The winning entry

Founder's Day Celebration GW0G2409There were some splendid entries for the May caption competition.  I have been spoilt for choice.  Every one who contributed should give themselves a pat on the back.  About thirty entries could have been ranked as second equal.  Some entries were very clever.  Thom Rawlinson took a leaf out of the book of the previous winner with his entry (‘Lord Norton rises to address the gathered national press to lecture them on why Mhairi Black is not the youngest MP since 1667′.)  Several readers came up with original suggestions based on the setting (‘I love my new indoor chariot’, ‘welcome to Hogwarts’).  Matt Oliver linked it to my known preferences (‘This is a very nice lectern but where can I put my tea and cake?’) and DN to the university (‘Allegations of extravagence in Hull University lecture theatre refurbishment programme “totally unfounded”‘.)  Several drew on the presence of a Lord, Princeps Senatus penning an especially clever contribution.  barry winetrobe offered a caption that I suspect may have won instantly had some of my friends been the judges.  Some drew on the banner in the picture.  AndrejNkv did a neat play on the use of ‘risen’ in a parliamentary context.  The other principal entry based on the banner is the one that pips the other entries.  Not for the first time, the first entry is the winner.  It wins on the basis that every time I went through the entries it made me laugh – not just smile, but actually laugh.  The winner is thus Mark Stratton with:

Professor S Risen for I knew him well.

If Mark Stratton would like to get in touch, his prize will be on in its way.

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The May caption competition….

I thought I would take Mark Shephard up on his suggestion that I use a photograph from the University Founder’s Day Lecture I gave last month as the subject of the caption competition.  Having reviewed the pictures I have of the event, I thought I would stick with the one previously posted.  (I may use a  picture of some members of the audience for a later competition.)  As usual, the reader to provide what in my view is the wittiest and most appropriate caption will be the winner and will receive one of my publications.

Founder's Day Celebration GW0G2409

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More on the youngest MP

untitledI thought I would add a little more, further to my previous post on the youngest MP.   R. G. Thorne in The History Parliament: The House of Commons 1790-1820: I – Survey (1986) provides data on MPs elected under age in the late 18th and early 19th Centuries.  As he writes:

“There were at least 29, possibly 30, new Members who had not attained their legal majority (21 years) when elected to the House in this period – omitting the 15 or 16 Members who were minors when first elected before 1790 and were still in the House.  Only one of the new minors, Sir Thomas Mostyn elected for Flintshire in 1796, was unseated on account of his minority”.

As he notes, the others sat despite minors sitting in the House being prohibited by law.

Three minors were elected in 1790, three in 1796, three in 1802, three in 1806, five in 1807 (one of whom was first returned in 1806), three in 1812 and one in 1818.  Another 11 were returned at by-elections.  Of particular note was the fact that Viscount Jocelyn, returned in 1806 as the MP for county Louth, “was barely 18 years old”. 

Thorne notes that most did not vote or speak until they attained their majority, but Viscount Milton was under age when he spoke against the slave trade in 1807.

As the prohibition on minors sitting was enforced after 1832, we can conclude that Mhairi Black, the 20-year-old MP for Paisley and Renfrewshire South, is not the youngest MP since 1667, but the youngest since the early 19th Century.

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The youngest MP

untitled  The BBC this morning was reporting that Mhairi Black, the SNP MP for Paisley and Renfrewshire South, is, at the age of 20, ‘Britain’s youngest member of Parliament since 1667′.  The problem with this is that it is incorrect by a wide margin.

Prior to the Parliamentary Elections Act 1695, those aged under 21 were disqualified from sitting in the House of Commons by, according to Sir Edward Coke, the law of Parliament.  Coke, however, conceded that several had sat ‘by connivance’.  A number who sat in Charles II’s Pensioner Parliament are said to have been 14 or 15 years of age.  A clause of the 1695 Act strengthened the stringency of the law against the election of minors.  The disqualification was extended to Scotland by the Union with Scotland Act 1706 and to Ireland by the Parliamentary Elections (Ireland) Act 1823.  Despite these measures, the sitting of some minors ‘by connivance’ continued.

In the period from 1734 to 1832  some 81 Members were elected while under age, all bar one of them being allowed to take their seats.  Among their number was Charles James Fox (pictured).  As Sir Lewis Namier and John Brooke recorded in The History of Parliament: The House of Commons 1754-1790: II Members (1985):

“Charles James Fox was his father’s favourite child; caressed, adored, and spoilt; and treated as a man when he was little more than a boy.  When only nineteen he was brought into Parliament for Midhurst by an arrangement between Lord Holland and Lord Montagu, patron of the borough.  Following the line marked out for him by his father, he voted steadily with Government, and as a speaker became noted for his self-assurance and aggressiveness.  In February 1770, a month after his twenty-first birthday, he was given a place at the Admiralty Board…’  (p. 455)

There are no instances of minors sitting after the Reform Act of 1832.  Only in 2006, by the Electoral Administration Act, was the qualifying age for election to the House of Commons lowered (from 21 to 18 years), thus enabling those aged 18-20 years to seek to emulate Fox.

For other sources, see those cited in Philip Norton, ‘The Qualifying Age for Candidature in British Elections’, Public Law, Spring 1980, pp. 55-73.

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Baldwin in 1924

untitledThe  BBC News website carries a  briefing on Election 2015: Q&A – what happens if no one wins?  Although useful, it contains a few errors or questionable interpretations.  In particular, it says ‘The prime minister could resign, after being defeated on the Queen’s Speech for example, and hand power to the leader of the opposition, who would attempt to govern until 2020.  This raises the prospect of a change of governing party without an election – something that has never happened in Britain and would be likely to trigger a constitutional crisis.’

