Swings and Roundabouts

Labour won a 30,000 majority in the last election, but the red flag didn’t always fly in Chorlton. Andrew Simpson looks back.

I wonder what an ardent Conservative or Liberal voter, born in the Chorlton of the late 19th century, might have made of that result.

The power and influence their parties once held is reflected in two of ‘New Chorlton’ landmark buildings of the time, both set up by subscription.

The Conservative Club (Wilbraham Road) opened in 1892. With its public hall and impressive clock tower, it marked the Tories out as a force to contend with and, for a large part of the 20th century, Chorlton returned Conservative MPs and councillors.

We had a Tory MP between 1918 and 1923, and then from 1931 until Fred Silvester lost his seat to Keith Bradley in 1987.

The Liberals may well have taken heart that political fortunes can fall as well as rise, so their decision to convert Lauriston House (Manchester Road, pictured above) into a permanent home for the Liberal Association was a sound one.

It opened in 1897, admidst a fanfare of optimism. Nationally, however, the years around the opening of the club were not good for the Liberals. They lost the 1895 and 1900 elections and would not return to power until their landslide victory – and absolute majority – under Henry Campbell-Bannerman, in 1906.

Locally they fared better, both on the old Withington District Council and on Manchester City Council (after our incorporation into the city in 1904). By the 1920s, it was reported that: “There are few wards in which Conservative and Liberal opinion is so nicely balanced. Of the eight elections that have been fought in Chorlton since 1920, four have been won by the Conservatives and four by the Liberals.” (‘The Chorlton By-Election’, Manchester Guardian, December 18, 1928).

By the early 1930s the Liberals faced a growing challenge from Labour, which split their vote. They saw their sitting councillor, Lady Shena Simon, lose to the Conservatives in 1933.

Labour wouldn’t win a council seat in Chorlton until 1986, defeating the Conservative candidate by a significant margin. And while they failed to win in 1987, they consolidated their position, winning all three seats in 1988. Not that they had it all their own way: the Liberal Democrats held two of the three Chorlton seats between 2008 and 2011.

In the last few years, the Liberal Democrat share of the vote has fallen, and in the years since 2006, the Conservatives have never won more than 7% of the total vote locally.

The Liberal Club quietly passed away and the building became the Lauriston Club.

The Conservative Association lingered on but finally called it a day and their grand building, with its Public Hall was sold to a developer.

It is a reversal of fortune matched across south Manchester, leaving a political landscape that our visitors from the political past would not recognise.

Next time: the story of the Labour Party in Chorlton