Tarquin Fintim-Limbim-Whimbim-Lim Bus Stop-F’Tang-F’Tang-Olé-Biscuit-Barrel – 238 votes, but Shirley Williams (SDP/Liberal Alliance) 28,118…

The 'Gang of Four' set out to break the mould of British politics and Shirley Williams was to become the first elected SDP MP, 28 years ago today...

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.

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Agent’s Training 10 – ‘Seeing Roy Jenkins and Shirley Williams lose made me drink lots at the party – it improved my performance the next day!’

Seeing Roy Jenkins losing Glasgow Hillhead and Shirley Williams failing to win Cambridge turned me to drink, with interesting consequences...

The 1987 General Election was unquestionably a very poor one for the SDP/Liberal Alliance.  The ‘Two Davids’ appeared to be not singing from the same song sheet and the parties did poorly.

SDP luminaries Shirley Williams and Roy Jenkins both went down to defeat in Cambridge and Glasgow Hillhead and moves began to merge the two parties in preparation for fighting the election afterwards.

But, before any of this could happen the local Alliance members in my constituency had a party that evening to see the election results come in. 

Being only 16 I was not used to drinking lots but as the results came in with Shirley Williams failing to gain Cambridge and Roy Jenkins losing to George Galloway in Glasgow I sank into the malaise that only Lib Dems can feel following an election – ‘another false dawn’.

So, when I was taken home at an unearthly time in the morning I was fully aware that the Alliance had been crushed, as were my hopes, but only slightly aware of my French literature mock ‘A’ Level later that morning.

Going to bed drunk at 5am, followed by an exam at 9am, and really being drunk until the following afternoon was no preparation for a 3 hour exam in a foreign language, as to be honest, I was struggling quite hard with English, let alone French.

Nonetheless I dutifully took the exam, in French, and left the exam room in only a slightly better state than when I went in.  I could not really discuss the questions with my school colleagues because I literally had no memory of anything that went on.

A few weeks later our French teacher, Mrs Percy, announced, ‘who thinks they have done badly in this exam?’ Unsurprisingly I raised my hand as to be fair I would have been surprised if I had even hit the paper with my writing. She looked at me rather severely and said, ‘No John, this is your best piece of work ever!’

I am sure there is a moral to this tale, but over the past 20 years I have still not been able to work it out!