Post by andrewteale on Jul 26, 2020 14:48:58 GMT
What could be more English than this? A beautiful late spring evening, a crowd of people, a road closed and people playing brass band marches. Yes, it's that gloriously chaotic day known as Whit Friday: a competition, nine village carnivals and the world's biggest pub crawl all rolled up into one unforgettable annual event which takes over this small corner of the Pennines.
This video will last long in the memory for the players of the Oldham (Lees) Band, whose performance of "The Wizard" above at the Denshaw 2019 contest - broadcast all over the world by an internet radio channel - netted them the top prize of £1,000. With another top prize and several podium finishes in other villages, Oldham (Lees) were £4,000 up once the night was done. Not bad for some interlopers from Lancashire.
Second in Denshaw that year were the indefatigable Brighouse and Rastrick band, resplendent in their purple and gold jackets, who walked away from Saddleworth that evening as the most successful band of the night with over £8,000 in prize money. Third were a long-standing "scratch" band who sum up the spirit of fun which underpins Whit Friday - a group of people who had only met that morning but (once you get over the shock of the Burberry and baseball caps) could certainly play. Chav Brass, seen here in the biggest and noisiest of the competitions, Delph, will certainly have earned their travel expenses back.
The great thing about Whit Friday is that, as long as you can play to a reasonable standard and pay the (usually nominal) entry fee, you can have a go. It's open to everyone. The judges will know from the sound who the top bands are, but there's still lots of prize money for those lower down the brass pecking order, youth bands, local bands, foreign bands and so on. Within the space of fifteen minutes a spectator might see a band of foreigners in national costumes playing weirdly-keyed instruments, followed by an top-rank ensemble like Black Dyke, followed by a group of local schoolchildren (the stars of tomorrow, perhaps?), followed by some university students in fancy dress whose desire for a night on the piss may be starting by now to impair their playing ability. All human life is here.
Apart from the foreigners and schoolchildren, all of the people attending Whit Friday have a vote, and a lot of them will be local. And Saddleworth has certainly seen some big political contests over the years as well as the brass ones. For most of those I'm going to refer you to the Colne Valley thread in the Yorkshire section, because Saddleworth - despite its position on the correct side of the Pennines - was part of the West Riding until it was annexed by Greater Manchester in 1974. Famous names to have represented Colne Valley included Victor Grayson, who won a 1907 by-election and served until 1910, ten years before his mysterious disappearance; Philip Snowden, the first Labour Chancellor of the Exchequer; Sir Patrick Duffy, who won a by-election in 1963 and in June 2020 joined the ranks of MPs who became centenarians; and Richard Wainwright, one of the few Liberal MPs of the 1960s and 1970s.
Lees, on the other hand, was an urban district within Lancashire; but it was cut off from the rest of Lancashire by the County Borough of Oldham. Classic textile towns both. As such Lees was from the beginning part of the two-seat Oldham constituency enfranchised by the Great Reform Act of 1832, a seat which also took in the parish of Crompton to the north. It's appropriate that one of the first two MPs for Oldham should have been one of the prime movers behind that first reform: William Cobbett, elected on a Radical slate along with industrialist John Fielden. Cobbett served until his death in 1835, and at the resulting by-election a Radical vote split enabled the Conservative candidate, John Frederick Lees, to defeat William Cobbett's son John Morgan Cobbett by thirteen votes, 394 to 381.
It took until 1872 for the Conservatives to win Oldham again, and ironically their candidate was none other than John Morgan Cobbett, whose relationship with radicalism and liberalism is best summarised as "it's complicated". Cobbett junior defeated Liberal candidate Edward Stanley by 294 votes, in the last by-election to be held before the introduction of the secret ballot, to get back a seat he had previously held from 1852 to 1865. He had lost to the Liberal slate in the 1868 general election, on an expanded franchise, by just six votes.
That expansion of the franchise by the Second Reform Act turned Oldham into a close and hard-fought marginal seat with very high turnouts. As stated, it voted Liberal in 1868, Conservative in 1874, Liberal in the 1877 by-election after John Morgan Cobbett died and in 1880, split its two seats in 1885, voted Conservative in 1886, Liberal in 1892 and Conservative in 1895.
