The true art and sphere of the candidate is not to make great speeches…

Frank Gray - The Confessions of a Candidate - cover pages

Showing that the point I often make about how little most voters know about politics is nothing new, here’s a quote from the 1925 book, The Confessions of a Candidate:

The true art and sphere of the candidate is not to make great and convincing speeches to an electorate thirsting for deeper information upon abstract economics or the foreign situation, but rather to preserve the peace between the conflicting and contending factions which he will find among his own party, and to appeal to the 90 per cent. of the electors more stirred by their own affairs than by politics.

The author goes on to add:

You must go to them and talk with them not of politics but of their lot in life.

The book is by Frank Gray, Liberal MP for Oxford City 1922-24 and a junior whip. But his political career was far more dramatic than that makes it sound.

His 1922 victory saw him gain the seat on a 30% swing. He won re-election 1923 with only a small dip in his vote, helped by his pioneering constituency surgeries.

An election petition followed, however, and his agent was found to have submitted false election expense returns in an attempt to hide spending above the legal limit. As a result, Gray was unseated as an MP, becoming the last MP to lose their seat for electoral malpractice until Phil Woolas in 2010.*

The resulting by-election was contested for the Liberals by C.B. Fry. However, this amazingly multi-talented man, perhaps best known as a cricketer and FA Cup finalist, and also able to jump backwards from a standing start onto a mantelpiece, lost. Fry also had a great line for dealing with tricky questions, as Gray recounts:

[He] had among other merits the courage, if he could not answer a question, to say so. “Bowled,” he would cry, “middle stump.”

In The Confessions of a Candidate, Gray excuses the breach of the law as a mistake that he was already seeking legal relief for when the election petition was filed. Such excuse-making might be expected, but to Gray’s credit, he defends his agent: “[He] was placed through my folly and pressure in a position he could not possibly fill … He had unwittingly overspent … So innocent was his method that he filed and published accounts which disclosed irregularities to the whole world”.

However, reports that Gray’s election tactics including blocking the exit of a local train station to delay the mainly Conservative commuters so that they missed the close of polls suggests he was not quite the figure of virtue his published contrition over the petition suggests.

All this makes Confessions of a Candidate a fascinating read at times. Second-hand copies are can be available at reasonable prices though they fluctuate widely, even up to at the time of typing nearly £1,000 (!). Mine came in at much less, however, so do keep an eye on the fluctuating prices.

* Fiona Jones was disqualified from being an MP in 1999, but she won her appeal and so retained her seat.

3 responses to “The true art and sphere of the candidate is not to make great speeches…”

  1. only Phil Woolas and Fiona Jones since 1923.? then clearly time for the rules to be revised!
    Some countries ban the publication of polling results from the moment the election date is announced, and require all media outlets to be properly balanced from the same day, not the sham that we have..

  2. He also wrote a fascinating book about tramps (vagrants) and welcomed them to his house, presumably to the distress of his family.

  3. His observation that a candidate/MP/opposition/government should speak to voters about “their lot”, is exactly what is missing of late in politics. My view is that people are crying out for someone of that calibre, not the blandness brought about by “advisers” who think up speeches, run focus groups, and generally come from a middle class, educated background, with no experience of how it is for millions of our citizens. All the main Parties used to have that kind of politician who had been brought up, politically, via the “school of hard knocks”, and had learnt their “trade. Some were controversial, but they spoke for, not lectured to, voters. The apathy, and current dislike of politicians, in my view, is a result of citizens not being able to relate to those that would wish to represent them.

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