Monday, March 17, 2008

Matthew Taylor's great-grandfather was Liberal MP for Harborough

This has to be the story of the day - or of any day - given my love of trivial connections. Except that this one is not trivial at all.

This morning's Times revealed that Matthew Taylor, the Lib Dem MP for Truro, who was adopted as a baby, has traced his birth mother. It turns out that she is the granddaughter of Sir Percy Harris, who was a prominent Liberal MP.

Sir Percy was first elected to the Commons for Harborough at a 1916 by-election. There was an official truce between the parties, but he had to overcome strong opposition from Thomas Gibson Bowles, an Independent candidate backed by Lord Northcliffe and the Daily Mail.

Like Charles Masterman, Harris was identified with the social reform wing of the Liberal Party but remained loyal to Asquith because he did not trust Lloyd George and his machinations with the Tories. The result was the he failed to receive the Coupon in Harborough in 1918 and the seat was lost to the Tories for the first time since 1891.

Sir Percy returned to the House as MP for Bethnal Green South West in 1922 and was to hold the seat until 1945, by which time he was the last Liberal MP left in London. When the Liberals ran Tower Hamlets in the 1980s canvassers reported meeting old people who still voted Liberal "because of Sir Percy". I have also heard it suggested that beer flowed freely on election day when he was the candidate.

Matthew finds himself a member of an interesting family. Sir Percy's wife Frieda was an artist and associate of the notorious Aleister Crowley. Just as interesting is Percy's son - Matthew's grandfather - Sir Jack Harris, who is still alive at the age of 102 and has recently published his memoirs in New Zealand. I wonder if he remembers the Harborough by-election of 1916?

Families do have an amazing way of rolling back the years. In a second Times article on the story, Matthew writes of his birth mother:

She has visited us twice and when I was Liberal shadow chancellor she sat in the Commons for the first time since she watched her grandfather speak as a little girl, to see my response to the budget.
And now I understand why Lord Bonkers has always taken such an interest in Matthew's career. I wonder what other stories he has not shared with me?

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