Churchill Fails in Oldham By-Election
By the summer of 1899 Winston Churchill , though still only 24, had done much: on his 21st birthday he had come under fire in Cuba; he had seen action on the North-West Frontier; and in 1898 as a Hussar officer in the Sudan had been in the last full cavalry charge by British soldiers. But it was more personal contacts, and particularly his late father’s name – Lord Randolph Churchill had been Leader of the Commons and Chancellor of the Exchequer in his time – which saw him selected as one of the candidates for the double by-election in Oldham in July 1899. Plus ça change.
The unusual situation of a double by-election came about because of the death of one sitting MP and the long-term illness of the other, who agreed to resign his seat (actually taking stewardship of the Manor of Northstead) at a moment propitious to the Conservative party to which both he and his late colleague belonged.
Why the Conservatives forced the double by-election is unclear: they were at the time unpopular and their organisation in Oldham was fragile. To make matters worse their Liberal opponents put up a much respected former mayor of Oldham who provided local knowledge and a millionaire’s son who provided finance.
Churchill campaigned vigorously but with little political skill, changing his views, misdirecting effort, and alienating several important groups – he was anti-women’s suffrage for example. The Liberals were far better organised. Winston learned much from the exercise, but came third, 1294 votes short of winning a seat.
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