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When Harold's Rasputin kept hold of his seat in Parliament

By Black Country Bugle  |  Posted: May 31, 2014

By Dan Shaw

  • Mayor of Dudley George Marlow (seated) accepts the nominations of Harold Soref (second left) and George Wigg (centre) for the 1951 general election

  • The unpopular George Wigg – "Harold's Rasputin"

  • Harold Soref failed to beat his Labour opponent

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WHILE the results of last week's European and local elections begin to have an effect, let's turn the clock back to look at an earlier poll here in the Black Country.

We've had a look through our collection of old books and found this photograph of the candidates for the Dudley parliamentary borough in the 1951 general election.

The picture was taken in the Mayor's Parlour at Dudley Council House as the mayor, Councillor George Marlow, seated, received the nomination papers from the Conservative's candidate, Harold Soref, standing second from left, and the sitting Labour Member of Parliament, Colonel George Wigg, standing centre with a rosette.

The photograph appeared in Blocksidge's Dudley Almanack 1951-52, which also gave this account of the vote:

"Another event of importance during the year was a General Election, the second within eighteen months. Mr Clement Attlee, the Prime Minister and head of the Socialist Party, which had been in power since 1945, found it impossible to continue any longer with so small a majority as seven and came to the country earlier than was anticipated. Dudley, like all other constituencies in the country, was, however, prepared for the event, the Conservatives having 'nursed' the Division with Mr Harold Soref, author and London business man, for some time.

"There were only two nominations when the campaign began, those of Colonel G.E.C. Wigg, who had represented the Borough since 1945, and Mr Soref, the Liberal Party (who lost their deposit in the previous election in 1950) deciding not to enter the 'field' this time. There was very little excitement throughout the contest; indeed it can be said that it was the quietest on record and was marked by the paucity of big public meetings and the appearance of few of the big 'guns' of the respective parties.

"Polling took place on Thursday, October 25th, and throughout the night and the following morning there was much speculation as to what the outcome would be. Any thought there would be a complete swing over to the Conservatives, others that the Socialists would be returned with a larger majority, and there were those who steered the middle course that it would be another 'close thing'. All through the declaration of the results it was 'fifty-fifty' for some time and then the Conservatives drew away to hold a lead of over 40. This number, however, was reduced until in the end the Conservatives held an overall majority of 17 – and thus formed a Government.

"Locally there was a large crowd outside the Town Hall when the result was declared by the Mayor as follows:– Col G.E.C. Wigg (Lab), 34,376; Mr H.B. Soref (Cons), 24,525; majority 9,851. Col Wigg's majority at the previous election was 13,031."

What of the two candidates for Dudley? Harold Benjamin Soref was born in Hampstead in 1916, the son of a Romanian-born shipping agent. In the Second World War he served with the Royal Scots Regiment and the Intelligence Corps.

Always to the right of his party, Soref had a keen interest in southern Africa and was pro-apartheid. He was a founder member of the Conservative Commonwealth Council, sat on the Anglo-Rhodesian Society and the Anglo-Zanzibar Society, and was a member of the Conservative Monday Club. It is believed that the IRA attempted to assassinate him in 1974.

Soref's parliamentary career was short. After his failure in Dudley he stood for Rugby in the 1955 general election but was defeated. He finally entered parliament as MP for Ormskirk in 1970 but he lost the seat to Robert Kilroy-Silk in the February 1974 general election.

A businessman and journalist, founding Jewish Monthly in 1947, he died in London in 1993.

George Edward Cecil Wigg was a professional soldier, serving with the Royal Tank Corps from 1919 to 1937. On the outbreak of the Second World War he rejoined and was commissioned into the Army Education Corps. He was elected for Dudley in the 1945 general election and in Attlee's government he served as Emanuel Shinwell's Parliamentary Private Secretary.

In 1963 Wigg used parliamentary privilege to ask questions about Secretary of War John Profumo's relations with Christine Keeler, prompting the minister to respond by lying to the house and ultimately leading to his downfall. When Labour won the 1964 general election he was rewarded by Harold Wilson with the post of Paymaster-General, a front for his real role of unofficial "spymaster" for Wilson, keeping him informed of all the gossip and indiscretions of MPs, both Tory and Labour, and liaising with the secret services. Barbara Castle nicknamed him "Harold's Rasputin" and he was just as unpopular.

However, Wigg and Wilson fell out and in 1967 Wigg quit as an MP to become chairman of the Horserace Betting Levy Board, taking a seat in the House of Lords and the title Baron Wigg of Dudley. In the subsequent by-election, the Conservatives won the Dudley seat.

In 1976 Wigg was arrested and charged with kerb crawling. He was acquitted, but his reputation was irrevocably harmed and Wigg believed he had been set up at Wilson's instigation. He died in 1983.

What are you memories of elections in the Black Country? Have you met any politicians and do you have pictures and stories to share? Contact dshaw@blackcountrybugle.co.uk or write to 41 High Street, Cradley Heath, B64 5HL.

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