Harry Midgley

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Henry Cassidy Midgley, PC (NI), known as Harry Midgley (1893 – 29 April 1957) was a prominent politician in Northern Ireland.[1] Born to a unionist family in Belfast, he worked in the textile industry before joining the Royal Engineers during World War I.

Early political career[edit]

In 1919, Midgley joined the Belfast Labour Party, and in 1920 he was elected to Belfast City Council. At the time of the Northern Ireland general election, 1921, the first ever election to Northern Ireland's embryonic parliament, the "principal anxiety" of James Craig was that Labour in Belfast would attract the loyalist vote. When Labour candidates booked the Ulster Hall for a final rally, it was disrupted by Loyalist shipyard workers, who then telegraphed Craig to inform him that they had "captured the Ulster Hall from Bolsheviks Baird, Midgley and Hanna". Craig responded: "...Well done big and wee yards".[2] Midgley was indeed defeated in his attempt to win the Belfast East seat.

In the 1923 UK general election, Midgley won 47% of the vote, the best result for the Labour movement in Northern Ireland until the Belfast West by-election, 1943. His vote dropped slightly in the 1924 UK general election, but held his council seat until 1943, becoming an Alderman in 1929.[3]

In the Northern Ireland general election, 1933, Midgley was elected for Belfast Dock, by now representing the Northern Ireland Labour Party (NILP) which the Belfast Labour Party had formed. He also joined the board of Linfield F.C.. Following his election, he became the party leader.

During the Spanish Civil War in the late 1930s, Midgley was outspoken in his support for the beleaguered Spanish Republic and described Franco as a "monstrosity" and a "killer of babies".[2] In turn, Midgley became involved in a public controversy regarding The Irish News' attitude to the Spanish Civil War. The newspaper supported Francisco Franco's Nationalists, partly because of Spanish Republican anti-clericalism, while Midgley saw the Spanish Republican side as fighting a necessary war against fascism and for democracy.[4]

When the 1938 election was called, Midgley's opposition to Franco was to cost him dearly. The Nationalist Party stood a candidate against him, Mr James Collins, who supported Franco's armed rebellion. During the election campaign, "[n]ight after night there were violent clashes in the Dock constituency as Midgley faced hostile crowds shouting 'Up Franco', 'Remember Spain', and 'We want Franco'".[2] Midgley was also opposed by a Unionist candidate, to whom he lost his seat.

Later career[edit]

Midgley won the Belfast Willowfield constituency in a 1941 by-election for the NILP. His victory in this strongly loyalist seat left John Miller Andrews, then Prime Minister of Northern Ireland, severely shaken. The Prime Minister later confided to Wilfrid Spender that "if there was a general election now the government would cease to have a majority".[2]

Midgley resigned from the NILP the following year in protest at Jack Beattie's leadership. Intending to work constructively with the Ulster Unionist Party, who dominated politics in Northern Ireland, Midgley formed the Commonwealth Labour Party. When Basil Brooke became Prime Minister of Northern Ireland in May 1943, he replaced all but one member of the existing cabinet and appointed Midgley as Minister of Public Security. Midgley also became a member of the Privy Council of Northern Ireland. The following year, he became Minister of Labour. In the Northern Ireland general election, 1945, Midgley was the Commonwealth Labour Party's only successful candidate, while in the 1945 UK general election, he won 30% of the vote in Belfast South against Ulster Unionist opposition.

On 30 October 1945 Midgley protested when the Speaker, Sir Norman Stronge, agreed to Jack Beattie's request to examine a ruling he had given. Midgley shouted at Stronge "Are you not competent to discharge your duties without advice from this Member on his weekly visits to the House?" Despite Stronge calling for order, Midgley then crossed over and punched Beattie. Stronge excluded him from the Chamber for the rest of the sitting[5] and Midgley apologised the next day.[6]

Growing closer to the Unionists, Midgley disbanded his party and joined the UUP in 1947. He became Minister of Labour and National Insurance in 1949 and then Minister of Education in 1950. Midgley's outspoken Unionism did not diminish over the years. In Portadown, in 1957, he said, "All the minority are traitors and have always been traitors to the government of Northern Ireland".[7]

Midgley died, while still in office, later that year.

Linfield Football Club[edit]

Harry Midgley was involved in the management of Linfield Football Club and the reserve pitch beside Windsor Park, is named Midgley Park in his honour.


  1. ^ Northern Ireland Parliamentary Results: Biographies
  2. ^ a b c d Bardon, Jonathan, A History of Ulster, 199
  3. ^ Midgely Papers, Public Record Office of Northern Ireland
  4. ^ Articles, etc. about Harry Midgley on Spanish Civil War at the Wayback Machine (archived 28 October 2009)
  5. ^ Hansard, House of Commons of Northern Ireland, Vol. 29, Cols. 910-11, via Stormont Papers.
  6. ^ Hansard, House of Commons of Northern Ireland, Vol. 29, Col. 952, via Stormont Papers.
  7. ^ Michael Farrell, Northern Ireland: The Orange State, 1976 in Bardon, Jonathan, Ibid, p609
Parliament of Northern Ireland
Preceded by
Charles Blakiston-Houston
Member of Parliament for Belfast Dock
Succeeded by
George Anthony Clark
Preceded by
Arthur Black
Member of Parliament for Belfast Willowfield
Succeeded by
William Hinds
Political offices
Preceded by
Jack Beattie
Leader of the Northern Ireland Labour Party at Stormont
Succeeded by
Paddy Agnew
Preceded by
Hugh Gemmell
Chairman of the Northern Ireland Labour Party
Succeeded by
Robert Getgood
Political offices
Preceded by
William Grant
Minister of Public Security
Succeeded by
Post abolished
Preceded by
William Grant
Minister of Labour
Succeeded by
William Grant
Preceded by
William McCleery
Minister of Labour and National Insurance
Succeeded by
Ivan Neill
Preceded by
Samuel Hall-Thompson
Minister of Education
Succeeded by
William May