History can be made in a moment

Local MP, John Grogan, looks at the history of Selby

The University of York is currently in the Selby parliamentary constituency. Maybe it’s because I studied history at university but I’ve always been fascinated by Selby district’s place in the history of England.

Selby Abbey is obviously at the heart of this story as the first such to be built in the North of England after the Norman Conquest and also the birthplace of King Henry I.

I will be attending a lecture at The Guildhall in London on February 7 to mark the centenary of another more recent political event in which Selby played a small part in the history of our nation – the 1906 General Election in which the Liberal Party obtained a majority of 132.

A century ago Selby district was part of the old Barkston Ash constituency. The sitting Conservative MP Sir Robert Gunter died in late 1905, and so on October 14, the people of Selby had their only chance to date (and I hope it’s a while before they have another one!) to vote in a parliamentary by-election. Although, in fact, only men who paid local rates could vote in 1905 since it was another couple of decades before the principle of one-person one-vote for parliamentary elections was established.

At the beginning of the 20th century, Barkston Ash was a safe Conservative seat where the Tory candidate had actually been returned unopposed in the previous two General Elections. Nevertheless, in a remarkable result a young barrister from Leeds – Joseph Andrews – won the by-election for the Liberal Party by 228 votes over his opponent Conservative George Lane Fox. The result had a national significance as it pointed the way to the forthcoming Liberal landslide. Arguably 1906, 1945 and 1997 represent the three great progressive landslides in British political history.

Liberal leader Henry Campbell-Bannerman referred to the “voice of Barkston Ash”, which had spoken for the nation. I feel a particular affinity with Joseph Andrews because he’s the only other non-Conservative to be elected to speak for Selby in Parliament. Sadly, he never took his seat because as soon as he was elected, a General Election was called and he lost the seat to Lane Fox.

In 1997 I became the first ever non-Conservative Member of Parliament for Selby to take up my seat in the House of Commons, yet the honour of being the first non-Conservative to win a parliamentary election in the area will always belong to Joseph Andrews. In 1909 he died at the age of just 36, but on February 7 I will remember the contribution he made to our local and national life. Sometimes in politics, as in life, all you need is a moment to leave a lasting impression.

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