1982 Glasgow Hillhead by-election
Glasgow Hillhead parliamentary seat
Hillhead had been held by the Conservatives at every election since its creation in 1918. Galbraith himself had held the seat since the 1948 Glasgow Hillhead by-election. However, his majority had been gradually reduced, and even in the 1979 election which the Conservatives won, the Labour Party had continued to gain ground.
The Labour Party had suffered a split in 1981, with the Social Democratic Party (SDP) formed by the "Gang of Four" prominent figures: David Owen, Bill Rodgers, Shirley Williams and Roy Jenkins. The SDP had several Parliamentary seats held by defectors from Labour, and one by a defector from the Conservatives, while Williams had won the 1981 Crosby by-election for the party, leaving Jenkins as the final "Gang of Four" member without a seat in the House of Commons. He contested the 1981 Warrington by-election, coming a close second, and remained keen to fight a winnable seat. Within days of Galbraith's death, Denis Sullivan, the chairman of the SDP in Scotland, indicated that the majority of the party in Scotland wished Jenkins to be their candidate at the by-election.
Labour's candidate for the seat in 1979, Richard Mowbray, had defected to the SDP. Coupled with a largely middle class electorate and a third place in 1979 for the Liberal Party, who had since agreed an electoral pact - termed the 'Alliance' - with the SDP, the party considered Hillhead to be a target seat. Sullivan stated while they regretted the death of Galbraith, the SDP welcomed the chance of giving Scots the opportunity to show support for the Alliance and indicated he thought the SDP could do well, comparing the situation to the previous year's Croydon North West by-election won by the Alliance. The candidacy of Jenkins was not immediately assured, however: the Hillhead Liberal association had already selected a candidate, Chic Brodie, and had been actively campaigning in the constituency since the last election. Brodie had previously been in dispute with the SDP when he refused to withdraw as a council candidate in an election to Kyle and Carrick District Council. He initially criticised the fact that the SDP and Liberals were 'haggling only hours' after Galbraith had died, but did say he would act in the best interests of the Alliance. It was only after a "tense and uncomfortable" discussion at Jenkins' house, involving various Liberal and SDP figures, that a resolution was agreed which safeguarded the nomination of Jenkins as the Alliance candidate.
The Conservatives hoped to hold the seat, but were behind in the polls. Mooted candidates for the party included the early favourite, Len Turpie, a lawyer and leader of the Conservative Group on Strathclyde Regional Council. Turpie was also the husband of the chair of the local Conservative Association. Another name mentioned as potential Conservative candidate was Anna McCurley. Ultimately the Conservatives ran Gerry Malone, a local lawyer. Malone called for cuts in welfare and the reintroduction of hanging.
Labour faced a struggle to win the seat, but hoped their lead in the polls would translate to a by-election victory. They stood David Wiseman, a local councillor and community worker who had previously been known for his research into the Loch Ness Monster. He was also known as a Bennite.
The Scottish National Party (SNP) had contested the seat for many years, and in recent elections had won around 10% of the vote. They stood George Leslie, a local vet, and campaigned for Scottish independence, with a particular focus on Jenkins' background in England and Wales. The Ecology Party, then little-known, stood Nicolette Carlaw, who focused her campaign on nuclear disarmament and stated that, if she was not standing, she would call on her supporters to vote for Leslie, as he looked after her cats.
An organisation named the "Social Democratic Party", founded by Donald Kean in Manchester in 1979 and unconnected with the organisation Jenkins represented, stood Douglas Parkin. Parkin changed his name by deed poll to "Roy Harold Jenkins" in an attempt to confuse voters who wished to vote for the better-known candidate, whose full name was "Roy Harris Jenkins".
Jack Glass, a Protestant pastor and founder of the local Zion Sovereign Grace Baptist Church, stood in opposition to a planned visit to Scotland by the Pope, whom he described as the "antichrist", while veteran by-election candidate Bill Boaks stood as "Public Safety Democratic Monarchist White Resident".
