Henry Norris’ Politics
Last updated: August 2008
HIS POLITICAL CAREER: just putting together all that’s listed in different places in the ‘diary’ section
Vestry of Battersea: elected vestryman 16 May 1896. Re-elected 27 May 1899. Didn’t stand in November 1900.
London Borough of Fulham: stood November 1900 in Sand’s End ward but wasn’t elected. Elected councillor 1 November 1906 in Sand’s End ward, coming third out of 6. Re-elected November 1909, elected mayor of Fulham. Re-elected November 1912, still serving as mayor. Elections due November 1915 were cancelled because of World War 1; continued as mayor until 1919. Didn’t stand in November 1919.
London County Council: stood March 1910 in Lambeth North; it was a Liberal Party stronghold, Norris wasn’t elected. Councillor for Fulham October 1916 under wartime rules - elected by councillors of London Borough of Fulham, not by the electorate. Didn’t stand in March 1919.
House of Commons: elected as candidate Stockport July 1914; never fought an election there. Both Stockport seats considered pretty unwinnable by Tories. Elected as candidate Fulham East November 1918, elected MP December 1918. Didn’t stand in general election of November 1922.
WHAT WERE NORRIS’ POLITICAL BELIEFS?
I deliberately haven’t put any political party details in the list above, partly because so much supposed difference between parties seems to be fake; and partly because there’s no real need. Henry Norris always stood as a Conservative; or with an added specification about Ireland, as a Conservative Unionist. What does that mean? We’ll have a look at some of the things he said it meant, in his campaign speeches and other public statements.
A note before I start, about the names of political parties. At least before World War 1, both the major parties were called something different to their national name when being talked about in local politics. The Liberal Party called itself the Progressive Party; and the Conservative Party called itself the Moderates or (later) the Municipal Reform Party. I shall stick with the national names.
I haven’t got any details of speeches Norris gave in 1896, 1899 and 1900 so I’ll start with 1906, by which time he was a better-known figure - at least in Fulham - so that the newspapers did cover what he said while trying to get elected.
The earliest political speech Norris gave that I have details of was the one he made to the Conservative Party in Sand’s End ward while trying to convince them to select him as one of their candidates for the coming local elections. Norris described himself as someone hostile to the concept of failure; and he made his audience laugh by saying that he thought the Conservative candidates couldn’t go wrong if they just said that their policy on any subject was the complete opposite of what Liberal Party policy was on it. He hardly said anything about what policies he supported. I suppose it wasn’t necessary with an audience consisting entirely of paid-up Conservative Party members but I’ve noticed that in speeches to non-members Norris tended to be a bit vague when it came to specifics and detail - he was a typical politician in that respect! The one aspect of political life that he did talk about was rates. He said that in his opinion the Conservative Party was the best one to represent the interests of local ratepayers. This was entirely predictable and didn’t say anything much about Norris’ politics beliefs, only about his ability to do his political homework and hit the right buttons when speaking: in the early 20th century rates were going up as central and local bureaucracy expanded, and were a consistent thorn in the side of the new middle-classes. Fulham’s Ratepayers’ Association was very active, with a lot of members, most of the prominent ones being Conservative Party members too.
Norris was a little more expansive when - having been selected as a candidate - he had to make some campaign speeches to the population at large. He said that he was an advocate of “a universal, inclusive, graduated income tax”; he was meaning, I think (although the context isn’t clear) that he favoured a tax on incomes as a replacement for the rates. He seems to have been careful not to place too much emphasis on actually cutting the amount of rates the electorate paid.
Once elected as a councillor, Norris did build a record of supporting plans that he thought would help the economy of Fulham, even if they were controversial and not orthodox Conservative policy. For example, he voted in favour of the LCC’s proposals to build a tramway through west Fulham and across the river, which were noisily opposed by some people in Fulham and some councillors. His vote on that issue could be said to be a personal one, however, rather than a political one; because as well as helping the economy of Fulham, a tramway down Fulham Palace Road would also increase the value of the houses in the streets leading off it, a lot of which had been built by Allen and Norris; and make it easier and quicker for football fans to get to Craven Cottage.
