Ay, Minister!

| November 5, 2013 | 0 Comments

James Slater, editor of Bradford’s The Local Leader magazine, explores the history of Shipley MPs from 1885 to the present.

Shipley is a highly politically diverse constituency, with pockets of support for all three main parties. Windhill and Wrose is a strong point for the Labour Party, Wharfedale (including Menston) for the Conservative Party and Baildon for the Liberal Democrat Party. And in the last 100 years, Shipley has been represented by an MP from all three main parties. We look at the rather intriguing history of Shipley’s key politicians.

1885-1892: JOSEPH CRAVEN (LIB)

Joseph Craven was the first MP for the new Shipley constituency, elected in 1885. He was a wool spinner at a Thornton mill before becoming a member of the Bradford Chamber of Commerce. He was also a governor at Thornton School and at the Crossley Orphanage. In 1885 Joseph won 59.3% of the vote, beating the Conservatives’ L. Hardy. He won the 1886 election uncontested and stood down at the 1892 election. He died in 1914.


Sir William Pollard Byles was one of the first Lib-Lab MPs in the country – a founding part of what eventually became the Labour Party. He was born in Bradford and was the son of William Byles, the proprietor of The Bradford Observer newspaper. After his father died, he succeeded to the newspaper, renamed The Yorkshire Observer. He was a pacifist and actively opposed the Boer War. In 1892, he was elected MP but lost the seat after just three years – losing by just 78 votes in 1895. In 1900 he stood for Leeds East as a Labour candidate, but was defeated. He returned to the Commons in 1906 as the Liberal MP for Salford North and was knighted in 1911. Byles kept Salford North until his death in October 1917.


Flannery was a renowned engineer and naval architect. He was head of Flannery, Baggally and Johnson Marine Engineering, which had offices in London, Liverpool and Rotterdam, and was also a director of the London and South Western Bank.

Between 1900 and 1906, he was president of the Railway Clerks’ Association. He was appointed JP for Surrey in 1892, for Kent in 1895, knighted in 1899 and appointed JP for Essex in 1904.

In 1895, he was elected as MP for Shipley with a majority of 78 votes and re-elected in 1900 with a lowered majority of 61. He chose not to stand in the 1906 election and instead returned to parliament in January 1910 as the Conservative MP for Maldon in Essex. He was created a baronet in 1904.


Percy Illingworth was the Liberal MP for Shipley for nine years, and in his last three years held a very important role in Asquith’s Government. He was educated at Cambridge and went on to serve in the Second Boer War.

Percy held many government roles during his time as an MP. From 1906 to 1910 he was the Parliamentary Private Secretary to the Chief Secretary for Ireland; from 1910 to 1912 he was a Junior Lord of the Treasury, and from 1912-1915 he was Parliamentary Secretary to the Treasury.

Sadly, in 1915 he died suddenly from food poisoning caused by a bad oyster at the age of 45. He had been nominated to the Privy Council but died before he could be sworn in. Percy was one of Shipley’s more colourful MPs and had a reputation for taking matters to the heart of government.

Percy Holden Illingworth (centre row, third from left) playing rugby for his college at Cambridge in 1889

Percy Holden Illingworth (centre row, third from left) playing rugby for his college at Cambridge in 1889


Partington was born in Bury and educated at Rossall School. He was Justice of the Peace for Cheshire and Worcestershire and Deputy Lieutenant for Worcestershire. He was elected as an MP for High Peak in Derbyshire in 1900 and remained until his defeat in 1910. In March 1913, he was appointed an alderman on London County Council and remained on the council until 1920.

He returned to parliament in 1915 at an uncontested by-election in Shipley. Under a cross-party agreement, any seats left vacant during World War I were to be uncontested and a representative from the party previously holding the seat would win. He stood down in 1918 to focus more on London. Partington died at home in 1935, aged 62.


Rae was privately educated at Batley Grammar School. After leaving he went to work in the wool business. He sat as councillor for Pateley Bridge on the West Riding County Council before standing for parliament in 1918 as the Coalition Liberal candidate. (Coalition Liberals wanted a coalition government between the Liberals and Conservatives so David Lloyd George could become prime minister.) In the Shipley 1918 election it was a straight fight with Tom Snowden, the Labour candidate, who later became a long-standing Accrington MP. Rae won with a majority of over 11,000 votes. He stood again in 1922, but with competition from a stronger Labour Party his majority was reduced to just over 1,000. He was knighted in 1922 and stood down as MP the following year, succeeded by the first Labour MP for the constituency. Rae had a history of heart trouble and on New Year’s Eve 1928 in Batley, he was taking tea with his fiancée when he collapsed and died aged 68.


