“Pick a Ward and Win It”… in the 1950s…

Cllr Wendy Taylor offers us this story as a memorial to her late father, Brian. In his own words…

In the General Election of 1945 I voted Labour and I did this not in England, but in Lebanon, where I was stationed at the time. It was not until late 1947 that I was finally demobilised, moving to Bromley in 1948. The next few years were devoted to building up my dental practice and at elections during that time I continued to vote Labour. My wife Susan voted Tory, so we cancelled each other out.

In 1955 I began to become disillusioned with Labour and sought information from the Liberal Party. I was sent some literature and decided it was the party for me. My enquiry was passed on to the local Bromley Association and soon after, a rather nondescript little man, who announced himself as Mr Parker, came to see me, enrolled me as a member and invited me to a committee meeting few days later in central Bromley.

So, one evening, I went to a house in Tweedy Road, which was Liberal HQ. This turned out to be a rather gloomy place with several rooms empty, except for some goods for the next jumble sale. The only room properly lighted was when the committee was meeting and I was introduced to the six or seven people around the table, It soon became clear that the people there represented about the whole of the Liberal Party in Bromley and that the HQ was not going to be theirs for long. The lease was running out and they could no longer afford the rent! I was invited to join the committee, which I did.

For the next few months there was little activity and then, in May 1956, came the Council elections, which at that time happened every year! It was decided that we should show the flag and, in spite of being so few in number, it was decided we would fight not one, but three wards. The chairman of the local residents’ association stood in his ward, & the Chairman of the Bromley Chamber of Commerce was persuaded to fight another and I foolishly agreed to contest Hayes & Keston. On the face of it, it was a pretty impossible task. It was the biggest ward in the borough, as far as we knew Susan and I were the only Liberals in it, we had never fought an election before, we did not even know where all the roads in the ward were and the Representation of the People’s Act was a closed book to us.

And so we set to work. We discovered that there were a few other Liberals in the ward, who were called on and enlisted to help. We had to have an election address, which I wrote, and we then got printed. The next problem was to get it delivered to ten thousand electors. We could only deliver one to each household, which cut down the numbers a bit, but it was still a daunting task. We gathered together friends & acquaintances, our few local Liberals & their children &, with the help of the electoral register, set out to cover the ward. Our little band did sterling work & delivered the major part of it.

I had never canvassed before, but knew that was what you were supposed to do. I and a few others set out to call on as many people as we could to ask for their vote. We were a bit apprehensive about what sort of reception we would get, especially as they were not used to being called on by a Liberal. However the response was generally friendly, and though we only managed to call on a relatively small number of houses, it was reasonably encouraging.

Then there was the problem of the poll cards. These at that time were not distributed by the Council, but each party issued their own. This meant printing and addressing thousands of them and, with our limited workforce, we needed a reasonably quick way to do this. When we had the cards, we all met in someone’s house armed with pens and a Bulldog Printing set. Each road was set up in turn on the set and the required number printed off. Then all we had to do was put in the street number and name by hand. It took all day, but the job was done.

A car fitted with a loudspeaker to tour the area and call upon voters to support you was more common in those days and we made use of one. As well as the usual message “Vote Liberal, vote Brian Taylor” we varied our delivery with an occasional rhyme. One I remember was “To Tory stories pay no heed, a Liberal Council’s what you need”. In a later year when the candidate was Ivor Shipley we thought we might tour our Council estates on the evening of polling day with the message “When you’ve had your tea & kippers go & vote for Ivor Shippers” but we had second thoughts.

Polling day came at last, but knocking up was not possible for us. But at 9 p.m., as soon as the polls closed, we rushed to the count. Our Tory opponent was more relaxed. He intended to make an entrance when the result was clear,so that he would be acclaimed as the victor, which he did with a large rosette the size of a dinner plate & a big smile on his face. Unfortunately, the returning officer had arranged it so that the votes so far counted showed us running neck to neck. The smile vanished to be replaced by a more worried expression. He was not the only one worried. He was worried that he might not get in and I was worried that I might! He eventually won by 200 votes, but we had given them a real shock.

The next year I stood again. Our campaign has taught us a lot and we had picked up quite a few supporters so we were far better informed and organised. The sitting Tory Councillor who was up for re-election stood down – I like to think he didn’t fancy fighting for a seat which had previously been a foregone conclusion. With a new unknown Tory candidate and our informed campaigners we reversed the previous year’s result. I won by 200 votes thus becoming the first Liberal Councillor in the area.

* Dr Wendy Taylor has been a Liberal Democrat councillor for Dene and South Gosforth Ward on Newcastle City Council since 1998.

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6 Comments

  • Barry Lofty 8th Mar '21 - 4:34pm

    Really enjoyed reading this, especially the the rhymes on the election loadspeaker.

  • “Enrolled me as a member and invited me to a committee meeting a few days later”.
    And that, ladies and gentlemen, is how it’s done ! (Rather than enrol, ignore, eventually send begging email for money.)

  • Rebecca Taylor 8th Mar '21 - 5:51pm

    Love hearing all these election stories of my Grandpa. His wisdom and tenacity are missed!

    Grandpa was a paper candidate in the local elections in 2010 and with the “Clegg mania” going on, he started to get worried he might be accidentally elected. “I can’t be a councillor; I’m 90 years old” 😮 (LibDem vote went up, but he wasn’t elected)

  • David Chadwick 8th Mar '21 - 6:13pm

    Lovely story. Thank you for sharing!

  • Sandy Walkington 9th Mar '21 - 8:57am

    Brilliant story. Then a man called Lubbock turned up…

  • William Wallace 9th Mar '21 - 5:51pm

    My favourite local election story came from my daughter’s godmother, explaining a couple of decades ago how she had ‘unintentionally’ got herself elected. ‘Well, William, they asked me to stand as a paper candidate. But I thought it was a bit of a cheek, when we’d only lived there for 2 years, so I thought that at least I ought to go round and introduce myself to people.’ But it was a much smaller ward than Brian Taylor fought.

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