On this day … 27 February 1904

The Preston Guardian reported that Winston Churchill had made a ‘great speech’ at a Preston Free Trade demonstration in the Public Hall. It was an important time for Churchill, for he was preparing to defect from the Conservatives to the Liberals. He had been elected as MP for Oldham, at his second attempt, in 1900 at the age of 25. In his previous campaign in the town his fellow Conservative contender had been the Preston-born trade union leader, James Mawdsley.

His promotion of free trade set him at odds with his fellow Conservatives, and allied him more closely with the Liberals, In fact, if he had not switched sides, he would probably have been deselected by his constituency party, for it had already warned him that it would not support him at the next general election.

It was not only on free trade that Churchill was at odds with his party, for, as he wrote, he had ‘drifted steadily to the left’. In May, he was voting against the government on its proposed Aliens Bill, which would curb Jewish immigration. He argued that it would ‘appeal to insular prejudice against foreigners, to racial prejudice against Jews, and to labour prejudice against competition’, whereas he favoured ‘the old tolerant and generous practice of free entry and asylum to which this country has so long adhered and from which it has so greatly gained’.

Days later he crossed the floor of the House of Commons to take his seat on the Opposition benches. Altogether, a momentous year for Churchill (it was also the year in which he met his future wife, Clementine, for the first time).

As a Liberal, he took aim at Britain’s landowners, publishing a polemical pamphlet titled The People’s Rights in 1909, in which he wrote:

It’s often very difficult to find out who owns land in England. Land ownership remains our oldest, darkest, best-kept secret. There’s a reason for that: concealing wealth is part and parcel of preserving it. It’s why big estates have high walls, why the law of trespass exists to keep prying commoners like you and me from seeing what the lord of the manor owns …

‘Consider the enrichment which comes to the landlord who happens to own a plot of land on the outskirts or at the centre of one of our great cities’. While others work and pay taxes to fund the infrastructure and services as the country’s towns and cities grow: ‘All the while, the land monopolist has only to sit still and watch complacently his property multiplying in value, sometimes manifold, without either effort or contribution on his part; and that is justice!’

The problem persists: https://whoownsengland.org/

Who owned Lancashire?

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