tickler 8,471 50.8 -1.5
Liberal Alfred Bannister 8,193 49.2 +1.5
Majority 278 1.6 -3.0
Turnout 16,664 80.5 -3.3
Unionist hold Swing -1.5

The result would have given a great deal of confidence to Liberal Prime Minister H. H. Asquith about his party's prospects of winning the next general election. It would also have re-assured him about implementing Irish Home Rule.

Aftermath[edit]

The Irish Home Rule was passed in parliament later that month. However, Asquith delayed its implementation due to the outbreak of war a few months later. A general election was due to take place by the end of 1915. By the autumn of 1914, the following candidates had been adopted to contest that election.

Due to the outbreak of war, the election never took place.

General Election 14 December 1918: Grimsby[19] Electorate 47,189
Party Candidate Votes % ±
Unionist 13,688 53.7 +2.9
Labour Charles E Franklin 9,015 35.4 n/a
Independent Unionist James William Eason 2,791 10.9 n/a
Majority 4,673 18.3 +16.7
Turnout 25,494 54.0
Unionist hold Swing n/a
  • Tickler was the endorsed candidate of the Coalition Government.

References[edit]

  1. ^ "Death Of Sir G. Doughty." Times [London, England] 28 April 1914: 10. The Times Digital Archive. Web. 2 March 2014.
  2. ^ British parliamentary election results 1885-1918 by F.W.S. Craig
  3. ^ "Death Of Sir G. Doughty." Times [London, England] 28 April 1914: 10. The Times Digital Archive. Web. 2 March 2014.
  4. ^ "News in Brief." Times [London, England] 1 May 1914: 8. The Times Digital Archive. Web. 2 March 2014.
  5. ^ "Death Of Sir G. Doughty." Times [London, England] 28 April 1914: 10. The Times Digital Archive. Web. 2 March 2014.
  6. ^ "News in Brief." Times [London, England] 1 May 1914: 8. The Times Digital Archive. Web. 2 March 2014.
  7. ^ Hull Daily Mail, 1 May 1914
  8. ^ "A Candidate's Laugh." Times [London, England] 4 May 1914: 10. The Times Digital Archive. Web. 2 March 2014.
  9. ^ "Grimsby And Ulster." Times [London, England] 7 May 1914: 10. The Times Digital Archive. Web. 2 March 2014.
  10. ^ "The Grimsby Contest." Times [London, England] 6 May 1914: 10. The Times Digital Archive. Web. 2 March 2014.
  11. ^ "Grimsby Covenanters." Times [London, England] 9 May 1914: 5. The Times Digital Archive. Web. 2 March 2014.
  12. ^ "A Candidate's Laugh." Times [London, England] 4 May 1914: 10. The Times Digital Archive. Web. 2 March 2014.
  13. ^ "Grimsby And Ulster." Times [London, England] 7 May 1914: 10. The Times Digital Archive. Web. 2 March 2014.
  14. ^ "Grimsby Covenanters." Times [London, England] 9 May 1914: 5. The Times Digital Archive. Web. 2 March 2014.
  15. ^ "The Grimsby Contest." Times [London, England] 11 May 1914: 5. The Times Digital Archive. Web. 2 March 2014
  16. ^ "The Grimsby Contest." Times [London, England] 6 May 1914: 10. The Times Digital Archive. Web. 2 March 2014.
  17. ^ "Grimsby And Ulster." Times [London, England] 7 May 1914: 10. The Times Digital Archive. Web. 2 March 2014.
  18. ^ British parliamentary election results 1885-1918 by F.W.S. Craig
  19. ^ British parliamentary election results 1918-1949 by F.W.S. Craig