Short EV Account: Post-Election Violence & Constituency Agents

Today’s Short EV Account looks at a 1906 case of property damage and intimidation of a constituency agent, revealing perceived differences between pre- and post-election violence:

At the Poole Police Court in the aftermath of the 1906 election, two men living in Branksome were brought before the magistrates for breaking windows and fencing at the house of A.G. Barralet, having done damage to the extent of £5. Barralet had been constituency agent for the unsuccessful Unionist candidate for East Dorset. Interestingly, M.W.H. Curtis, the agent for the victorious Liberal candidate, had also been the target of violence – a brick thrown through one of his windows was said to have narrowly missed his sleeping daughter.

A large mob had gathered at Branksome late on Monday night, proceeding to Barralet’s house – the police were sent for, but the damage had been done before they arrived. The two defendants were not the ringleaders, but were unfortunate enough to be on the spot at the time, clearly part of the now-dispersed mob.

It was stated that the two men had become informants, and so the hearing was suspended until their ‘information could be acted upon’.  It was heavily implied that if the ringleaders who they had identified were brought before the court, the prosecution would drop their current charges.

Evidently, his position as agent meant that Barralet was the target of constant harassment, which continued even after the election had concluded.  Apart from the mob incident, the police stated ‘Barralet had been threatened over and over again, and even up to that morning he had a crowd around his house… Mr Barralet and his house were to be carefully watched [by police] for some time in the immediate future, and it was well for the public to know that’. This last point was likely made for the benefit of the newspaper reporter present in the courtroom, to discourage further incidents.

The speech of the prosecutor reveals much about prevailing attitudes towards election violence. Even in the increasingly peaceful Edwardian period, election violence was still a semi-expected element of the process:

‘On behalf of the police and inhabitants of Poole he thought he could say that everyone very much regretted that even at election time [my emphasis] anything like that should have occurred, but for it to be after the election made it so much worse. He did hope that people would now sink all their political differences and be good friends again, and not show their temper as in the present instance. They should come to recognise that one side had got their man in and the other side had not. It was a pity that after an election had taken place [my emphasis] such a disturbance should happen, and he hoped that if it did occur again the Bench would deal with it most stringently (the Magistrates: “we shall”)’.

The repeated emphasis on the difference between pre-election and post-election violence is notable. Some licence was granted to those behaving violently during a contest, accepted to a limited extent as part of the rough and tumble of electioneering, for the purposes of influencing the result or otherwise.

Violence after the election had concluded, however, was far less tolerated. This was particularly so in this case, because of the nature of the incidents in question.  The specific targeting of Barralet could not be excused as the result of exuberance following an election result, or indeed frustration, as Barralet’s candidate had lost. The acts were therefore seen as purely vindictive and hence disreputable. Barralet’s victimisation straddled the border between election violence and of political violence.  The former enjoyed some (increasingly limited) measure of toleration, whereas the latter was roundly condemned.

(Source: The Guardian, 3 February 1906; Western Gazette, 2 February 1906. Retrieved 2019, via British Newspaper Archive. Newspaper Images © THE BRITISH LIBRARY BOARD. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED)

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