Henley by-election, 1932

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The Henley by-election, 1932 was a parliamentary by-election held on 25 February 1932 for the British House of Commons constituency of Henley.


The seat had become vacant when the Conservative Member of Parliament (MP) Robert Henderson died on 16 January 1932. He had held the seat since the 1924 general election.

Electoral history[edit]

Created for the 1885 General Election, Henley had been won by a Conservative at every election except for 1906 when it was won by a Liberal. Liberal candidate Sir Henry Rew came very close to winning in both 1922 and 1923. The Labour Party, had only ever run candidates at the two previous elections, 1929 and 1931, coming third on both occasions. At the last election, the Conservative victory was comfortable.

General Election 1931: Henley [1]
Party Candidate Votes % ±
Conservative Robert Henderson 24,015 72.2
Liberal Borlase Matthews 5,411 16.3
Labour Frederick J Hembury 3,809 11.5
Majority 18,604 55.9
Turnout 33,235 68.6
Conservative hold Swing


The Liberal challenger was 54 year-old[2] Borlase Matthews. He had been the Liberal candidate at the 1931 General Election. He was an engineer but left engineering to take up farming. He was a Member of the Council of the Royal Agricultural Society. He was a Member of the Electricity Commissioners Rural Electrification Conference. He was Chairman of the Rural Reconstruction Association. He was also an author of several books and papers on farming.[3]


The key issue of the election was free trade v tariffs. Both the Conservative and Liberal parties were members of the National Government and a debate was going on within the government over this issue with the Liberals favouring free trade and the Conservatives, protection. The debate in Henley was identical to that national debate.[4] Former Liberal leader Lloyd George, who had split from his party over their support for the National Government, sent a public letter of support to the Liberal candidate.[5]


The Conservative candidate Sir Gifford Fox, held the seat for the party. The Conservative share of the vote fell by 2.3% while the Liberal share, helped by the absence of a Labour candidate, went up by 13.8%. This gave a swing from Conservative to Liberal of 8%. The Conservative share of the vote was still higher than it had been at the free trade v tariff general election in 1923.

Henley by-election, 1932
Party Candidate Votes % ±
Conservative Gifford Fox 16,553 69.9 –2.3
Liberal Borlase Matthews 7,129 30.1 +13.8
Majority 9,424 39.8 –16.1
Turnout 23,682 48.9 –19.7
Conservative hold Swing -8.0


The difference of opinion inside the National Government on the issue of trade, led to the Liberal Party withdrawing from the National Government. At the following general election, Sir Gifford Fox faced a new Liberal challenger and comfortably won re-election. Borlase Matthews was the unsuccessful Liberal candidate at Ashford.

General Election 1935: Henley [6]
Party Candidate Votes % ±
Conservative Gifford Fox 22,024 70.4
Liberal John Herbert May 9,254 29.6
Majority 12,770 40.8
Turnout 31,278 56.9
Conservative hold Swing


  1. ^ British Parliamentary Election Results 1918-1949, FWS Craig
  2. ^ Who's who in Engineering, 1921
  3. ^ The Times House of Commons, 1931
  4. ^ "Henley By-Election." Times [London, England] 13 Feb. 1932: 7. The Times Digital Archive. Web. 1 Aug. 2016.
  5. ^ "Henley By-Election." Times [London, England] 16 Feb. 1932: 14. The Times Digital Archive. Web. 1 Aug. 2016.
  6. ^ British Parliamentary Election Results 1918-1949, FWS Craig