Bethnal Green: Parliamentary Representation

Pages 202-203

A History of the County of Middlesex: Volume 11, Stepney, Bethnal Green. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1998.

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BETHNAL GREEN, previously part of Hackney parliamentary constituency, was divided between the two constituencies of Bethnal Green North East and South West under the Redistribution of Seats Act of 1885. (fn. 2) They were combined from 1950 to 1973 in a single Bethnal Green constituency, which from 1974 was combined with Bow (fn. 3) and from 1982 with Stepney. (fn. 4) Bethnal Green North East was held by the trade unionist George Howell for the Liberal or 'Radical' party (fn. 5) from 1885 to 1895 and by the Indian lawyer M. M. (later Sir Mancherjee) Bhownagree as a Conservative from 1895 to 1905. (fn. 6) It reverted to the Liberals under Sir Edwin Cornwall, Bt., chairman of the L.C.C., from 1906 to 1922 and under the former mayor, G. Edmonds, for a further year. Labour held it from 1923 to 1929, the Liberal Nathan (later Baron) Churt, a solicitor, from 1929 to 1933, (fn. 7) and Labour thereafter. E. H. Pickersgill held Bethnal Green South West for the Liberals from 1885 to 1900 and from 1906 to 1911. S. Forde Ridley, the Conservative member between 1900 and 1906, was supported by the Costermongers' Union and by voters alarmed at Jewish immigration. (fn. 8) The Independent Labour party contested a byelection in 1911 but lack of trade union backing was probably responsible for its low vote. (fn. 9) The Liberals won in 1911, the Conservatives in 1914, and the Liberals again in 1922, when the Communist candidate Joe Vaughan obtained 32 per cent of the vote. In 1924 Vaughan's share was 41 per cent and the Liberals' 42 per cent. Percy Harris (later Sir Percy, Bt.) held the seat for the Liberals from 1922 to 1945 when it passed to P. Holman for Labour, who held Bethnal Green's single seat from 1950 to 1966. Bethnal Green has remained Labour, Ian Mikardo being the M.P. from 1974 to 1983 and Peter Shore thereafter. (fn. 10) Communists put up candidates in 1929, 1931, and 1950 and the National Front in 1945, 1974, and 1979 from 1984 to 1986 there were attempts by the far Left to oust Shore. (fn. 11)

Although higher than at borough elections, the turnout at parliamentary elections was usually less than 70 per cent of the electorate and slightly lower in Bethnal Green South West than in Bethnal Green North East. The figures were 83 per cent in North East and 80 per cent in South West in January 1910 and 83.5 per cent at a byelection in South West in 1914. The lowest, in 1918 after a considerable widening of the franchise, were 31 per cent in North East and 41.6 per cent in South West. For the single constituency the highest turnout was 77 per cent in 1950 and the lowest 50.4 per cent in 1970.


  • 1. Except where otherwise stated, inf. on elections, M.P.s., and voting percentages from F. W. S. Craig, Brit. Parl. Election Results, 1832-85; 1885-1918; 1918-49; 1950- 73; 1974-83.
  • 2. 48 & 49 Vic. c. 23, 6th schedule.
  • 3. F. W. S. Craig, Boundaries of Parl. Constituencies (1972), 173-5. From 1955 Bethnal Green constituency included part of Hackney M.B.: ibid. 49.
  • 4. The Times, 14 May 1983, 4a.
  • 5. Bennett, 'East End Newspaper Opinion', 231; The Times, 11 Jan. 1906, 10f.
  • 6. The Daily Telegraph, 30 Apr. 1992.
  • 7. Samuel, E. End Underworld, 343.
  • 8. The Times, 2 Jan. 1906, 4f; 16 Jan. 11c; Bennett, 'East End Newspaper Opinion', 52.
  • 9. The Times, 21 July 1911, 7f; 25 July, 13b; 31 July, 8e; Bush, 'Labour politics and society in E. Lond.' 53.
  • 10. The Times, 14 May 1983, 4a.
  • 11. Ibid. 1 Aug. 1984, 12b; 7 Mar. 1985, 10a; 25 May 1985, 2d; 20 Jan. 1986, 2h