• Phil

From Godiva to Polling Day.....

With just one day to go until the latest general election I am concluding my "mini-series" of three blog posts summarising the poitical history of Coventry. My previous two posts have referred to national parliaments held in Coventry and MPS who have represented our city between the years 1295 and 1945 (when the city was considered as a single constituency. Today I shall be looking at some aspects of politics in Coventry before and after those years - beginning with the times of Godiva and Leofric, moving on to look at significant dates in the widening of democracy and finishing with a look at MPs who have represented Coventry seats from 1945 through to the present day.

It is often cited that Coventry was "founded" in 1043 with the establishment of a religious community around the Hill Top / Priory Row area. The Cathedral Church of St Mary and the associated Priory (both destroyed under Henry VIII's dissolution of the monestries) are reputed to have been established by Godiva and Leofric and much of the Godiva legend is associated with accounts which later came out of the site. Coventry's first (of three) cathedral is sometimes referred to as "Godiva's Cathedral".

Although we think of Godiva and Leofric as Coventry "icons" the area of Mercia (Leofric's Earldom) stretched from the South West Midlands to Cheshire with the North and Eastern section being part of the Danelaw - the area which at the time came under the rule and laws of the vikings. Leofric was favoured by Cnut (King Canute) and held sway over all of Mercia dispite the division between Viking and Saxon lands. Godiva in her own right was also a powerful landowner.

I shall be exploring the themes of the Godiva story, early English government, Anglo-Saxon Coventry and the history of the Priory / first Cathedral site on my guided walk "A Stroll in Godiva's Footsteps" early in the new year on the morning of Thursday January 9th - booking details here:

The Norman Invasion of 1066 saw feudal government taking hold across the country with a hierarchical power structure with the king at the top and local manors being subservient to Earls, Barons and Lords in between. In 1295 governmet was widened to include "commons" and the root of our current system of appointing MPs on a local basis (see my previous post for details of some early Coventry MPs).

As there had been ancient charters establishing Coventry as a "borough" with rights to return MPs and a tradition of relatively wide suffrage in the city (although very narrow by today's standards) the reform act of 1832 did not have such a major impact in the city as in other areas. Property owners and Freemen of the city had the right to vote already. The act extended the right to vote beyond property owners to those householders who paid a yearly rental of £10 or more. Although the act is generally thought of as progressive a backward step was the exclusion of women from electing MPs with a voter being defined as a "male person". Before 1832 propertied women were able to vote - well before the rise of the sufferagettes.

Although the Coventry electorate of the time was not so significantly increased as in other areas by the passing of the Reform Bill it is worth noting that one of the city's MPs, Edward Ellice, was a mover of the bill and founder of the "Reform Club" in Pall Mall - probably most famous for references in Jules Verne's "Around the World in Eighty Days" as the start and end destinations in Phileas Fogg's mission to circumnavigate the globe.

The 1885 Redistribution of Seats Act did have a significant influence in the political life of the city seeing the entitlement to MPs halved from two to one.

Movements for votes for women gained momentum in the late 19th and early 20th centuries with pressure exerted from those movements eventually leading to the 1918 Representaion of the People's Act which widely expanded the right to vote to include all men over 21 and and women over 30 who met property owning requirements (so still far from ideal).

Locally Coventry was amongst the first cities to see women councillors elected - a theme a shall be coming back to in the future. To anyone interested in Coventry's politics from the late 19th century to WWII I would recommend two books - firstly John A Yates "Pioneers to Power - The Story of the Ordinary People of Coventry", published in 1949 but a detailed account of the rise of the Trade Union and Labour movement in Coventry and detailed wider social history. The second book is Cathy Hunt's, "A History of Women's Lives in Coventry" - published last year and dealing with ordinary lives during the hundred years between 1850 and 1950.

Moving on now to the more modern post war era I shall look at our MPs from 1945 to the present day

In 1945 the Coventry Constituency was split into two - Coventry East and Coventry West.

Labour's Richard Crossman was the only MP to represent Coventry East from its post war inception when he won over 60% of the vote through to the February 1974 election which saw the end of the constuency. It is noteworthy that in the 1945 election the Communist Party candidate for the seat beat the Liberal Party candidate into third place and several subsequent elections for the seat were only contested between the Labour, Conservative and Communist parties. Crossman averaged around 60% of the vote across all eight elections in the history of the seat. He retired at the February 1974 election and died of liver cancer just two months later,

Coventry West MPs:

The Coventry East and Coventry West c