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Cheltenham Labour Party – the first 100 years

The Labour Party in Cheltenham was founded in 1918 by the Cheltenham and District Trade and Labour Council with the purpose of electing Labour representatives to the Town Council.

Creation and early days of the local party

1875

Cheltenham Trades Council formed, 6 November, at a meeting in St George’s Hall with 375 building workers in attendance. George Skey elected as President. This first attempt to organise representation for the labour movement in Cheltenham is short-lived.

1894

Workers representatives hold inaugural meeting of Cheltenham and District Trades and Labour Council at the Rose & Crown and select Charles Fisher, Stonemason, as President.

1901

Meeting of Cheltenham and District Trade and Labour Council calls for creation of local Labour Party in order to elect direct representatives of workers onto the Town Council.

1912: Keir Hardie in Cheltenham

Kier Hardie is refused use of the Town Hall for meeting, delivers speech in support of womens’ suffrage and national coal miners’ strike at the Drill Hall, Swindon Road.

Cheltenham Women
Cheltenham Women's Freedom League banner
1918: Birth of Cheltenham Labour Party

80 people in attendance as meeting of Cheltenham and District Trade and Labour Council in March votes to establish Labour Party in the town.

Meeting on 11th August votes to adopt constitution and rules of national Labour Party and elects a Provisional Working Committee. 13 men and five women chosen to carry out business of newly-founded Cheltenham branch of the Labour Party.

Parliamentary candidates and campaigns

1928: Florence Widdowson

Cheltenham puts up its first parliamentary candidate, Florence Widdowson, in by-election following death of incumbent MP.

Widdowson’s selection as candidate comes just two months after Royal Assent granted to Representation of People Act, giving women the right to vote, age 21, for the first time.

Widdowson elected as Labour MP for Rushcliffe (1945) and is first woman to chair a parliamentary debate in the House of Commons.

Florence Widdowson and her election agent
Florence Widdowson and her election agent
1935: Lady Elizabeth Pakenham

Elizabeth Pakenham becomes second woman to represent Labour as candidate for Cheltenham in November general election.

Known also as Lady Longford (through her marriage to Frank Pakenham, Seventh Earl of Longford) she achieves national reputation in later life as historian and biographer.

Her niece, Harriet Harman, former shadow Deputy Prime Minister, is currently the longest continually-serving woman MP in the House of Commons.

1974: Prof. Frederick Inglis

Fred Inglis chosen as Cheltenham Labour candidate in general election.

Inglis stands four times as Labour candidate through the 1970s and 1980s (West Derbyshire, 1970 and February 1974; Cheltenham, October 1974; and Winchester, 1987).

An internationally-renowned academic in Cultural Studies, Media and Anthropology, Prof. Inglis takes on advisory role to Labour Government on Higher Education matters, and establishes reputation as leading print and radio commentator on social issues.

1984-97: Mike Grindley

Mike Grindley, technical Mandarin Chinese linguist at Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ) in Cheltenham, leads mass protests after Conservative government bans trade union membership and sacks workers.

Grindley spearheads unrelenting 13-year GCHQ campaign for rights and reinstatement with support from Labour. The ban is abolished in May 1997 when Labour returns to power. Labour Foreign Secretary, Robin Cook, announces compensation for loss of pension rights to sacked GCHQ workers, February, 2000.

“It’s been a mixture of tenseness, tiredness, excitement and endurance. We always knew in our heart of hearts that we would win our rights back, but if we had been told it would take 13 years, the prospect would have been daunting indeed.”

Mike Grindley, May 1997

March in support of trade union rights at GCHQ
March in support of trade union rights at GCHQ
2005: Chris Evans MP

Chris Evans‘ unsuccessful in bid to become MP for Cheltenham in 2005 general election after being selected in April 2004. Evans is elected as MP for Islwyn in 2010, standing as Labour and Co-operative candidate. Re-elected for Islwyn in 2015 and 2017, he now holds a majority of 31.6%.

Since 1928, five women have stood for election as Labour parliamentary candidates in Cheltenham, across 21 elections and by-elections held in our town. In addition to Florence Widdowson and Elizabeth Packenham, Phyllis Warner (1945), Judith James (1983) and Pam Tatlow (1992) have stood for our Party in Cheltenham.

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