With 28,118 votes Shirley Williams gained the formerly strongly Conservative seat of Crosby. The by-election took place at an almost unprecedented state of division in British politics. With social unrest and both the Labour and Conservative parties in a state of flux.
The SDP had, at this point, not elected any MPs but did have an ever-growing group of former Labour and Conservative MPs in Parliament, as shown at its launch earlier that year.
A few months earlier Roy Jenkins had failed to gain my hometown seat in the Warrington By-election despite a massive swing from Labour, and Shirley Williams was promoted as the potential SDP candidate for the Crosby by-election. Although the seat was one of the wealthiest in the North West of England the party felt that Shirley would be the best candidate for the seat, having links with Liverpool, through her father, and with her being a practising Roman Catholic.
Always an effective and energetic campaigner Shirley ran a high visibility campaign and romped home in an historic win. It effectively delivered the SDP a 50% swing, which would have elected a House of Commons, if replicated across the UK, full of Alliance MPs.
It was probably, at that point, the most significant post-war by-election. Although there were important Liberal gains like Orpington, there was for a very short time a genuine belief that the SDP, with their Liberal allies, could ‘Break the Mould’ in British politics, and Shirley’s win 28 years ago today was a major moment in that.
Tarquin Fintim-Limbim-Whimbim-Lim Bus Stop-F’Tang-F’Tang-Olé-Biscuit-Barrel contested the election as Cambridge University Raving Loony Society polling 238 votes. Those of you who are Monty Python fans will recognise the gentleman concerned as being the winner of Luton in the 1970 ‘Election Night’, for the Silly Party. He later joined forces with Screaming Lord Sutch of the larger Official Monster Raving Loony Party.
Leaflets and the full results from the by-election can be seen here.