A switch of government, with no election, following defeat on a Queen’s Speech –  something that has never happened?

In the December 1923 general election, the Conservatives under Prime Minister Stanley Baldwin lost seats (having had a clear majority in the previous Parliament), but remained the largest single party.  (The Conservatives won 258 seats, Labour 191, and the Liberals 158.)  Rather than resign, Baldwin decided, as we entitled to do, to face the new Parliament and introduce a King’s Speech.  An amendment was moved from the Opposition to add the words : ‘But it is our duty respectfully to submit to your Majesty that your Majesty’s present advisers have not the confidence of this House’.  (For the debate, see HC Deb. 21 January 1924, vol. 169, cols. 532-685.)  The amendment was carried, Baldwin resigned, and the King invited the Labour leader, J. Ramsay MacDonald, to form a Government, which he did.  The country thus acquired its first Labour Government.  Labour governed as a minority.  The Liberals did not seek any agreed terms for supporting the government.  As Robert Blake wrote, ‘As it was they supported Labour from an entirely independent position, with no written treaty, not even an informal understanding.  Those Liberals who hoped for tacit, unspoken cooperation were soon disillusioned.  There was none.’

The Government did not last long.  In the October, it decided to treat an amendment to a motion of censure on the Campbell case as a vote of confidence and, when it was carried, MacDonald was granted a dissolution.  Under the Fixed-term Parliaments Act, that would no longer be possible.  The PM could still tender the Government’s resignation, but he could not request a dissolution.   The House could still express its lack of confidence in the Government in the same way that it did in January 1924 in that the wording of the amendment to the Queen’s Speech would demonstrate a lack of confidence, but would not trigger a general election as the wording is not that stipulated under section 2(4) of the Act.  The wording has to be precise to count.

Much of the current debate about what may happen in the general election and in its wake lacks historical depth.  Lack of knowledge of what happened in 1924 is just part of it.

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The impact of a local MP

Founder's Day Celebration GW0G2409Last Thursday I delivered the University’s Founder’s Day Lecture at Holy Trinity Church, Hull.  The picture shows me in full flow.  As mentioned in my earlier post, my topic was Thomas Ferens as a  parliamentarian.  Ferens was founder of the University and is well known as a successful businessman (he helped build Reckitts into a major international company) and benefactor (founding not only the University, but  also helping create, among other things, the Ferens Art Gallery and Hull Garden Village).  When he started working in Hull his salary was £70 a year.  When he died, his estate was valued at almost £300,000, most of which went to charities.  During his lifetime, he gave away more than £1 million.

He is less well known as a parliamentarian.  He sat in the House of Commons for near on 13 years (Feb. 1906 to Nov. 1918) as the Liberal MP for Hull East.  (He was an Asquith rather than a Lloyd George Liberal, his failure to support the Lloyd George Coalition effectively leading to the end of his parliamentary career.)  He was not a prominent MP, overshadowed by contemporaries such as the MP for Hull Central, Sir Mark Sykes (responsible for the Sykes-Picot agreement).  He was not a frequent speaker, but preferred questioning ministers.  His service in the House was precisely that.  He was not out to achieve anything for himself.  He had nothing to prove.  He was 58 when first elected and 71 when he lost his seat.  He didn’t like speaking and suffered from poor eyesight.  He was what Donald Searing would class as a constituency Member and one that promoted local interests as well as pursuing the concerns of individual constituents.   He was also ahead of his time on some of the wider issues he pursued, not least in terms of the rights of women, supporting not only women’s suffrage, but also pursuing the issue of female trafficking in Asia.  His service was combined with his other roles, essentially all coming together as part of his work on behalf of Hull.

For me, he was an obvious person to choose as the subject of the lecture.  He was the University founder.  He was also teetotal, a Methodist, who moved to and made his career in Hull and ended up in Parliament…

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What if a candidate dies?

Ballot-Paper-300x150Readers may recall that in the 2005 general election, the Liberal Democrat candidate in Staffordshire South died and the election in the seat was deferred.   A friend asked me recently why, following the death of former Eurovision singer, Ronnie Carroll, who had been nominated as a candidate in the current election, the election in the seat was not called off until a later date.  The answer is because Ronnie Carroll was not a candidate of a registered party.  Under section 24 of  the 2006 Electoral Administration Act, a returning officer must countermand notice of the poll if a candidate dies and that candidate is standing in the name of a registered political party.  However, if the candidate is not standing under the name of a registered party (and there are more than two candidates contesting the seat), then the election proceeds as scheduled.  (I was going to write ‘as normal’, but it is not normal to have a dead candidate on the ballot paper.)  The 2006 Act does make provision for what happens should the deceased candidate win the election, namely a fresh election.

The Act also makes provision for what happens if the Speaker seeking re-election dies during the election.  However, it makes no separate provision for what happens if a candidate contesting the same constituency dies.  In such a situation, the above rules apply.  If it is a candidate of a registered party, then the election is delayed.  However, it creates an interesting conundrum if the candidate dies on or shortly before the day of the general election, since the delay stipulated under the Act means that the Speaker may not be elected as an MP until after the new House of Commons has met for the purpose of electing a Speaker.  One could end up with a new Speaker being elected by MPs, with the previous Speaker being returned as the Speaker seeking re-election.  That would create an interesting situation….

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