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May 5, 2015 / basabbott

History of Local Politics

This piece appeared in a local magazine just before the last election. It ruffled a few right-wing feathers; but a woman on a museum tour said, “Brilliant. I agreed with every word of it.”


With a General Election on the way it is a good time to look back on the history of local politics.

South Norfolk was Liberal up to the end of WW1, the last MP of that party being the Hon. William Cozens-Hardy.

George Edwards won the seat for Labour in 1920; and it changed hands between them and the Conservatives for a few years.

From 1924 until the end of WW2 it was Conservative, until Labour’s Christopher Mayhew took it in 1945.

Peter Baker won it back for the Tories in 1950 before being sentenced to seven years’ imprisonment for fraud and forgery.

Despite the sleaze, Conservative John Hill won narrowly in 1955 and the constituency has been Tory ever since.

As South Norfolk became a retirement area, a kind of fortress inertia set in.

As a theatre critic, I sometimes wonder what became of the audiences who walked noisily out of Beckett and Pinter plays in the 1950s? Where did they go? Did they just stop going to the theatre until there was a revival of White Horse Inn?

Similarly, what happened to the Labour voters? Did they just stop voting? Are they still out there? A low turn-out favours the Conservatives, because their supporters are more likely to vote. With so few voting, a recent Tory ‘landslide’ was elected by 0.6 out of every 10 people in the area.

It has been said that Labour lost in 1959 because Rawhide was on TV that night. The people knew their priorities.

Another anomaly is that, while the government is Labour, most of the councils, many in a state of collapse, are Conservative.

Well-spoken charm often masks deadly self-interest. My Dad was once driven to the polling station by such a candidate, who then cut him dead in the street the next day. That is what they tend to do to the nation.

At the Burston Rally I encountered a good-hearted, good-humoured, intelligent audience who seemed to hold out the best hope for the future. To them, the idea of voting for an Old Etonian millionaire who has never worked was an absurdity.

The Christian Socialist ideals of the teachers whose dismissal caused the Burston strike still live on. Kitty Higden was reprimanded by the local establishment for lighting a fire to dry the children’s clothes after they had walked miles to school in the rain.

If the people would just come out and vote, they could affect a local revolution.

Basil Abbott

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