Oxford by-election, 1938

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The Oxford by-election, 1938 was a parliamentary by-election for the British House of Commons constituency of Oxford, held on 27 October 1938. The by-election was triggered when Robert Croft Bourne, the sitting Conservative Member of Parliament died on 7 August 1938. He had served as MP for the constituency since a 1924 by-election.


On 29 September 1938, British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain had signed the Munich Agreement, handing over the Sudetenland to German control. This issue polarised British politics at the time, with many Labour supporters, Liberals, and some Conservatives strongly opposed to this policy of appeasement.[1] Many by-elections in the autumn of 1938 were fought around this issue, including this one and also the Bridgwater by-election, three weeks later, where Liberals and Labour again united in support of an Independent anti-appeasement candidate.


The Liberal Party had selected Ivor Davies,[2] a 23-year-old graduate of Edinburgh University, despite the fact that he was the candidate for Central Aberdeenshire at the same time. The Labour Party selected Patrick Gordon Walker, who had contested the seat at the 1935 general election.

On 13 September, Davies offered to stand down from the by-election if Labour did the same and backed a Popular Front candidate against the Conservatives.[3] Eventually, Gordon Walker reluctantly stood down and both parties supported Sandy Lindsay, who was the Master of Balliol, as an Independent Progressive.[4]

On 14 September, the Conservatives selected Quintin Hogg, who was a fellow of All Souls and a former President of the Oxford Union Society.[5]


The campaign was intense and focused almost entirely on foreign affairs. Hogg supported Chamberlain's appeasement policy. Lindsay opposed appeasement; his campaigners used the slogan "A vote for Hogg is a vote for Hitler."

Lindsay was supported by many dissident Conservatives such as Harold Macmillan who were opposed to the Munich Agreement. A number of future politicians such as Edward Heath and Roy Jenkins, at Oxford University at the time, cut their teeth in the Michaelmas campaign.

In popular culture[edit]

A 1988 TV drama-documentary A Vote for Hitler dramatized the events surrounding the by-election, and included interviews with Denis Healey and Frank Pakenham, 7th Earl of Longford, who had campaigned for Labour during the election, and Quintin Hogg, by then Lord Hailsham of St Marylebone. Actors played their younger versions and included John Woodvine as Lindsay, and James Coombes as Richard Crossman.


The intensive campaign caused turnout to increase from 67.3% at the last election to 76.3%. Hogg won the seat with a reduced majority of 3,434 or 12.2%.

Oxford by-election, 1938
Party Candidate Votes % ±
Conservative Quintin Hogg 15,797 56.1 -6.7
Independent Progressive Sandy Lindsay 12,363 43.9 N/A
Majority 3,434 12.2 -13.4
Turnout 28,160 76.3 +9.0
Conservative hold Swing -6.7
1935 general election: Oxford
Party Candidate Votes % ±
Conservative Robert Croft Bourne 16,306 62.8 N/A
Labour Patrick Gordon-Walker 9,661 37.2 N/A
Majority 6,645 25.6 N/A
Turnout 25,967 67.3 N/A
Conservative hold Swing N/A

Notwithstanding his pro-appeasement campaign, Hogg would subsequently vote against Neville Chamberlain in the Norway Debate of May 1940.


  1. ^ The Times 4 October 1938
  2. ^ Liberal History, Spring 2002
  3. ^ By-Elections in British Politics
  4. ^ Eaden, James; Renton, David (2002). The Communist Party of Great Britain since 1920. Palgrave. p. 67. ISBN 0-333-94968-4. 
  5. ^ The Times 15 September 1938