William Mackinder became the first Labour MP for Shipley. He won the seat for the first time in 1923, on his second attempt. He was re-elected in 1924 and 1929. He sadly died in September 1930 and the resulting by-election was won by Conservatives.


Lockwood was elected in a November 1930 by-election and was re-elected in 1931. However, he was not re-selected as Conservative candidate for the 1935 general election. He stood as an “independent conservative” but lost the seat, finishing in last place with around a 13.5% share of the vote.


Arthur Jones is perhaps the Shipley MP with the most interesting story. Jones was originally a civil servant, but he was imprisoned in World War I as a conscientious objector, forcing him to change careers.

As a young man, Jones became involved with the Liberal Christian League and joined the Liberal Party. However, he began to question their politics, dropping his membership of the Methodist Church and joining the Independent Labour Party.

In 1916 Jones began organising anti-conscription meetings. He was called up in autumn 1916 but as a pacifist he refused to serve. He was not granted an exemption and was imprisoned from September 1916 until April 1919. Whilst in prison he read further on history, politics and economics and made many useful contacts who later became senior members of the Labour Party.

He was later appointed secretary of the National Union of Docks, Wharves and Shipping Staffs and edited their newspaper. When they joined the Transport and General Workers’ Union in 1922, he was promoted to national secretary.

After the formation of the National Government, he went along with TGWU colleague Ernest Bevin in joining the Socialist League. When the ILP didn’t affiliate with the main Labour Party, he resigned and joined the main party. He didn’t originally want to be an MP, but observation of events in Germany led him to stand in Shipley.

When Labour won the election in 1945, he was appointed as the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State at the Colonial Office, later promoted to head of the department. He visited and reported in depth on the West Indies, Africa and Asia and even persuaded Commonwealth countries to erect monuments in honour of the then recently deceased King George VI.

At the 1950 general election, his Shipley seat was subject to boundary changes and was vigorously challenged by the Conservatives. He lost by 81 votes, becoming one of the biggest ministerial casualties of the election. He tried on many occasions to return to parliament – in 1950 for Bristol South East (beaten in the selection process by Tony Benn) and in 1951 for Romford. He turned to writing and lecturing about British overseas colonies before returning to parliament in 1954 for Wakefield. Due to ill health he was forced to resign a decade later and died in 1964.


Geoffrey Hirst was from a Yorkshire military family. He went into industry, eventually becoming president of the Leeds Chamber of Commerce and chairman of the East and West Riding Yorkshire Regional Council of the Federation of British Industries.

Hirst was called up to the army in the Second World War, where he served with the Royal Artillery. In 1950 he was elected as the Conservative MP for Shipley and remained on the backbenches, becoming chair of the Conservatives’ Parliamentary Trade and Industry Committee. He spoke often on the issue of the declining textiles industry. He was a staunch right-winger who supported an aggressive policy over the Suez Canal.

In June 1963, Hirst called for a “new and younger leadership” after the next general election, an indirect call for Harold Macmillan to resign. With Heath as Conservative party leader after 1965, Hirst became more and more disillusioned with the leadership. On 10th July 1966, he announced that he wanted to give up the Conservative whip because the party wouldn’t vote against the Wilson Government’s Prices and Incomes Bill. He sat through the rest of the parliament as an Independent Conservative and didn’t attempt to retain his seat in 1970.


The Right Honourable Sir Marcus Fox MBE was a prominent figure in Conservative politics at both a local and national level. He rose to fame as chairman of the 1922 Committee and directly oversaw the selection of Conservative candidates for the 1979 election (when Margaret Thatcher was first elected prime minister).

An interesting fact is that Fox attended dancing lessons with his twin sister and here met the future Speaker of the House, Betty Boothroyd!

Fox served in the Green Howards as a Lieutenant and began his political career when he was elected to Dewsbury Council in 1956, staying until 1963 (the same year he received an MBE). He was also a bank clerk, Woolworth’s sales manager and a company director.

