After my story yesterday about alleged attempts to “parachute in” Harriet Harman’s husband, Jack Dromey, to the safe Labour seat of Leyton and Wanstead, someone from the Leyton Labour Party emails to remind me what happened last time Labour tried imposing a grandee in Leyton. (And no, I didn’t know members of the Leyton Labour Party were allowed to read the Telegraph either – surely a disciplinary matter?)
At the 1964 general election which brought Labour to power, Harold Wilson’s putative Foreign Secretary, Patrick Gordon Walker, lost his seat to a notoriously racist campaign by his Tory opponent, Peter Griffiths (slogan: “If you want a n—-r for your neighbour, vote Labour.”) Wilson still gave Gordon Walker the Foreign Office, but there was the small matter of finding him a new seat in Parliament.
Two months after the election the then Leyton MP, Reg Sorensen, was given a peerage in order to create a vacancy for Gordon Walker to fill. Perhaps not totally surprisingly, the voters of Leyton resented this crude attempt to manipulate them – and voted against Gordon Walker at the byelection, forcing him to resign as Foreign Secretary and permanently setting back his career.
Gordon Walker did win Leyton back for Labour at the 1966 general election. But the whole episode left a legacy, which still lingers, of independent-mindedness and resentment of central party interference in this seat. Could history be about to repeat itself?