One of Britain's finest golf correspondent's was also, JB Seatrobe reveals, Conservative MP for the west London seat of Acton during World War II
To readers of a certain age or sporting disposition, Henry Longhurst was for decades Britain's voice of golf with his distinguished commentaries on the sport in Golf Illustrated. For 20 months during World War II, Captain H C Longhurst was also the Conservative MP for Acton in west London.
During the 1931 general election, Longhurst had spoken at a campaign meeting supporting Bedford's Conservative candidate, which he described as "a heady introduction to politics, and once you have been bitten by the bug it is almost impossible, as in golf, to throw it off". His political interest intensified during the War when, as an officer, he observed the "leftist propaganda" of the Army Bureau of Current Affairs. This, and his connections with leading Tories of the day, made him determined to become a Conservative candidate.
So when the sitting MP for Acton died in 1943, Longhurst applied, along with some 40 other hopefuls, before emerging as the unanimous choice. This being wartime and he a soldier, special permission was required for him to stand for Parliament. Wartime byelections were unusual affairs, the three major parties having agreed an electoral truce for the duration, encouraging fringe candidates standing in opposition to the war or to the Coalition Government.
There were three other candidates; the most serious being the anti-war Independent Labour Party's Walter Padley (later a Labour MP and junior minister). As the Conservative/National Government candidate, Longhurst received Churchill's public endorsement, and photos show him brandishing a poster declaring "Churchill asks you to vote for Longhurst".
He was also opposed by the Communist Party (which generally supported Coalition candidates) as "utterly unfitted to represent the anti-Fascist views of the constituency". His personal appearance was not helpful either. When he was pasting up a poster representation of himself, a woman declared: "Bin all right if they'd left the face orf!"
Despite these handicaps, Longhurst easily won the 14 December poll, with 5,014 votes to Padley's 2,336, with the other candidates gaining just under 1,000 votes between them.
He made his maiden speech on 23 February 1944, during a debate on the war.Knowing that The Speaker would call him around 2pm, he prepared with "a couple of cautious pink gins and no lunch". Nevertheless, when the time approached, he realised he had completely forgotten not only the details of his speech, but also what it was about. He was tempted to flee the chamber for another pink gin, or even to put it all off until another day.
However, when called by The Speaker, he seemed to survive his baptism reasonably well, opening with the usual self-deprecation about speaking "with all those uneasy emotions which older hon. members will recall having experienced when they first addressed this House." The traditional congratulations from the next speaker (Ipswich's Labour MP, Richard Stokes) inevitably included a golfing allusion: "May I congratulate him on getting off the tee with such confidence..."
Perhaps his most interesting contribution was an exchange with the Labour firebrand Aneurin Bevan, during a debate on 18 July 1944. Longhurst intervened during Nye's speech to ask if he was "perhaps referring to the occasion in 1941 when he said the Russians would finish the war in a week". Bevan bridled, denying he had ever said such a thing, and demanding Longhurst produce any evidence. Not having chapter and verse with him, Longhurst promised to do so at the earliest opportunity, agreeing with Bevan's demand for an apology if he could not.
In his autobiography, he recounts his embarrassment: "It was not long before I was wishing I had kept my mouth shut." He recalled that the quotation arose when talking with Quinton Hogg in the House library, but attempts to contact Hogg by phone proved fruitless. He had to search throughthe previous five years' Hansard before the debate ended. With barely half an hour left, he found it (from a 5 November 1940 debate) and, despite some protests from Bevan that his words had been twisted, Parliamentary honour was apparently satisfied.
Longhurst was swept away in Labour's 1945 election landslide, with 12,134 votes to Labour's 19,590. He secured the Conservative nomination for Bedford but as the next election loomed, he realised he would have to give up his career as a golf correspondent. So, in 1949, he resigned his candidature. He did have momentary regrets: "I drove back to London thinking, ‘a safe Conservative seat for life and you have thrown it away. You must be the biggest bloody fool in the whole of Britain!'"
Longhurst clearly enjoyed his brief period in the House. He summed it up best himself: "To a gregarious person like myself life in the House of Commons in those days was heaven. I should never have made a good minister but I should, I like to think, have made what they call a ‘good House of Commons man'."