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Monday, 27 August 2018

A shilling on the stairs



Lady Nancy Astor was the first woman to take her seat in the British House of Commons. She won her seat at Plymouth in a by-election in 1919 when her husband, the previous MP, was elevated to the House of Lords. She stood as a Conservative.
Because she was a woman it was thought advisable that she be accompanied by a man when she was canvassing for votes in the rougher parts of Plymouth, which is a well-known Naval base. Her escort for this purpose was a Royal Navy officer, in full uniform.
All went well until she knocked at a door that was opened by a young girl aged 9 or 10. Lady Astor asked if her mother was at home, but got the reply:
"Mum's out, but she said that if a lady called with a sailor they were to use the back bedroom and leave a shilling on the stairs".
© John Welford

Sunday, 19 August 2018

An October birthday for famous people



26th October seems to be a day on which prominent politicians like to get born, particular those with a left-leaning or revolutionary approach to politics.

26th October 1759 was the day on which Georges Jacques Danton (pictured) was born in eastern France. He was an early leading member of the French Revolution of 1789 who voted for the overthrow of the monarchy and the execution of King Louis XVI. He became head of the Committee of Public Safety that condemned thousands of people to death, although he later fell from power and was himself a victim of the guillotine. 

On 26th October 1879 Lev Davidovich Bronstein was born in the Ukraine. He was to lead a parallel life to Danton’s in several respects, notably as a revolutionary leader, regicide, and eventual victim of the monster he helped to create. Under the name Leon Trotsky, he was a leading member of the Bolshevik Party that overthrew the Russian Tsar in November 1917 (although the use of the Julian calendar means that the event is always referred to as the October Revolution). Lenin and Trotsky were almost certainly behind the decision to execute the Tsar and his family in 1918. Trotsky’s fall from power was engineered by his greatest rival, Joseph Stalin, who ordered Trotsky’s assassination after the latter had fled from Russia and was living in Mexico in 1940.

A Socialist of a somewhat different hue was Fran├žois Mitterand, born on 26th October 1916 in Jarnac, southwest France. He emerged in the 1960s as a left-wing opponent of General de Gaulle and, after several failed attempts against Gaullist candidates, eventually became President of France in 1981. He served two complete 7-year terms and therefore holds the record as France’s longest-serving President. Unlike previous members of the “26th October club” he died peacefully in 1996, from cancer.

The fourth member of the club has very little in common with any of the others, this being Hillary Rodham, born on 26th October 1947 in Chicago, USA. As the wife of Bill Clinton she held the honorary office of “First Lady” from 1993 to 2001, was a senator for New York State (2001-9), and was Secretary of State from 2009 to 2013. Her ambition of becoming the United States’ first woman President came to nothing when she was defeated by Donald Trump in 2016. However, she possesses very few of the Socialist credentials of the erstwhile predecessors who shared her birthday!
© John Welford