Sunday, April 25, 2010

Election 1951

It's General Election time. Since this blog is about Wolverton's past before 1960 I have no need to comment about which bunch of scoundrels I might vote for.
I was between 8 and 9 years old when the 1951 General Election came around so this was probably the first one of which I had any consciousness.
The two candidates were Frank Markham and Aidan Crawley and they had both been candidates the year before when the Labour Government had been to the polls. Crawley won on that occasion, retaining the seat he had won in 1945.
The backgrounds of the two candidates were strongly contrasted. Crawley came from a well-to-do family with lots of connections to the aristocracy. Markham was the son of a Stony Stratford Prudential Insurance Agent. Crawley went to Harrow and Oxford and effortlessly moved into the ranks of the governing classes. He was also a good cricketer, playing for Oxford University and later for Kent. I remember Donald Morgan, Headmaster of Wolverton Grammar School, once telling the story of how Aidan Crawley, playing in some sort of charity match, hit a six through one of the school windows. Frank Markham started work at McCorquodale's as an office boy for 5s per week. He subsequently studied at night school and won a scholarship to Oxford Univerity. My Aunt told me that he worked on the famous "Tutankhamun" archaeological site in the 1920s. I haven't been able to verify that. Both men did war service.
Markham campaigned as Major Markham. In those days people liked to advertise their war service and military rank was frequently carried into civilian life.
Wolverton and New Bradwell were solidly Labour in those days. Both towns were in the literal sense of the word "working class". That is, they had skilled tradesmen's jobs and drew a weekly wage. They were not oppressed but they had a firm sense of their own identity and where there interests lay. Unemployment was non-existent in Wolverton in 1951, but those in the professional classes were few in number and the so-called upper classes were non-existent. Clement Attlee came to Wolverton during the campaign and spoke on a soapbox outside the Wolverton Building Society - on the corner of Church Street and Radcliffe Street - to the assembly of cloth-capped workers one lunchtime. I wasn't there, but I was told that he couldn't be heard. There were no microphones back then.
Markham won the contest in 1951 by a mere 54 votes. He probably didn't draw many votes from Wolverton and New Bradwell, but made them up in the rest of the Buckingham constituency. He went on to retain the seat in subsequent elections until he retired in 1964, when the seat went back to Labour in the person of that egregious chancer, Robert Maxwell.
The careers of Markham and Crawley continued to draw contrasts. Whereas Markham had begun his political career as a Labour MP for Nottinghamshire and ended it as a Conservative MP; Crawley started as a Labour MP and, after a career with ITV news, became a Labour MP for a Derbyshire constituency.

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