Election reflection

Today is election day in the United Kingdom, the third in less than five years. That got me thinking about elections past in the various constituencies of which Springhill has been a part over the years.

Between 1290 and 1832 the land was part of the county constituency of Lancashire which returned two members as 'Knights of the Shire'. Rossendale was subject to Forest Law until 1507 however so was probably essentially unpopulated and unrepresented. Anyway the first recorded member for Lancashire was Matthew de Redman in 1294. Representatives at this time demonstrate a wide range of Lancashire locative surnames: de Towneley, de Pilkington, de Ratcliffe, de Houghton, de Hesketh, de Clyderhowe…and of course the ubiquitous Stanleys. These elections were usually uncontested and divided up amongst the leading families of the county.

The Great Reform Act 1932 led to the creation the Lancashire constituency being split into North and South, with Rossendale being in Lancashire North due to it's being part of the Blackburn Hundred. The first members were John Wilson-Patten (variously a Tory, Conservative, Peelite then back to Conservative) and Hon Edward Stanley (initially Whig, latterly Conservative). This was followed by a number of by-elections as various members were promoted to Cabinet posts or the peerage.

Initially elections were unopposed and the first actual vote was in 1868 when Frederick Stanley and John Wilson-Patten were elected. They were re-elected unopposed in 1874 so the foray into voting didn't last long.

In 11885 the constituency of Rossendale was formed from the sessional division of Rossendale and part of the Borough of Bacup. The first Rossendale MP was Spencer Cavendish (Whig) with a majority of 1832 on a turnout of 89.4%. Cavendish had first been elected as MP for North Lancs in 1857. By 1886 he stood, and was elected, as a Liberal Unionist. Interestingly the Liberal candidate at this election was Thomas Newbigging who later wrote the 'History of the Forest of Rossendale'.

Cavendish was elevated to the peerage in 1892, triggering a by-election which was fought largely on the issue of Irish Home Rule. It was won by a pro-Home Rule Liberal, John Maden, a local businessman and nonconformist, over the Unionist candidate. This result sent ripples through London and was reported as far away as Australia. Maden had a majority of 1724 on an 89% of the vote.

Turnout was generally >85% but fell sharply after WW1 with the 1917 election having a turnout of 5j7.2% (John Maden, Liberal) and 1918 of 63.6% (Robert Waddington, Unionist - the first non-Liberal since Cavendish's elevation). Turnout was back to 85% in 1922 and remained high until recent years.

By this stage Rossendale was emerging as a marginal constituency. The lowest majority was 120, won by Janet Anderson (Lab) in 1992. At the next election, 1997, Janet Anderson was returned with the highest majority the constituency has ever seen - 10,949.

There was a big fall in turnout between the 1997 (73%) and 2001 (58.7%) elections and turnout has been creeping gradually up since then, being 69.2% in 2017.

In 1983 the constituency was incorporated into the new constituency of Rossendale and Darwen. This has continued to date, but with three different boundaries and further changes proposed. The merger of Rossendale and Darwen was controversial as there is no natural connection between the two communities, no shared culture and not even a road connecting them. However it remains, presumably for reasons of franchise equality rather than representative sense.

The 2019 election is being fought between the sitting MP Jake Berry (Cons), the leader of Rossendale Council Alyson Barnes (Lab) and a Lib Dem and Green candidates whose campaigns have been somewhat lacklustre.