1958 Torrington by-election

The Torrington by-election of 1958, in Devon, England, was the first gain by the British Liberal Party at a by-election since Holland with Boston in 1929.

The election was caused by the accession of George Lambert, National Liberal and Conservative Member of Parliament for Torrington to a hereditary peerage as Viscount Lambert. He had held the constituency since its creation in 1950, with large majorities over Labour Party candidates. The Liberal Party had only contested the seat in 1950, although they then came second, with 25% of the vote. Lambert's father, also George Lambert, had held the predecessor seat of South Molton for much of its history, initially as a Liberal, but then as a National Liberal.

Although generally popular, the Conservative administration of Harold Macmillan had been hit by differences over economic policy, and in January 1958, all the Government's Treasury Ministers had resigned.

The Liberal Party had reached its lowest ebb in the 1951 general election, winning just 2.5% of the vote nationally, and gaining only six MPs. They had been reduced to five seats when they lost the 1957 Carmarthen by-election, but their fortunes had shown signs of a revival when they came a close second in North Dorset later in the year, and Rochdale early in 1958.

The Conservatives selected Anthony Royle, President of the Western Area Young Conservatives, a London-based insurance broker who had unsuccessfully contested St Pancras North in the 1955 general election. The Liberals chose Mark Bonham Carter, a publisher and advisor (and brother-in-law) to Jo Grimond who had unsuccessfully stood in Barnstaple in the 1945 election. Labour stood L. Lamb, who had been their candidate in Torrington in 1955.

The by-election was held on 27 March 1958. Following Granada Television's screening of the Rochdale by-election earlier in the year, BBC Television chose Torrington for their second election broadcast (after the 1955 general election). When the votes were counted, Bonham-Carter won a surprise victory, by just 219 votes - their first by-election victory since Middlesbrough West in 1945, and that achieved due to the war-time electoral pact. The Conservatives were beaten into second place, while Labour also lost votes and finished third.

For the Liberals there was a somewhat ironic situation. The previous year they had lost a seat to Lloyd George's daughter. Now they had gained a seat with Asquith's grandson.

Bonham-Carter lost the seat less than eighteen months later, in the 1959 general election, and failed to retake it when he stood again in 1964. In 1959, Royle chose to fight Richmond instead, winning a seat in the Commons. The Torrington by-election proved the first Liberal success in a long revival which continued with the 1962 Orpington by-election.

Torrington by-election, 1958[1]
Party Candidate Votes % ±%
Liberal Mark Bonham Carter 13,408 37.99 New
Conservative Anthony Royle 13,189 37.37 -27.68
Labour Leonard Lamb 8,697 24.64 -10.31
Majority 219 0.62 N/A
Turnout 35,294
Liberal gain from National Liberal and Conservative Swing
General election 1955: Torrington
Party Candidate Votes % ±%
National Liberal and Conservative George Lambert 20,124 65.05 -1.18
Labour Leonard Lamb 10,812 34.95 +1.18
Majority 9,312 30.10 -2.35
Turnout 30,936 69.20 - 7.20
National Liberal and Conservative hold Swing


  1. ^ "1958 By Election Results". Archived from the original on 2012-06-25. Retrieved 2015-08-14.


  1. ^ Wallace, William. The Liberal Revival. Cornell University. p. 27.