He unsuccessfully contested the Dewsbury seat in 1959 and Huddersfield West in 1966, and was eventually elected MP for Shipley in 1970. He served as a whip under Edward Heath and as a junior minister under Thatcher. He was returned to the backbenches in 1981, but rose to become chairman of the prestigious 1922 Committee – becoming vice-chairman in 1983 and chair in 1994. He was knighted in 1986 and became a member of the Privy Council in 1996.

Fox lost his seat in the Labour landslide of 1997, ousted by 24-year-old Labour candidate Chris Leslie. Fox subsequently retired from politics to his Yorkshire home. He passed away in March 2002.


Chris Leslie was elected in the 1997 Labour landslide, which saw 18 years of Conservative government topple so suddenly.

He was born in Keighley in 1972 and attended Bingley Grammar School. He gained a BA in Politics and Parliamentary Studies in 1994 and an MA in Industrial and Labour Studies in 1996, both from the University of Leeds. From 1994-96 he worked in an office, then worked as a political research assistant in Bradford from 1996-97.

He was selected as the Shipley parliamentary candidate in 1997 at the age of 24, overturning Marcus Fox’s 12,382 majority into a 2,966 for him at his election. The seat neighbours his home town of Keighley, which was also won from the Conservatives in the same year.

Leslie was the “Baby of the House of Commons”: the youngest serving MP (and he kept this title until 27-year-old David Lammy won the Tottenham by-election in 2000). He was then appointed Parliamentary Private Secretary to Lord Falconer. He held his seat in 2001 but with a halved majority. In his first term, he never rebelled against a Government position.

Shortly before he turned 30, he became a junior minister in the Cabinet Office. The year after he was appointed Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State to the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister and moved on to hold the same position at the Department for Constitutional Affairs.

He lost his seat to Philip Davies in the 2005 general election by 422 votes. At that time, Shipley was the only constituency in West Yorkshire to be represented by a Conservative MP.

In 2010, he returned to Parliament as MP for Nottingham East and is now Shadow Financial Secretary of the Treasury.


Philip Davies was born in Doncaster in 1972. He joined the Conservatives in 1988 and two years later became the manager of Marilyn Davies Bookmakers. In 1993 he was employed by Asda as a cashier, rising to become a deputy customer service manager in 1997. In 1999 he became customer services project manager in Leeds, leaving in 2005 upon his election to parliament.

Shipley wasn’t his first election – in 2001 he had unsuccessfully contested Colne Valley. In 2005, he was elected MP by just 422 votes. He made his maiden speech on 7th June 2005, mentioning Titus Salt and Saltaire. In 2010, he remained in his seat with a majority almost 25 times what he had seen previously – just under 10,000 votes. He serves on the executive committee of the 1922 Committee and is also a member of the Parliamentary Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee. He is rated one of the Conservative party’s most rebellious MPs – for example, he was one of the backbench rebels who voted against military action in Syria.

In February 2013, it was reported that he was to be investigated by the Parliamentary Standards Commissioner after a complaint was filed claiming he received over £10,000 in benefits from companies with links to the gambling industry which he didn’t fully declare. He was later forced to apologise for breaching the parliamentary code.

Davies is very opinionated and often speaks out on a range of different subjects. His views on the minimum wage, for example, proved controversial: he called for it to be scrapped and, in 2001, he suggested that disabled people should be allowed to work for below the minimum. He is a Eurosceptic and has often called for complete withdrawal from the European Union.

His father is former Mayor of Doncaster Peter Davies, who has been a member of many political parties including Labour, the Conservatives, UKIP and the English Democrats. He is now Independent. He was the elected Mayor of Doncaster from 2009 to 2013, when he lost his mayoralty.

Philip Davies said: “The Shipley constituency is incredibly diverse. It still has lots of successful manufacturing businesses but it also has places of real deprivation. However, it is the people that make the Shipley constituency so special. Down-to-Earth, straight-talking, common-sense people who are the salt of the Earth.”

The Local Leader

The Local Leader magazine

James Slater is the editor of The Local Leader magazine, a tri-annual publication run by two 15-year-old students from Shipley. The magazine mixes politics, history, regeneration and current affairs to bring together the communities of Bradford, Shipley, Baildon, Wrose, Idle, Thackley, Five Lane Ends, Eccleshill, Undercliffe, Low Moor and Wibsey.

The magazine prints 2500 copies and also has thousands of online readers. Previous scoops have included an interview with Keighley-born former political advisor Alistair Campbell.

Read their back issues online at thelocalleader.co.uk

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