The Runcimans- Liberals in St Ives (Part two)

Viscount Runciman of Doxford
Viscount Runciman of Doxford

Runciman managed to slightly increase the share of the liberal vote and majority in St Ives in 1929. The total turn out had risen by some 4,700, due to the fact that this was the first election where women under the age of 30 voted; it was termed the “Flapper election” The Liberals had promised to tackle the growing levels of unemployment, with a program of public works  in these bitter years after the General Strike. Now fewer in number, the Liberals had only 59 MPs as against Labour with 287. As the Conservatives had 287, the Liberals held the balance of power if they could stay together.

Runciman acted in close concert with the other Cornish Liberal MPs. In general, they were opposed to Lloyd George-especially his Land Policy- and in favour of policies of self-reliance and were keen to alleviate unemployment, especially inCornwall. They were opposed to constraints upon business and against any development of socialism. In this second objective, they received the full support of the West Briton.  As Hilda Runciman was to comment of the Labour administration it was, “curious how Liberal they seem to become when they are in office. Their Socialism seems to fall away from them. This, indeed, is inevitable” Their common ground with Labour, especially with influential figures like Philip Snowden, as Garry Tregidga has pointed out, was over temperance, free trade and foreign policy.

Runciman’s father, a wealthy shipping magnate, loved the sea, and had written a number of popular books about sailing and shipping. These included titles like “Drake, Nelson and Napoleon”, “The Shellback’s Progress”, and “Windjammers and Sea Tramps”. These are reminiscent of the Edwardian period, the era of Georgian poetry of Walter de la Mare and Masefield. The life described in one book, “Collier Brigs and their Sailors” was very tough on the merchant sailors whose conditions were quite unregulated. His grandfather in turn had fought with Nelson at Trafalgar. He was also a founder member of the Royal National Yacht Club and  rumoured to have made a hefty profit from his   Union and Castle line during World War 1. Runciman Senior was well aquained with Hain (Lord of the Manor in St Ives.). As far back as 1910, Sir Edward Hain became Chairman of the UK Chamber of shipping in the same year as Sir Walter became Vice-Chairman.

The Hain family had been grieving the loss of his son in the 1914-18 conflict, and kept his memory alive by the building of the Edward Hain Hospital. Walter, the son, also came to own several shipping lines. The Runcimans owned a most superb yacht called  “Sunbeam 11” purchased  from Lord Brassey, she was some 535 tons and 155 feet in length and, “with her well-proportioned spars and sail plan and powerful yet graceful lines, she was one of the ablest and most comfortable –looking craft of any type”. When it arrived in St Ives Bay in 1931 it might have somewhat impressed local fishermen concerning the nautical talents of the man at the helm. The townspeople would have respected their MP as a fellow traveller on the sea; equally it would have illustrated the social distance between Runciman and his constituents. The “Sunbeam” was to be a spy-ship  employed by Special Forces in World War 11.

Hilda had carefully nursed the constituency, but Runciman now 58  had to fight hard to increase the majority, throwing himself into the task. In St Ives he told packed audiences at the Fisherman’s Institute and at the Palais de Danse of his views against protectionism, for temperance and in support of Women’s Rights. In Asquith’s cabinet before World War 1 he kept to the collective cabinet line against suffrage. There is an account of a bottle being thrown at his car by a woman demonstrator in Newcastle, with which he had many business connections and near which was the country home of Doxford.

Walter Runciman must have been used to hectoring and heckling at lively meetings. St Ives constituency kept itself well informed on political issues, a tradition that went back at least as far as the Chartists, who had held meetings on the Promenade- nearby   Oswald Moseley was to receive a memorable and vigorous rejection later in the same decade. Runciman was a keen supporter of women’s rights and his views in general were in line with the enlightened even Gladstonian opinions of the  Asquith/Grey faction of the Liberal Party against Lloyd George.There was no appeal by Runciman, along the lines that Lloyd George made to his fellow Celts at the famous meeting in Falmouth. Runciman had recently written a pamphlet on the issue of female rights. However,in the local press, the advertisments in relation to scullery maids and domestic servents show that to aspire to the status of governess was about independent as a  woman might become in the town. The influx of independent wealthy women, including art students had not yet made a significant impact upon religious belief or cultural norms. Later, Baldwin, with whom Runciman eventually reached  good terms, confided his own views on difficult women like Wallace Simpson during the divorce crisis. A point which Hilda recorded in her fascinating and busy diaries, which are in the archives of Newcastle University Library.

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