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Lucy Middleton

This is one of three mini bios I contributed to Honourable Ladies Volume 1

Full name Lucy (Annie) Middleton (nee Cox) Date of birth 19 May 1894

Place of birth Keynsham, Somerset Date of death 20 November 1893

Unsuccessful elections fought Paddington South 1931, Pudsey and Otley 1935, Plymouth Sutton 1955

Constituency Plymouth Sutton July 1945 - October 1951

"We too are engaged on a voyage of discovery for a new world for ourselves, a world where justice, liberty and opportunity shall be opened not only to a few and not only to a class but to the citizens of the entire world."

(Lucy, maiden speech 20 August 1945 referencing the Mayflower Pilgrims)

Lucy’s parents, Sidney and Ada Cox, were from rural working-class origins. She trained to be a teacher at Bristol University and worked in West Country schools for ten years. Her father was a radical Liberal. Lucy however was attracted to Labour. In 1916 she joined the Independent Labour Party becoming secretary of Keynsham branch in 1919. In the 1920s, she worked with Bristol socialists on a programme of municipal reforms. With a strong interest in the peace movement from 1924-34 Lucy was secretary of the No More War movement. During the Round Table conference to discuss granting self-government to India Lucy was an adviser to the colonial Hindu Minorities.

In 1934, she joined the staff at Labour Party headquarters. Lucy began a secret relationship with the Assistant Party Secretary, Jim Middleton, who was a married man. In 1935 he became Secretary of the Labour Party. After the death of his wife, he married Lucy on 1st May 1936 “Everything about us seems to chime’ he later said. ‘We have the same interests; we share in mind and thought, openly and frankly. There is never a jot of misunderstanding.’

In 1936 Lucy became the Labour candidate for Plymouth’s Sutton constituency. Nancy Astor was the sitting MP. Labour’s success in Plymouth had been limited. The city’s first Labour M.P. Jimmy Moses won Drake in 1929 but lost it in 1931. Labour had never won control of Plymouth Council. A Labour victory seemed unlikely.

Jim Middleton retired and became his wife’s election agent. Lady Astor did not contest the July 1945 election. The Labour landslide saw Lucy Middleton win Plymouth Sutton with a majority of 4,679.

Speaking of how few women members had been elected in her maiden speech she shared “the incredulity of the bright and unbelieving young lady I met last Wednesday morning when, on the strength of the fact that I was a Member of the House, I was trying to gain access to the House through the crowds outside. She looked at me half mockingly, and altogether unbelievingly replied "Sez you."”

Rebuilding Plymouth and housing were her main political priorities. Lucy persuaded the Chief Whip to set up a Blitzed Areas Committee which she chaired for six years. The War Damages Commission was refusing many of the applications made to them. Lucy and the committee urged that late claims be accepted where accuracy was confirmed by local authority records. This became government policy.

In 1950 she was nominated to be Chair of the Parliamentary Labour Party, the only woman on the list of nominees but the male dominated PLP elected a male nominee to the post.

Service on the executive of the British section of the Inter-Parliamentary Union took her to various conferences in Western Europe. She prepared a report assessing international social welfare provision and legal protection for women and children. In 1949 Lucy was invited to talk to German Social Democrats. She made a second visit to Germany that year when Foreign Office invited her to speak to political and community activists.

Sutton’s Conservative candidate in the 1950 General election was Jakie Astor, Lady Astor’s youngest son. The Astor family remained an important political force in Plymouth and with boundary changes Lucy’s majority fell to 924.

Prompted by its involvement in Korea the Labour government adopted a rearmament programme. The tensions caused by this and health service charges in Gaitskell’s 1951 budget gave rise to ministerial resignations and the left wing ‘Bevanite’ movement, critical of the Party leadership’s policies. Devonport MP Michael Foot was a prominent supporter.

Lucy described United Nation’s troops fighting in Korea ‘as pioneers in the field of world government’. She saw the Government’s rearmament programme as a deterrent and the best way of preventing military conflict. Plymouth Conservatives attempted to exploit the policy differences between Michael and Lucy. Knowing that political disunity could have damaging electoral consequences Lucy tried to minimise the Party’s internal divisions. The differences she said ‘.. did not affect the essential unity of the party, in fact it made the party stronger’

t the October 1951 General Election Jakie Astor was again the Conservative candidate in Sutton. With Jim Middleton ill and unable to act as Lucy’s agent and exceptionally high turn-out Lucy was defeated by 710 votes. The Conservatives won a small parliamentary majority.

In 1952 Sutton Labour unanimously reselected Lucy as their prospective candidate. In the run-up to the May 1955 election she remained worried that the Tories would exploit the policy differences between herself and outspoken Bevanite Michael Foot. They maintained a public show of unity jointly addressing shopping crowds in Plymouth’s city centre and campaigning together across the two constituencies.

She fought a feisty campaign contrasting Jakie Astor’s background with her own humble origins. , “Those who had rank, wealth and privilege would do right to vote for him, for he comes from that class. But I am far better able to represent those who work by hand and brain, and I make that same claim for my party”

At national level and in Plymouth the Tories substantially increased their majorities. In Devonport conservative Joan Vickers narrowly defeated Michael Foot.

For the 1956 election Sutton Labour Party short-listed Lucy but did not select her. Lucy and Jim remained active in Labour politics. She became foundation chair and a director of War on Want from 1958 to1968. After Jim’s death in 1962 her work continued through Wimbledon Labour Party and other party organisations. Vice-president of the Trade Union, Labour and Cooperative Democratic History Society she edited the 1977 book ‘Women and the Labour Movement.’ In October 1983 ill-health saw Lucy in hospital and she died on 20th November 1983.

Lucy Middleton was a Plymouth MP for six years during a seminal period of the city’s reconstruction. Her work on war damage claims was important, not only to Plymouth, but to other heavily-bombed British communities. A woman from working-class origins she was an example of the social change Labour sought to achieve.

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