Wednesday, May 27, 2020

Wallace Lawler, James Haigh and the 1969 Birmingham Ladywood by-election

Wallace Lawler won the Birmingham Ladywood by-election for the Liberals in 1969, but lost the seat back to Labour in the following year's general election.

Lawler sounds like a pioneer of community politics, but I have never heard him talked about in Liberal or Liberal Democrat circles. 

This may be because his campaigning was tainted with racism - certainly that was the story I once heard from some Labour-supporting friends in Birmingham. No doubt I have readers who know all about this.

Click on the image above and you will go to a television report on the by-election. It includes interviews with all the candidates, Lawler included.

But he is not the one who interests me the most. The last interviewed - and the film siezes up while he is talking - is James Haigh. He was to finish last with only 34 votes.

Because Haigh taught me maths between 1973 and 1974.

Given my views on Welland Park College, Market Harborough, in that era - and on its mathematics department in particular - I am tempted to conclude that the electors of Ladywood got it about right.

But I shall rise above this because Haigh turns out to be an interesting figure.

At Ladywood he was standing for the Fellowship Party. This was an environmentalist and nuclear disarmament party that existed between 1955 to 2007. 

It attracted prominent figures as members, including Benjamin Britten, Sybil Thorndike, Vera Brittain, Donald Swann, Rowland Hilder and Leo McKern.

This was the only time Haigh stood for the party in a parliamentary election, but he had already fought Bromley as a nuclear disarmament candidate in 1964.

And a bit of scrabbling around on Google reveals that he was educated at Marlborough and the universities of Leeds and Oxford. In 1964 he is described as a primary school teacher and in 1969 he was teaching at Corby Grammar School. He had also taught in Nigeria at some point.

What I didn't know until I researched this post was that after Ladywood he joined the Liberal Party and fought the Kettering constituency (which then included Corby) at the 1970 general election and the two elections of 1974.

If I had known some of this at the time we might have got on better.


Walsie said...

What seems to be a Uni thesis on the politics of race in Birmingham loaded on to the web (see ) says this on Wallace Lawlor "Wallace Lawlor, the Liberal candidate in the 1969 Ladywood by-election, who had earlier come into conflict with Liberal Party headquarters for linking immigrants with disease,(20) wanted immigration into Birmingham stopped except for professionals.(21) A spokesperson for Birmingham City Council also called for immigrants to be diverted to other areas of the country.(22) Neither Lawlor nor the Council spokesperson gave any indication how this could be carried out. Did they expect passport controls to be set up all around Birmingham or the erection of a Berlin-style wall all around the city? As constructive proposals they bordered on the ridiculous. The Conservative candidate, Glass, wanted complete control of all immigration from all sources,(23) and the Labour candidate, Fisher, erstwhile not a proponent of firm controls, came over to the cause of limited immigration for the reason, as she put it, to safeguard immigrants.(24) The issue of immigration controls had become the means to win elections in areas adjacent to Handsworth and candidates were taken advantage of this new ‘seat winner’ (the citations on Lawlor relate to dated articles in the Birmingham Post and Evening Mail)

Anonymous said...

Wallace Lawler gets a favourable mention in Annette Penhaligon's biography of her husband David - they saw him as a genuine pioneer of community politics who was able to speak as a real "man of the people".
However, I recall Ian Stuart (former organiser of the Liberal Party in the Home Counties) telling me that he was present at the by election and heard the candidate touring the constituency in a loudspeaker van, saying "Wallace Lawler says 'Send Them Back'!"

Jonathan Calder said...

Thank you both for these insights.

pwainewright said...

I met a Liberal activist in the early 1980s who said she had been inspired by the community politics of Wallace Lawler, who I had not heard of at the time (or since, until reading this post reminded me). She didn't mention the anti-immigrant stance and never showed such views herself, but knowing this now explains why no one else ever celebrated any part he may have played in the rise of community politics in the Liberal Party of that time.

Jonathan Calder said...

I have never heard Lawler mentioned again in Liberal circles either.