Sunday, 4 April 2010

The Garden of Eden

We start our series on the marginal constituency of Warwick and Leamington by looking at the electoral history of the constituency and in particular the first contest won by Sir Anthony Eden. He then held the constituency, often uncontested in the inter-war period, until his retirement following his resignation as prime minister.

I have been told that on visits to the constituency Sir Anthony, accompanied by his wife Clarissa, would progress through bunting bedecked streets in an open-topped car. Such was the Garden of Eden.

In his first election, what was originally going to be a by-election contest in 1923 (but became a contest in the 1924 general election), Sir Anthony faced as a Labour opponent the Countess of Warwick. She was a colourful character who had had what might be called an adventurous sexual life. One of her lovers for several years was the Prince of Wales, King Edward VII. It is said that she took him to meet agricultural workers leader Joseph Arch in the nearby village of Barford (his name is now on a pub there). There was not a meeting of minds.

When the election campaign began, The Times speculated whether the Red Flag would be raised over Warwick Castle. It was not. The constituency had been a Liberal seat and the Liberal candidate was a former agricultural labourer, George Nicholls, who had been a MP since 1906.

The Labour organisation in the constituency was comparatively weak. However, the woman who gave her name to the song 'Daisy, Daisy, give me an answer do' was not going to be daunted. Sporting the red and gold Labour colours, she drove a phaeton with a team of white ponies.

The Countess had a number of family connections with Sir Anthony. Her first son's wife was Eden's sister. Her daughter Queenie was married to a Conservative MP and her stepdaughter married Sir Antony as the campaign was about to begin.

Captain Eden played to his strengths, claiming that his party understood farming better than its rivals. With good looks and a commendable war record, he represented what was then 'middle England'. In hunting country, he was a supporter of hunting whereas the Countess was an opponent. He also declared that he would resist any attempt to disestablish the Church of England and would oppose any move to make divorce easier. This was somewhat ironic given that he got divorced in 1950/

The day before polling, the Countess addressed five open-air meetings, ending up in Warwick market place. Her Daimler was dragged through the streets by her supporters.

Eden's win with 16,357 votes was hardly a surprise. Nicholls came second with 11,134 votes. Lady Warwick came third with just 4,015 votes. It was a disappointing result, but it marked the beginning of a Conservative hegemony in the constituency that was to last until 1997.


Sam S said...

I know that the concept of the constituency MP is more of a modern phenomenon, but did Sir Anthony Eden have much of an attachment to the area?

Wyn Grant said...

Not really. He had a constituency home in Holly Walk, but he wasn't there very often.