The Runcimans- Liberals in St Ives (Part one)

1928 was a fascinating year in politics. Lord Oxford, better known as Asquith had just died and  had just a few years been interviewed by the Editor of the St Ives Times and Echo. He gave his earnest opinion that theBayofSt Ivescould not be beaten. Given the slump in the late 20s and later in the depression, the inhabitants sadly suffering enforced idleness, were to have plenty of time to contemplate the magnificent sea views and to read about the economic situation in the newspapers. The more enterprising perhaps listened to their home built wireless sets.

In Hilda Runciman, the people of St Ives, it might be supposed were to get a fine advocate, a good speaker and an idealist. Unfortunately, although good on public platforms she did not actually speak in the male dominated House of Commons. An elegant as well as eloquent woman, she  had a ready wit and formidable determination. She demanded much of herself and  posessed a strong sense of public duty. She had become founder member of the River Tyne Commission by the age of just twenty four. However to St Ives, the political solutions she offered of free trade and self-reliance and belief in theLeague of Nationswere insufficient to bring relief from the harsh realities of the depression, let alone avert the dangers of nationalisms inEurope.

She gained the seat  of St Ives for her husband, already a wealthy, clever and able man. At this stage the Liberal influence was reduced to 43 MPs and she joked that with her husband, MP for Swansea West the electorate would have “the spectacle of a  party of two”. When she was elected, the Times and Echo recorded, “Several young fishermen had prepared a chair decked in the Liberal colours, in which Mrs Runciman was carried through the streets of the town to the Wharf where a halt was made.” Runciman, himself however was to change his approach or policy over many issues and ended his career having failed to become chancellor, a role for which he had once seemed suited, and finished by disappointing many of his friends, supporters and constituents. They were, however, the first married couple to enter the House of Commons.

Rumour has it that it was Isaac Foot who suggested that St Ives would be a suitable seat for the Runcimans. Hilda was elected in a by-election in 1928, regaining the seat again for the Liberals. There had been previously five elections at St Ives in the previous 10 years. She came from a family with links toGlasgowand the North-East. Her father, James Cochran Stevenson had himself been an MP forSouth Shields(1868-1895) and was the owner of a newspaper and also had a chemical factory in Jarrow. She was his fifth daughter. Hilda’s sister, Flora Clift Stevenson, achieved magnificent progress in the education of the poor, and in particular, the girls ofEdinburgh. She famously became Vice-president of the anti-protectionist Women’s Free Trade Union. This was the milieu into which Walter Runciman married in 1898. One in which there was a belief in individual enterprise and a respect for self-improvement.  By the time that Hilda was elected for St Ives, Walter Runciman had once defeated Winston Churchill atOldhamin 1899, and been MP for another two constituencies and  had been President of the Board of Education, President of the Board of Agriculture and finally in the fateful year of 1914 become President of the Board of Trade. This was under the Prime Ministership of Asquith, whom he had supported against Lloyd George, in the devastating quarrels that plagued and split the Liberal Party in the middle of the First World War.


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