1906 in the London Borough of Fulham was a straight contest between the Conservatives and the Liberals. It resulted in a whitewash for the Conservatives: between 1906 and 1909 there was no opposition on the council. Norris was elected and by the time the next local elections came around he had already been provisionally selected by his fellow councillors as the next mayor if the Conservatives kept their majority on the council. The prospect of having Norris as mayor was welcomed by the press in Fulham. The West London and Fulham Times, whose owner was a Liberal, described Norris as “capable” and as “broad-minded” and said that he was a popular personality both inside his party and with the population at large.
In 1908 David Lloyd George MP became Chancellor of the Exchequer in Asquith’s Liberal government. He dominated the next few years in imperial politics. In 1908 he put through Parliament the first legislation on old age pensions; in 1911 he put through the first national insurance scheme. His 1910 budget provoked a constitutional crisis when the Conservative-dominated House of Lords refused to make it law because it had in it a land tax and an inheritance tax. After two general elections, the Liberals’ Parliament Act broke the House of Lords’ power and got the budget through.
Despite getting elected on their (usual) promise to keep rates down, Fulham’s Conservatives had presided over three years of rate rises between 1906 and 1909; as I’ve said above, the rises were not necessarily their fault. A lot was down to the continuing expansion of education, which was run by the London County Council but organised on a borough basis. In addition, during the autumn of 1909 London was undergoing one of its ratings reassessment programmes, where the rateable values of every building were set for the next five years; usually at a higher level than the previous five, of course! For the first time in the borough’s short history, in the 1909 local elections there were Labour Party candidates; and one woman, a Labour candidate, in Town Ward (she wasn’t elected). The Liberals fielded a lot of candidates; one or two were elected so there was a minimum of opposition from 1909 to 1912. And some candidates were fielded by a group wanting to cut the budget of Fulham Board of Guardians (to which the London Borough of Fulham had to contribute); I think none were elected. 1909 was a year of economic slump; payments to avert hardship were the responsibility of the local Boards of Guardians, who administered the poor law. On polling day the Conservatives kept their majority on Fulham council, with 30% of the vote.
In September and October 1909 Henry Norris did not do much political campaigning as such - he didn’t make many party political speeches. What he did do is put himself about a fair bit as the probable next mayor, opening fêtes etc and for this, party politics was not appropriate. The mayor of a borough chairs the meetings of all the council members; it’s his duty to set politics aside in order to keep the meetings productive and within the laws and rules of local government. This Norris did, at least to the Conservative councillors’ satisfaction: they kept him in office as mayor of Fulham for an entire decade. He was also able to get on - during the three years it was necessary - with the Liberals on the Council; he counted Councillor Sale as a friend of his, and Councillor Baxter was (at least in theory) his boss as a writer for the West London and Fulham Times. He missed the politicking, though: in 1912 he described himself as, in essence, a Party man.
Although he didn’t make party political speeches during the 1909 local election campaign, I still think it’s very likely that in October 1909 Norris was the builder quoted anonymously in the local press as saying the Liberal Party’s plans for national insurance and their tax on land would ruin the building industry. As soon as he was elected mayor, however, Norris was faced with a political choice, when his first few days in office were disrupted by organised groups of the local unemployed.
Norris’ first response to the demands of the unemployed in Fulham, when as newly-elected mayor he allowed a deputation of them to speak to a Council meeting, was to tell them (and this won’t have been a rehearsed speech) that personally, he had a great deal of sympathy for their plight but that with the national economy in its current poor state it was not possible to help everybody; in any case, in his opinion it was the job of national government to deal with the consequences of unemployment. He himself, he said, was in favour of the Liberal government’s proposals for a national insurance scheme. Then, however, he turned the plight of the unemployed into a party political issue. He criticised the national Liberal government for having made the current recession worse; and the Labour Party for its opposition to profit, which Norris saw as the legitimate reward for the individual’s hard work.