Within days of Galbraith's death, The Glasgow Herald predicted that the by-election contest to succeed him would be 'one of the most fiercely contested in Scotland this century'. The campaign was lively and closely fought. Some newspapers initially thought that Jenkins was not keen to represent a Scottish constituency and would struggle to win the seat. Polls consistently showed Jenkins with a narrow lead of around 1% over Malone, leaving Wiseman in third position.
Labour sent big name politicians, including Tony Benn and party leader Michael Foot, to address large public meetings in the constituency. The party also persuaded Wiseman to remove the earring he always wore. Jenkins brought the other members of the Gang of Four to campaign, Williams describing the by-election as "the last chance for Britain to find a democratic, moderate but radical alternative to revolution." Jenkins was absent from the final weekend of campaigning, prompting questions about his health.
Malone was supported by John Nott, Geoffrey Howe and Ted Heath, and the Conservative government announced a major investment into Glasgow's Queen's Dock. Malone later claimed that Jenkins' supporters used the issue of his Roman Catholic faith to dissuade the mostly Protestant voters from supporting him.
The SDP took "Roy Harold Jenkins" to court, claiming that his attempt to confuse voters constituted a corrupt practice under the Representation of the People Act. They failed to convince the court. However, the SDP was permitted to draw attention to the position of their candidate on the ballot paper, and did so in a wide variety of ways. Among these was placing volunteers near polling stations on the day of the election, wearing sandwich boards reading "The real Roy Jenkins is number 5". One of these volunteers was Charles Kennedy, who in 1999 became leader of the Liberal Democrats.
Jenkins won with just over one third of the votes cast. Malone took second place, just ahead of Wiseman, the share of the vote for both parties falling, while Leslie slightly increased the SNP share. The other candidates won less than a thousand votes between them, Roy Harold Jenkins' intervention not influencing the final result. Boaks took only five votes, the lowest total ever recorded for a candidate in a by-election who had not withdrawn. Such was the public attention that turnout was actually up from the general election.
|Social Democratic||Roy Jenkins||10,106||33.4||N/A|
|Conservative||Gerry Malone||8,068||26.6||- 14.4|
|Labour||David Wiseman||7,846||25.9||- 8.5|
|SNP||George Leslie||3,416||11.3||+ 1.2|
|Protestant Crusade against the Papal Visit||Jack Glass||388||1.3||N/A|
|Social Democrat (1979)||Roy Harold Jenkins||282||0.9||N/A|
|Public Safety Democratic Monarchist White Resident||Bill Boaks||5||0.0||N/A|
|Social Democratic gain from Conservative||Swing|
The result meant that the SDP now had 29 members of parliament. The Glasgow Herald argued that the Conservatives, despite losing the seat, would be able to claim that they had done well to finish second, while stating that the result 'humiliates Mr Foot'. The newspaper also predicted that the result threatened the Conservatives' hold on the vacant seat of Beaconsfield, where a by-election was pending. The same newspaper also noted that while the SNP had hoped the result would 'put them back on the political map', their candidate had lost his deposit and the result meant SDP could establish themselves as Scotland's third party.
As Jenkins had secured a place in Parliament, he felt able to contest the SDP leadership election in July, winning narrowly. Following a disappointing result for the party in the 1983 general election, in which Jenkins retained the seat, he resigned the post, and in 1987, he lost Hillhead to the Labour candidate, George Galloway.
Malone won the Aberdeen South seat in 1983, and later sat for Winchester. Labour largely blamed their poor result on infighting within the party, and in particular its far-left members. Leslie stood again for the SNP in Hillhead in 1983 but saw his vote halve.
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- Parkhouse, Geoffrey; Clark, William; Petrie, Gordon (26 March 1982). "A perfect birthday gift for the SDP". The Glasgow Herald. Retrieved 15 July 2018.
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