Monday, 21 February 2011

Smith Hughes versus Barberism

I was pleased to receive this reminiscence from from a Liberal activist who helped in the 1961 local elections when the defeat of 'Barberism' was a hot topic. It recalls a Liberal 'dynasty' the Smith Hughes late of Birkdale and now in Essex. The resignation of Lady Watson and the withdrawal of the Tory Whip from Sir Ron, Tom Glover and  David Pearson has left Dukes Ward without a Tory representative. When Lady Watson's father left the Council it heralded a long period when the Tories were out of power in Southport.

'I used to have a photocopy of Jack Smith-Hughes 1961 Election address in *Birkdale West. It was a classic of its kind.

It began by saying “Help me defeat Barberism”. Sir Herbert Barber was then the leader of the Council and we Liberals needed three or four gains to take control of the Southport County Borough Council  in alliance with Labour (that is another story to which we may well return. Ed). Anyway although we didn`t manage it in 1961 we did so the following year. Jack S-H`s opponent should have been Harold Barber, son of Sir Herbert and father of Lesley-who recently resigned from Southport Tories. The Tories got very worried that they would lose and so announced that Harold would not defend his seat but would be nominated for a vacant seat at the Aldermanic elections later in May. This caused a lot of resentment and ultimately contributed the Tories defeat. The Libs rightly argued that the Tories might not have control of the Aldermanic bench after the local elections.

Most of the Lib election addresses were delivered by Jack`s son, my friend Tommy, now a Chelmsford Councillor (and I think Essex County Councillor. Ed) who asked me to help him with the delivery and we won by 7 votes. This was my first foray into local politics around the time of my 12th birthday. Sir Herbert immediately resigned in 1962 as leader when the Tories lost control and was appointed a Freeman of the Borough.

Birkdale West was a Tory rotten borough. It went unopposed from 1912 to 1946. Sir Herbert Barber told me that the local Liberal used to complete a set of nomination papers on behalf of the Tory candidates. In December 1946 a very popular Liberal, John Higham stood in a by-election and only lost by about 63 votes – see History of Southport Liberals. Then again it was unopposed until 1950 when the Labour party stood and continued to contest the seat until 1958 When Haydn Preece`s grandfather, (Haydn is the Lib Dem Councillor in Ainsdale Ward today) Percy Gee got a record 53 votes. Percy, who worked on the railway, was a delightful character whom I remember canvassing. In Railway Walk circa 1970. Other candidates poled between 28 and 44. An Independent - an ex Tory Mayor called Fred Thornley who had lost his seat elsewhere -stood in 1959 and polled strongly so Jack S-H was persuaded to stand after first resigning from the Con club. He lost by 140 in 1960 and narrowly won the following year only to be well beaten three years later when the Liberal tide and receded.

When I stood in 1971, a week after my 22nd birthday the ward had once again become a Tory playground. The previous occasion it had been contested was in1967 when the Tories secured 1225 and Fred Smith polled 112 or 9% of the vote. I can remember being amazed in the count when I got 28% after the Tory ward chairman told me that around 50% of the ward ie, 1500 people, were paid up members of his party! Things have certainly changed since then.

By the way, “Doing a Fred Smith” became another way of saying you would be fighting a paper campaign. I remember Brian Rimmer, ( a longstanding Lib Dem Councillor in Norwood Ward then Chairman announcing to the Executive) that I would not be “doing a Fred Smith” when standing in Birkdale West.'

* I should explain that Birkdale West is nor part of what is now Birkdale Ward but in Dukes Ward it is where Sir Harold's son in law is now the 'rebel' Tory Councillor. Locally it is known as shoreside Birkdale and is home to the Royal Birkdakle Golf Club, Premiership Football players and managers and BBC pundits.
The only other time that we have won in that bit of Birkdale was back in the final Merseyside County Council Election (1982?) when on different boundaries my colleague Simon Shaw triumphed over the full time Tory agent by 6 votes. The Tories were so shell shocked that they failed to ask for a recount. My memory is that Simon-who had calculated his majority was slightly bigger-had to be restrained from asking for a recount. There was a pirate tape of the declaration which some Liberal will recall being played  over the car radio of one activist-who given s/he had recorded it in contravention of the Returning Officers instructions I shall not name.

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