What the unemployed group were wanting was not more handouts; they wanted the council to start a work creation scheme. After Norris had told them that there was nothing local government could do to help them, he was confronted by a number of them outside Allen and Norris’ office. He refused to commit Fulham council to increasing the rates by providing work for those Fulham residents without any, and told them he would retaliate if any of them threatened him any more. The London Borough of Fulham never had a work creation scheme while Norris was a councillor. Instead, Norris and one or two other councillors began a completely different scheme to raise money for the unemployed: they organised a series of concerts at the Granville Theatre, to raise money for charities in Fulham that paid out money to those they considered deserving of it. A very conservative idea on how to deal with unemployment.
The 1909 local elections were followed in January by the first of the two general elections of 1910. Installed as mayor of Fulham, Norris criticised publically the Liberal Party’s budget as doing damage to the building industry; causing the local Liberal parliamentary candidate to reply saying that Norris had deliberately misunderstood that part of the budget in order to hamper the national party’s cause in Fulham. When the general election voting took place, Norris’ footballing acquaintance William Hayes Fisher, Conservative, was elected, on a platform of Unionism and tariff reform (tariffs = taxes on imports). As mayor of the borough Norris was meant to be politically impartial so he did not do any campaigning for Hayes Fisher. In his football column in West London and Fulham Times, the day before voting took place, he urged his readers to vote rather than go to a football match if the two duties conflicted, though he didn’t endorse any particular candidate. Norris did attend a concert held to celebrate Hayes Fisher’s election.
At the end of 1910, in the traditional end-of-year speech given by the mayor, Henry Norris made an attack on the ever-increasing cost to the rates of education. He suggested that the latest proposals for education being put forward by the national government, if followed to their logical conclusion, would end with parents having no responsibility even to clothe and feed their own children, all of that being done by the local authority and paid for through the rates. This was an area of policy where Norris’ actions as a private citizen most definitely reflected his political beliefs: he paid for all three of his daughters to go to Rodean, one of the most expensive girls’ boarding schools. However, he never mentioned this choice in any political speech that I’ve seen covered in the press; it was a political choice, but also a social one, giving his daughters the best education he could afford (now that he could afford it, if you see what I mean) and the chance to make the kind of friendships that would be the bedrock of the social life he wanted them to have in future.
Rates continued to rise every year between 1909 and 1912, Henry Norris’ first three years as mayor of Fulham. In September 1912 the London Borough of Fulham agreed to yet another increase, just as campaigning was beginning in the next set of local elections. In addition, Henry Norris was getting a lot of criticism as mayor for allowing two councillors who were interested parties to take part in a Council debate on how much to charge, and who should pay, for making up the roadways to local authority standard on the newly-built Crabtree Lane Estate, a large part of which had been newly-built by Allen and Norris. His column in the West London and Fulham Times was attracting bad publicity for him as well; he was obliged to make a public statement denying that he had any financial interest in the paper.
Comfortably esconced as mayor for as long as he wanted to be, Norris did make political speeches during the local election campaign. His first was on 14 October and, inevitably, it was about the rates. He defended the increases as necessary. Although as I’ve said above, a large percentage of the increase went to pay for better education, Norris didn’t mention this aspect of it, choosing instead to emphasise the increasing budgets of the local police and the Fulham Board of Guardians in a year with continuing high unemployment, and a lot of industrial action with its inevitable police involvement. In a second speech, on 24 October, he again mentioned the costs of the police, and the Metropolitan Asylums Board, to which all boroughs contributed - he was making a joke about how the national Liberal government was driving more ratepayers to insanity with its ever-increasing financial demands. He said that he would sooner lose his seat (in Sand’s End) than support any of the policies he’d read in the manifesto just issued by Fulham’s Liberals; although he didn’t go into any details of what policies they were putting forward.
Fulham’s voters didn’t like the local Liberals’ manifesto either and of course their dislike was also of the national Liberals: like 1906, 1912 in Fulham was a whitewash for the Conservatives, who went on (because of World War 1) to rule without any opposition until November 1919, when the political landscape in the borough changed dramatically. Henry Norris never had to make any more campaign speeches in local government elections.
