the first by-election after the defeat of Labour in October; a knife-edge majority of 47; “the eyes of the nation upon Brighouse and Spenborough; Boycott month in Africa Year; the Government decision to set up an early-warning station at Fylingdales: surely, the ingredients for a vital election, touching every issue which dominates our lives at the beginning of the new decade. This was the vision. This article deals with the depressing facts, and attempts to suggest why the election became instead a welter of trivialities.
The constituency is made up of three local government units, the non-county boroughs of Brighouse and Spenborough and the urban district of Heckmondwike. Brighouse has its heart in the Calder Valley and sprawls up the hillsides towards Huddersfield and Halifax. A compact town, it contains a flourishing shopping centre and a concentration of industry—light engineering and specialised ancillary textile trades.
Spenborough lies on and over the ridge separating the Calder from the Spen Valleys. The eight or so townships included in this borough fall down to Cleckheaton, beside the River Spen. It is the commercial and administrative centre.
Heckmondwike is one of the centres of the heavy woollen district. It stands in high local regard as a shopping centre, with a flourishing open market. Studded with disused non-conformist chapels, it has passed the supreme capitalist test as a little boom town with a future: Messrs. Woolworths will shortly open a department store there.
This is a division which, in a piecemeal but successful manner, is holding its own in the transition from the industrial revolution of the 19th century to the consumer durables regime of the mid-twentieth. There are no large industrial units—none of the listed 600 firms for instance. The displacement of the old by the new has taken the form of the purchase of mills and equipment of the small manufacturer—clogs to clogs in three generations—for use as ancillary production units by larger firms. Industry is still a small scale affair.
While there is considerable slum property, this area does not contain the endless streets of back-to-back houses associated with the industrial north. Educational facilities vary from appalling church all-age schools to a secondary modern palace. Cultural activities are predominately on the parish concert level; the constituency has a number of failing cinemas and no theatre. More and more the middle-aged and the young travel to Leeds, Bradford, Huddersfield and Halifax for their week-end entertainment.
The political history of the area is one of a long series of marginal victories for either Liberal or Labour members; no Tory has held it until this year. Tom Myers won the old Spen Valley seat for Labour in the early twenties. It then passed to Sir John Simon who sat as a Liberal and then National Liberal until 1940. During the wartime electoral truce, the seat passed without an election to Major Woolley who held it as a National Liberal with Conservative support. In 1945 the seat was wrested by Labour hands against the same opponent using the same label. In 1950, boundary changes brought Brighouse into the Constituency and this was held by F. A. Cobb for the Labour Party. Soon after Mr. Cobb died and the late member won the seat by 437 votes. Then followed a shot-gun marriage between the local National-Liberal and Conservative