The story of elections and the Members of Parliament of my home town of Hartlepool
|(This is just the Preface and Background of a book I am working ONon)
On the 19th of November 1868 Ralph Ward Jackson was elected as the first Member of Parliament for The Hartlepools. When Iain Wright was elected in a by-election on the 30th Sept 2004 he became the sixteenth person to represent Hartlepool in The House Of Commons.
The 19th century saw elections battled out between industrial magnates, this trend continued until the First World War. With the election of William George Howard Gritten in 1918 we entered the age of the “professional politician”.
The General Election of 2010 was the forty second election to be fought in Hartlepool. This book will take you through these elections and show you the characters involved set against the local and national background.
The Right to Vote
In the U.K. today every adult has the right to vote, this has not always been the case. Until the Reform Act of 1832 only men with money and property rights could vote. Women could not vote at all.
The ruling classes had a fear of the working classes, and a belief they should be kept in their place. As a result of this attitude the important cities of the Industrial Revolution (Manchester, Liverpool, Birmingham, etc) were barely represented in the House of Commons. Ancient constituencies, called rotten boroughs, returned members even though there were few voters. For example the village of Gatton in Surrey returned one MP yet only one man had the right to vote.
The system had never changed and those in power worked to ensure this continued despite the obvious abuses in the system. However the desire for political change grew, with pressure from the educated middle classes in addition to protests and riots from the working classes.
In 1830 William IV became king. He did not like the idea of change but he felt that if change was to take place it should be controlled by Parliament and not forced on the country by revolutionaries.
In 1832 the first political change in centuries took place, in the shape of The Great Reform Act. The act included the following changes:-
56 rotten boroughs were removed as constituencies.
30 small constituencies which returned two MP’s now only returned one.
The large industrial cities were given more MP’s in keeping with their size and importance.
In general the middle classes were given the right to vote.
The number of those who could vote rose from 435,000 to 652,000.
But for all these improvements there were still three major weaknesses:-
No women could vote.
Only one in seven men could vote
There was no secret ballot.
The acts impact was relatively minor in terms of those who could vote. However it was a start and there was no going back. In fact after 1832 the ‘new’ type of Parliament passed more reformist acts than any before it. These included numerous factory and mines acts which forbade the abuse of child and women workers.
In 1837 Queen Victoria came to the throne. Many would have expected there to be an improvement in the rights of women but this did not occur. The Queen did not believe in women’s rights, and the powerful men in society agreed with her.
The working classes were not represented by the Great Reform Act, however they began to organise themselves, and by the end of the century trade unions had developed for the working classes. Their political power was to lead to the birth of what is now called the Labour Party.The movement for change could not be stopped.
In 1867 the Second Reform Act was passed. This act included the following changes:-
Better off workers from the industrial cities could vote.
Those who could vote increased to 2.5 million.
45 constituencies were moved to towns and cities from small rural areas.
But no women could vote regardless of their wealth and there were still many poor men who were denied the right.
There were 30 million people in Britain so 2.5 million represented a small percentage of the population who could vote.
In 1872 the Secret Ballot Act was passed. This was a very important development as up to 1872 elections had been in public and voters had to vote in public. This left the system very open to abuse as the person voting might rent a house from a potential MP, or indeed be employed by him. If that person voted ‘incorrectly’ he might be evicted from his home, or lose his job. The act of 1872 stopped this absurd abuse and brought in secret voting. Men voted behind a curtain so no-one would ever know who he voted for. This law still exists today.
In 1884 the Third Reform Act was passed. This act included the following changes:-
All men paying an annual rental of £10 or all those holding land valued at £10 now had the vote.
Those who could vote increased to 5.5 million.
But no women could vote, regardless of their wealth.
Not all men could vote – 40% of adult males were still denied the right to vote.
In 1885 the Redistribution of Seats Act was passed. The act introduced the concept of equally populated constituencies. The act made the following changes:-
79 towns with populations smaller than 15,000 lost their right to elect an MP.
36 towns with populations between 15,000 and 60,000 lost one of their MPs and became single member constituencies.
Towns with populations between 50,000 and 165,000 were given two seats.
London increased its number of seats from 22 to 62.
After 1885, for the first time, the number of MPs connected to industry and commerce outnumbered the number connected to the gentry. This trend was accelerated by the agricultural depression of the late 19th century into the 20th century.
The Representation of the People Act 1918 stated that all adult men could vote as could the following women:-
Householders over the age of 30.
The wives of householders.
Occupiers of property with an annual rent of £5.
Graduates of British universities.
MPs rejected the idea of granting the vote to women on the same terms as men.
In 1919 Parliament passed the Sex Disqualification Removal Act which made it illegal to exclude women from jobs because of their sex.
A bill was introduced in March 1928 to give women the vote on the same terms as men. There was little opposition in Parliament to the bill and it became law on 2nd July 1928. As a result, all women over the age of 21 could now vote in elections.
Until the election of 1868 Hartlepool was in the County Durham South Division constituency.
County Durham was a county constituency which elected two Members of Parliament to the House of Commons from 1675 until 1832.
Because of its semi-autonomous status as a county palatine, Durham had not been represented in Parliament during the medieval period. By the 17th century it was the only part of England which elected no MPs. In 1621, Parliament passed a bill to enfranchise the county, but James I refused to grant the royal assent. A similar bill in 1624 bill failed to pass the House of Lords.
During the Commonwealth, County Durham was allowed to send members to the First and Second Parliaments of the Protectorate. The privilege was not maintained when Parliament reverted to its earlier electoral arrangements from 1658.
After the Restoration, Durham’s right to return MPs was recognised in 1661, and finally confirmed by statue which came into effect in 1675.
In 1832 the county was split for parliamentary purposes into two county divisions. These were the South Division (with a place of election at Darlington) and North Durham (where voting took place at the City of Durham). Each division returned two members to parliament. Hartlepool was in the South Division.
The last election in South Durham before Hartlepool got its own MP was in 1865. The two gentleman elected were Joseph Whitwell Pease and Charles Freville Surtees.
Sir Joseph Whitewell Pease was born in Darlington 23rd June 1868, eldest son of Joseph Pease, the railway company promoter. He was a Quaker, Industrial and Banker.
In 1865 he was elected Liberal MP for South Durham. He held this post for 20 years until the 1885 Redistribution Act. From then he sat for Barnard Castle until his death in1903.
Charles Freville Surtees was born in Heighington 13th November 1823, son of Robert Surtees. He was a High Sheriff of Durham, residing at Mainsforth Hall in Ferryhill. He served in the 10th Hussars from 1843 to 1853.
In 1865 he was elected Conservative MP for South Durham. He only held the post for three years, losing it at the election in 1868.
He died 22nd December 1906 and was buried at St Michaels in Bishop Middleham.
Representing Hartlepool © 2011 Colin Coates