This is a strange one: on 25 June 1914 the Stockport Conservative Association held a meeting at the Mansion House in the City of London, to choose candidates to fight in the next general election the two seats in the town, currently held by what the local paper described as Radicals (I think it’s one Liberal, one Labour). Henry Norris and a Mr Fremantle who was not a resident of Stockport either, were the chosen two. The meeting was covered by the papers in Fulham - with some alarm - and by the Cheshire Daily Echo, but none of them explained why these two non-local men were acceptable to the Conservatives in Stockport. West London and Fulham Times described Norris’ allotted seat as a difficult one to win, and talked of him as a man who relished a challenge. So I suppose the two men had been recommended by Conservative Party central office as a typical first-step to Parliament: the would-be MP being made to fight a seat he was unlikely to win.
In introducing Henry Norris to his future constituents, the chairman of Stockport Conservative Association described him as “a keen Unionist”; this was in the context of the Liberal Party’s bill for Home Rule in Ireland, which was making its way through Parliament (and was ready to become law when World War 1 broke out). When he stood up to speak for himself, Norris confirmed himself as “an out and out opponent of the present Government and all that appertains to it”; he said that a proper government wouldn’t allow the current antics of the sufragettes or the present social unrest in Ireland. He described the Parliament Act as reducing Parliament to “a farce”; he also saw it as the only way Ireland would ever be get home rule. Describing himself to these people who presumably knew virtually nothing about him, Norris said he was “a businessman, pure and simple”. His whole speech, then, was another example of button-pressing: Norris said what would make the Stockport Conservatives cheer. He was duly taken on as one of their candidates; and so was Mr Fremantle. Profiling him afterwards, the Cheshire Daily Echo emphasised Norris’ time (in his youth) as a member of his local military volunteer force (predecessors of the Territorial Army), and his membership of the freemasons, giving a lot of detail as to which lodges he was a member of; it mentioned his involvement with Fulham FC and Arsenal FC in passing. These aspects of Norris were what the Echo thought was most important for its readers to know about him; the profile didn’t discuss his politics much.
The general election due in 1915 never took place. Norris never fought his seat in Stockport.
In 1915 the national coalition government suspended all elections for the duration of the fighting in World War 1. In London, when incumbent councillors died or retired, a replacement was elected by their councillors in their borough, not by a bye-election. Henry Norris became one of Fulham’s two LCC councillors in this way, elected by his Conservative fellow councillors; there was no political campaigning.
Long before the suspension of elections, very little was being said in a party political way in local government: to score political points like that was being seen as unpatriotic in a time of war. However, in November 1914, Norris did make a statement on funding for the Territorial Force (precursor of the Territorial Army). He said that, prior to the outbreak of war, central government had said it was responsible for the budget for the TF but had seemed reluctant to carry outs duties, having to be lobbied to increase its grant per man for the volunteers in the TF. Now - with the fighting continuing and local authorities under heavy pressure financial and otherwise - the central government was saying funding the TF was not its problem.
Norris’ speeches to the other councillors at the beginnings and ends of his years as mayor of Fulham during the period November 1915 to November 1918 were short and contained no party political references: they were just increasingly weary and despairing comments on how the war was dragging on and the appalling cost to soldiers and non-combatants alike. That of November 1918 was more political: Norris was a candidate in the general election that was going to announced any day, as soon as the Armistice was signed. He looked ahead, and realistically, warning his listeners that a lot of hard work lay ahead to turn Britain into a country the war heroes could return to with pride, and telling them not to expect any quick return to pre-war normal. He also discussed reparation: the idea that Germany (as the losers in the war) should pay the winning countries damages. However, his view in this speech was by no means as extreme as some that were going around at the time. He said that in his opinion, it was not in the nature of the British people to want revenge, and that it wouldn’t be just to demand that Germany “pay fully for every penny this tragic war has cost us”. Norris thought that the best way in which the British Government’s representatives could approach the peace negotiations would be to act so as to ensure the “future good of our Empire”. The idea of Britain having an empire, and that an empire ruled by the British is good for those ruled as well as those who rule, is a political and economic construct and ideology; it is not a predestined state of affairs, the inevitable result of British social, religious and economic superiority. However, the British Empire was so much an understood concept in Norris’ day that few politicians speaking to Britons felt any need to defend it. Norris never did defend the concept of empire in any speech he made, and I’m sure that he never thought of it as being anything other than good.
[ROGER SLCOOK FOLLOWS THIS FILE]
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Copyright Sally Davis August 2008