Oxford and Bridgwater

  • Iain McLean


The Oxford and Bridgwater by-elections pose problems of interpretation in many ways similar to those at East Fulham five years earlier. The British electorate is notoriously uninterested in, and uninformed about, foreign policy issues; yet here are three by-elections which, in the eyes of the candidates and of most commentators, were won and lost on foreign policy. The results were almost universally regarded as the voters’ verdicts on the foreign policy issues of the day. Baldwin thought that East Fulham had been fought and lost ‘on no issue but the pacifist’, and that the voters’ verdict made it impossible to present the country with a rearmament programme. In October and November 1938 Oxford and Bridgwater were taken to be the voters’ commentary on Munich, though there was some dispute as to what the voters were saying.


Public Opinion Foreign Policy Foreign Affair Labour Party Vote Intention 
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  1. 1.
    Dawson’s diary, as quoted in F. R. Gannon, The British Press and Germany, 1936–39 (Oxford, 1971) p. 73.Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    A. Duff Cooper, Old Men Forget (1953) p. 251.Google Scholar
  3. 4.
    For the rumbustious electioneering of Frank Gray, Liberal MP for Oxford from 1922 until his unseating on petition in 1924, see C. Fenby, The Other Oxford (1970).Google Scholar
  4. 5.
    Picture Post, 5 Nov 1938; reproduced in T. Hopkinson (ed.), Picture Post, 1938–50 (1970) pp. 24–30.Google Scholar
  5. 9.
    C. V. O. Bartlett, Nazi Germany Explained (1933) pp. 243, 267.Google Scholar
  6. 10.
    D. Scott, A. D. Lindsay (Oxford, 1971) p. 254.Google Scholar
  7. 11.
    R. Eatwell, ‘Munich, Public Opinion and the Popular Front’, Journal of Contemporary History, vi 4 (1971) esp. p. 139.Google Scholar
  8. 12.
    S. F. Rae, ‘The Oxford By-election: A Study in the Straw-Vote Method’, Political Quarterly, x 2 (1939) 268–79. The quotation is from p. 277.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. 14.
    J. Harvey (ed.), The Diplomatic Diaries of Oliver Harvey (1970) p. 234.Google Scholar
  10. 16.
    Robert Rhodes James, Churchill: A Study in Failure (1970) p. 340.Google Scholar
  11. 17.
    See especially G. A. Almond and S. Verba, The Civic Culture (Princeton, 1963); Google Scholar
  12. P. Converse, ‘The Nature of Belief Systems in Mass Publics’, in D. Apter (ed.), Ideology and Discontent (New York, 1964).Google Scholar
  13. 19.
    T. Harrisson and C. Madge (eds.), Britain, by Mass-Observation (1939) p. 103.Google Scholar


  1. I. Davies, ‘How Hogg Won Oxford’, New Outlook (Oct 1963).Google Scholar
  2. R. Eatwell, ‘Munich, Public Opinion and the Popular Front’, Journal of Contemporary History, vi 4 (1971).Google Scholar
  3. S. F. Rae, ‘The Oxford Bye-Election: A Study in the Straw-Vote Method’, Political Quarterly, x 2 (1939).Google Scholar
  4. S. F. Rae, ‘The Concept of Public Opinion and its Measurement’, Ph.D. thesis (London, 1939).Google Scholar
  5. D. Scott, A. D. Lindsay (Oxford, 1971).Google Scholar

For Bridgwater

  1. C. V. O. Bartlett, And Now, Tomorrow (1960).Google Scholar

For public opinion generally

  1. T. Harrisson and C. Madge (eds.), Britain, by Mass-Observation (1939).Google Scholar
  2. Old newspapers, both national and local, are necessarily a staple for any article such as this. To save footnotes, quotations from the Oxford Mail and the Bridgwater Mercury have not been individually identified.Google Scholar
  3. Useful source material can also be found in the Local History Collection, Oxford Central Public Library, and in the Mass-Observation Archives inGoogle Scholar
  4. Sussex University Library. I am most grateful to Tom Harrisson, Director of the Mass-Observation Archives, for giving me permission to see them and to quote from them. I am also very grateful to Alan Knight for lending me his unpublished essay on the Oxford by-election, and to those participants who answered my inquiries.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Iain McLean 1973

Authors and Affiliations

  • Iain McLean

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