In 1899 one of the Conservative MPs for Oldham died and the other resigned, precipitating a double by-election which was the first parliamentary contest for a young Morning Post war correspondent called Winston Churchill. Churchill's running-mate was James Mawdsley, an unusual choice of Tory candidate in that Mawdsley was a trade union boss: he was general secretary of the "Amalgamation", a politically-moderate cotton-spinners' union. This unconventional slate went on to lose two Conservative seats to the Liberal slate of Alfred Emmott and Walter Runciman by the relatively large margin of 53-47. Churchill did, however, get to the green benches at the general election a year later, defeating Runcoman by 425 votes.
Winston Churchill defected to the Liberals in 1904, and in 1906 chose to leave Oldham to seek election for Manchester North West; his seat in Oldham was held for the Liberals by John Bright, son of the Radical reformer of the same name. The Liberals held both seats comfortably in both 1910 elections; but then Liberal MP Alfred Emmott was elevated to the peerage, and Labour contested the resulting 1911 by-election. This led to a left-wing vote split and a gain for the Conservatives.
The 1918 redistribution cut the two-seat Oldham constituency down to just the county borough, with Crompton becoming part of the new Royton constituency and Lees ending up as a detached part of the Mossley constituency. This and the political chaos resulted in a dizzying series of Oldham MPs, after the incumbents Edmund Denniss (C) and William Barton (Lib) had been easily re-elected in 1918 with the coupon. The 1922 election returned Edward Grigg for the National Liberals and Oldham's first Labour MP, William Tout; Tout and Grigg (this time as an official Liberal) were re-elected in 1923; Tout lost his seat to the Conservatives' Duff Cooper in 1924; Grigg left the Commons in 1925 to become Governor of Kenya, and the Liberal candidate William Wiggins held the resulting by-election in a straight fight with Labour; the Labour slate of Gordon Lang and James Wilson won both seats in 1929; Lang and Wilson were crushed by the Conservative slate of Anthony Crossley and Hamilton Kerr in 1931; and in 1935 Kerr was re-elected more narrowly along with John Dodd who stood on the Liberal National ticket.
Things were more politically settled in the inter-war Mossley constituency, which throughout its existence was dominated by the figure of Austin Hopkinson. An industrialist from an academic family (his father had been vice-chancellor of Manchester University, and served as an MP for the Combined English Universities), Hopkinson had fought in the Boer War and the Great War, in between inventing a revolutionary coal-cutting machine. He got his leg-up into Parliament in 1918 when Oswald Cawley, the Liberal MP for Prestwich, was killed in action in Palestine. Hopkinson won the resulting by-election without a contest, and started his unconventional parliamentary career as he meant to go on by taking his seat while wearing his Royal Dragoon Guards uniform.
In days of olden time the parish of St Mary's, Prestwich was an enormous one, taking in Oldham and a large number of other towns to the north-east of Manchester. The Prestwich constituency of 1885-1918 took its cue from that; and when the seat was broken up in the 1918 redistribution Austin Hopkinson decided to seek re-election in the new Mossley constituency which (as well as Lees) covered his Audenshaw powerbase. He won easily with the coupon and that set him up for a long parliamentary career as essentially an independent MP. Hopkinson lost Mossley only twice: in 1929, to Labour; and at his last election in 1945 when he lost his deposit and Labour won convincingly.
The Royton constituency was a different kettle of fish again. As well as Royton and Crompton, it wrapped around the eastern side of Rochdale as far as Whitworth and it's fair to say that those towns were the constituency's political driving force. In the inter-war period Royton voted Conservative in every election except 1923 when the Liberals won, although those Tory wins were often the result of a left-wing vote split. Boundary changes in 1950 added Heywood (west of Rochdale) to the constituency and, in time resulted in political change: Joel Barnett, of the eponymous Formula, was the Labour MP for Heywood and Royton from 1964 until its abolition in 1983.
Meanwhile back in Oldham, the 1950 redistribution had divided the two-seat borough into East and West constituencies. Unusually, the East constituency - which now included Lees again - was the more middle-class of the two, as the rising ground provided some relief from the Manchester smog. Accordingly, Oldham East became a key marginal seat. At its first election Frank Fairhurst, a Wigan councillor and textile trade unionist who had been a Labour MP for Oldham since the Attlee landslide of 1945, held his seat over the Conservatives by just 393 votes; and Oldham East was one of the Conservative gains which delivered former local MP Winston Churchill's majority in the 1951 election. Ian Horobin, a poet who had served in both World Wars, became the only Conservative MP for Oldham East with a majority of 2,057.
