There were no local elections in Leicester last week – but here’s a report from the Leicester Daily Mercury on 21 November 1891 of an election meeting in the Charnwood ward. Some of it might have a familiar ring to it…
The election was to fill a vacancy on the Council arising from the nomination of a sitting member as an alderman. The meeting itself, at Charnwood Street School, was in support of the Liberal candidate Mr John Hackett, described in the nomination papers as a ‘gentleman’, and was said to be ‘largely attended’. Cllr. Cowley ‘urged the Liberals in the ward to show no apathy on the day of the election. If the Liberals would only exert themselves on Monday there was no doubt that they would have a splendid majority, and the only chance which their opponents depended upon was a lack of enthusiasm on the part of the Liberals’. Cllr. Hind said ‘he was very much mistaken if Charnwood Ward did not show itself on Monday to be as Radical as the Spinney Hill Ward… Mr Benskin contended that Mr J.C. Vary [the Conservative candidate, a schoolmaster] could not properly describe himself as a friend of the working classes, unlike men like Mr Hackett who showed themselves to be real friends of the working classes by going Sunday after Sunday among them and working for their benefit’.
A meeting in support of Mr Vary was also held at Clipstone Street Primitive Methodist Schoolroom, at which he was described as the candidate who would best represent all classes in the ward. He was ‘a plucky candidate’, Mr W.J. Sheppard said, expressing ‘the belief that this time he would not receive a knockdown blow but would give one’.
Mr Sheppard was right. Mr Vary polled 872 votes against Mr Hackett’s 537 – a defeat attributed by Cllr Cowling to ‘the lady voters in the ward [who] had gone for Mr. Vary out of sympathy for his recent defeat’ [in the municipal elections earlier that month].* In Mr. Hackett’s own view, ‘shortcomings’ in Liberal communications in the ward had also contributed to ‘lethargy and indifference’ on the part of the electorate.
There were no socialist candidates in these elections. The Leicester Branch of the Independent Labour Party was founded in 1894 – but it would be interesting to know what proportion of the Charnwood ward electorate actually voted in this or the election earlier in November 1891. I haven’t been able to find out, but I suspect it might have been significantly higher than it tends to be now.
* Women still had no vote in elections to Parliament, but single or widowed women had been able to vote in municipal elections since 1872.