Charles Stanton M.P.

102 years ago today a by-election was held in Merthyr to elect a new M.P. for the town to fill the vacancy left by the death of Keir Hardie on 26 September. The victor in that by-election was Charles Butt Stanton.

Charles Butt Stanton was born at Aberaman on 7 April 1873. After his education at Aberaman British School, he obtained his first job as a page boy in a Bridgend household, later returning home to work in a local colliery. An incident during the Hauliers’ Strike of 1893 brought him to public notice when it was alleged that he fired a gun during a clash between miners and the police. Arrested and tried, he was found guilty of possessing an unlicensed gun and sentenced to six months imprisonment. Prison did not cool his spirit and he played an active part in the South Wales miners’ strike of 1898.

Soon after the 1898 strike, Stanton went to London and found work as a docker, taking an active role in the London dock strike in the same year. He did not stay long in London but returned to Aberdare and was elected Miners’ Agent for Aberdare by a large majority in 1899, on the death of agent David Morgan (Dai o’r Nant). In this role he became involved in activities linked with the Cambrian Combine Strike of 1910, which led to the Tonypandy Riots.

During this first decade of the twentieth century, Stanton had not confined his activities to the South Wales Miners’ Federation. He became the first Secretary of the Aberdare Socialist Society in 1890 and was an active member of the Independent Labour Party, later serving as South Wales President.

In 1904 he was elected to the Aberdare Urban District Council as a member for the Aberaman Ward. A militant, he was critical of the more moderate approach adopted by the local Labour MP, Keir Hardie. When Britain entered the First World War, Stanton became a strong supporter of the national war effort, and publicly opposed Keir Hardie’s stance opposed to the war.

Hardie’s death, on 26 September 1915, a year after the outbreak of the war, caused a vacancy in one of the two Merthyr Tydfil parliamentary seats. The by-election to fill the vacancy was called for 25 November 1915.

The official Labour choice to succeed Keir Hardie was James Winstone (1863–1921). Winstone was a leader of the miners’ union – a miner’s agent since 1906, he had served as Vice-President of the South Wales Miners Federation since 1912, and had recently been elected President of the South Wales Federation. He had also been a County Councillor in Monmouthshire since 1906, and was a former chairman of the Urban District Councils of both Risca and Abersychan.

In the four by-elections held in Wales since the outbreak of war, the candidate of the former member’s party had been returned unopposed, in accordance with an electoral truce agreed between the parties. It was assumed therefore that the Labour Party candidate to succeed Keir Hardie would also be returned unopposed.

Stanton announced that he would stand against Winstone on a patriotic, win-the-war platform. Stanton’s campaign focused its attack on the Independent Labour Party. Stanton presented himself as a ‘National’ candidate – “… standing on a National platform, and respecting, as I am, the political truce, I am considering not only the opinion of Labour men but of all sections of the community. And hence I do not hesitate to say that my candidature is national in the truest sense of the term. Surely, it is obvious that the success of Mr. Winstone, which is unthinkable, would be a message of discouragement to our soldiers in the field …”

Stanton won the vacant seat with a majority of over 4,000 votes.

After the two-member Merthyr Tydfil seat was divided into two single member seats, Stanton focused on the Aberdare division, which he won at the 1918 general election. In Merthyr the new set was won by Sir Edgar Rees Jones.

Stanton again fought the Aberdare division at the general election of November 1922, this time as a Lloyd George National Liberal candidate. He was defeated by the Labour candidate, George Hall. In 1928 Stanton joined the Liberal Party.

Following his retirement from politics he settled at Hampstead, where he took over an old inn. Charles Butt Stanton died in London on 6 December 1946, survived by his widow, Alice and son Frank. His funeral was held at Golders Green Crematorium on 10 December.