Horobin's majority was cut to 380 votes in the 1955 election, and he faced a difficult re-election in 1959. While the rest of the country had never had it so good, the Lancashire textile industry was going through a depression. Several constituencies in south-east Lancashire swung to Labour in 1959 against the national trend; and Oldham East was the only English constituency which Labour gained from the Conservatives that year. (Rochdale was also a Labour gain compared with 1955, but Labour had won a by-election in the interim; Labour also gained four Tory seats in Scotland that year.) In retrospect, this was a bullet dodged for the Conservatives; Ian Horobin was sent to prison for four years in 1962 for a string of paedophile offences.
The new Labour MP for Oldham East was Charles Mapp, a railway goods agent and former Sale councillor who got into Parliament at his fourth attempt. In 1970 he handed over the seat to new Labour candidate James Lamond, who withstood the Heath landslide by just 760 votes. Lamond was at the time of his election the Lord Provost of Aberdeen and leader of the Labour group on Aberdeen city council; he had made his career as a draughtsman and was firmly planted on the left wing of the Labour party, being prominent in the pro-Soviet World Peace Council. After his first election, Lamond wasn't seriously challenged in Oldham East.
The 1983 redistribution brought huge changes to the constituency map in this corner of the Pennines, with Saddleworth needing to be incorporated within a Greater Manchester constituency. The Oldham East constituency had Royton moved into it and had its name changed to Oldham Central and Royton, reflecting its central position within the expanded Metropolitan Borough of Oldham. Having defeated Joel Barnett for the Labour nomination, James Lamond was able to continue his political career in a seat that was safe enough for Labour. Lamond retired in 1992 (going back to Aberdeen city council, which he sat on until 2007) and handed the seat over to Bryan Davies, who returned to the Commons thirteen years after losing Enfield North to the Conservatives.
Shaw, Crompton, Lees and Saddleworth, on the other hand, ended up in a brand-new constituency which was mostly drawn from the old Heywood and Royton seat but didn't include either of those towns. Littleborough and Saddleworth was projected to be a safe Conservative seat, and the Tory nomination was won by Geoffrey Dickens who was the outgoing MP for Huddersfield West over the hills. Described as "a moral populist, especially on sex crimes, and a devotee of the thé dansant", Dickens won three terms as MP for Littleborough and Saddleworth, with the Liberals or Liberal Democrats in second place on each occasion; in 1992 they cut the Tory majority to 4,494 and the seat became marginal.
Which was bad news when Geoffrey Dickens died from liver cancer in 1995, sparking a by-election at the nadir of the Major government. The Tories had rotten luck with by-elections in the 1990s and Little and Sad was no exception in that regard; the defending Conservative candidate John Hudson polled 24% of the vote, just over half of what Dickens had got three years earlier, and finished in third place. In second place with 34% was Labour candidate Phil Woolas, a former president of the NUS who was head of communications for the GMB trade union, and had previously been a TV producer for Newsnight and Channel 4 News. Other candidates included future UKIP MEP John Whittaker, a spoiler "Conversative" candidate, and the noted child-scarer Mr Blobby, all of whom were beaten by Screaming Lord Sutch. The Liberal Democrats had got up the noses of both major parties during the campaign, with the Conservatives upset that they had started hitting the pavements while Geoffrey Dickens was still on his deathbed, and Labour attacking the Lib Dem candidate for his high-tax and pro-drug policies; but it wasn't enough to stop Chris Davies winning the by-election for the Lib Dems with 39% of the vote and a majority of 1,993.
The 1997 redistribution abolished the Oldham Central and Royton constituency. Royton and the western half of Oldham town were transferred to Oldham West, while the remainder of the seat merged with Lees, Saddleworth, Shaw and Crompton to become the new seat of Oldham East and Saddleworth. Apart from some tinkering around the edges in 2010, this is the seat we have today. Oldham East and Saddleworth was projected to be a marginal Conservative seat, which prompted Oldham Central MP Bryan Davies to challenge Michael Meacher for the nomination in the much safer Oldham West; after Meacher won that battle, Davies announced his retirement (he was translated to the Lords and later served for several years as the government Deputy Chief Whip in the upper house). However, the Littleborough and Saddleworth by-election changed the expectations and the 1997 general election turned into a rematch between Lib Dem MP Chris Davies and Labour challenger Phil Woolas, in a seat and political context which was rather better for Labour than Littleborough and Saddleworth 1992 had been. This time Phil Woolas emerged the winner with a majority of 3,389, polling 42% against 35% for Davies; John Hudson, returning for the Conservatives, finished a poor third with just 20% in a seat his party were notionally defending. Chris Davies didn't return to the Commons after his defeat, instead serving four terms as a Lib Dem member of the European Parliament.
