It’s election time again in Britain. The televised debates between the main party leaders have been the talk of Twitter and Facebook; letterboxes are full of pamphlets with headline policies; the words ‘who are you voting for?’ fill you with dread, and then there’s the Milifandom – a fandom for Labour leader, Ed Milliband. It’s all strategy and fighting against apathy. But even still, I consider voting a privilege.There are a lot of parties out there, more than just Conservative, Liberal Democrat, or Labour. In recent months the Scottish National Party, the Green Party and UK Independence Party have all come into the limelight as ‘alternatives’ to the major parties.
But did you know that Arthur Conan Doyle stood for Parliament? In fact, he stood twice for the Liberal Unionist Party.
Who were they? The Liberal Unionist Party were a break off group from the Liberal Party who had held the power for most of the nineteenth century. The main reason they broke away was the disagreement over Ireland: the Liberal Unionists wanted to keep Ireland as part of the United Kingdom (hence being ‘unionist’).
Doyle’s reasons for joining the Liberal Unionists lay more in their policy on continuing the war efforts against the Boers in South Africa, which he felt needed to be completed. So, in 1900 Conan Doyle stood for election for Central Edinburgh and was beaten only by a few hundred votes (3028 to 2459) to the Liberal Party candidate. Conan Doyle did not allow himself to take the defeat to heart and in 1906 he stood for election again; this time for the constituency of Hawick Burghs. However, he was beaten again. The Liberal Unionists, on the other hand, still did well and held a coalition with the Conservatives for a number of years, but in 1912 the parties merged to become the Conservative Party we know today. (There’s a piece of political history you probably didn’t know!)
It is amusing to read Conan Doyle’s account of this time in his life in his autobiography. His words tell you he was grateful he didn’t win in 1900, and yet he chose to run again in 1906. He endured public spectacles including having to race horses, dance, and he dealt with particularly nasty hecklers, causing him to call it a ‘vile business’ and yet, it’s entertaining all the same because Doyle clearly thought so too. His love of the dramatic and his fantastic ability to tell tales helped his campaign hugely: he claims to have brought crowds to hysterical laughter and to tears. He clearly enjoyed the cleansing experience, and ultimately was content to keep to his political views to the newspaper letters and campaigns he ran from home. He was not able to win over the Scots; but as he said, ‘It was no light matter to change the vote of a Scotsman, and many of them would as soon change their religion.’ (p. 203)
In the RLG collection, Richard collecting hundreds of articles related to and written by Arthur Conan Doyle. Many of which are rare because they are from small, local papers. As such, I have dug out (with a help from Michael Gunton – head archivist) two local articles from the the time. A small peer into the election process in Scotland in the early twentieth century.
The first article is a letter from ACD explaining his opinion on the Ireland issue and the other reports that Doyle was to play cricket with the Hawick team. He was an expert cricketer after all!