The 2001 and 2005 general elections returned very similar results to 1997, although the 2001 vote was marked by an 11% fourth-place finish for the BNP shortly after Oldham had suffered race riots. By this time Phil Woolas was on the ministerial ladder, and from late 2008 he was the junior minister responsible for borders and immigration. He brought forward controversial proposals on the rights of Gurkhas to settle in the UK, which were criticised as being too restrictive; the proposals led to a government defeat on the floor of the Commons, and Woolas was memorably forced into a climbdown on the issue by none other than Joanna Lumley.
Phil Woolas was clearly worried about his prospects of re-election as the 2010 general election approached its climax, and decided to go back to the negative campaigning playbook against his Lib Dem opponent Elwyn Watkins. This time, he overreached himself. Watkins lost by 31.9% to 31.6%, a majority of 103 votes, and launched proceedings in the Election Court regarding Woolas' campaign literature. In November 2010 the Election Court in Uppermill ruled that two claims made by Woolas, that Watkins had attempted to woo Muslims who advocated violence; and that he had refused to condemn extremists who advocated violence against Woolas, were false statements of fact in relation to Watkins' personal character or conduct. Under electoral law this is an "illegal practice", and Phil Woolas suffered the consequences: he lost his seat in the Commons and was disqualified from public office and struck off the electoral register for three years. Woolas sought judicial review of this decision in the High Court, which quashed a third count but didn't otherwise change the decision.
The resulting by-election in January 2011 was the first of the Coalition era, and resulted in new Labour candidate Debbie Abrahams being elected with an increased majority of 3,558 over Elwyn Watkins. Abrahams polled 42%, Watkins remained static on 32% and Conservative Kashif Ali had 13%. That was the last hurrah for Liberalism in Oldham East and Saddleworth, as the party fell to fourth place in 2015 and have stayed there since.
Debbie Abrahams remains as MP for Oldham East and Saddleworth and is now in her fourth term. Before entering politics her career was in public health, culminating with five years as chair of Rochdale Primary Care Trust; on the green benches her career to date culminated in being appointed as Jeremy Corbyn's first shadow work and pensions secretary, a position from which she was removed in 2018 in the wake of workplace bullying allegations. Abrahams is probably more notable now than her husband John Abrahams, a retired cricketer who was captain of Lancashire in the 1980s.
Following the December 2019 election Abrahams now has a new challenge, in that her seat has become marginal She held on last year with 44% of the vote against 40% for Conservative candidate Tom Lord, a majority of 1,503 votes; the Brexit Party and Lib Dems also saved their deposits.
For anyone who knows the seat, it's not difficult to guess which bits the Labour and Conservative votes come from. This is a very socially divided area. The home of the tubular bandage has some of the most deprived terraces you'll ever see. St Mary's ward (based on Mumps, the northern half of Glodwick and part of Oldham town centre) may be named after the mother of Jesus but its residents are majority-Muslim and majority-Asian; it is in the top 20 wards in England and Wales for those aged under 16, those looking after home or family and those who have never worked, and makes the top 100 for Islam and those working in wholesale and retail. The neighbouring wards of Alexandra and Waterhead also have significant Asian populations, while the other ward of Oldham proper included in the seat (St James' ward, based on Derker and Sholver) is almost all white; however, these wards aren't much less deprived than St Mary's.
The counterbalance to those four Oldham wards are the five wards covering Shaw and Crompton, Saddleworth and Lees. These are much more middle-class areas, and Saddleworth South (Uppermill, Greenfield, Friezland, Lydgate) in particular has a commuter profile with its train link to Manchester and Huddersfield. The Metrolink tram network has come to Oldham in the last few years, with a shiny transport hub at Mumps and stops at Derker, and Shaw and Crompton providing a frequent, if rather slow, link to Manchester and Rochdale.
At Oldham council elections, these days the four Oldham town wards are very solid for Labour, the five other wards less so. Shaw and Crompton remains a Lib Dem powerbase, but the party's hold on Saddleworth has slipped: Saddleworth South now has a full slate of Conservative councillors, while the other two wards are closely-fought marginals (Saddleworth North has voted for all three main parties in its three elections).
And it's Saddleworth where contests in this constituency will continue to be focused, as Labour and their opponents look to poll enough votes to outweigh their weak areas of the constituency. There have been many controversial contests here in the past, and no doubt much muck will be thrown in the future. And you know what there is where there's muck?