If Wells Went to Parliament

Few remember that British science fiction novelist H.G. Wells, author of The Time Machine and The War of the Worlds, ran for the House of Commons in 1922. Today, this fact doesn’t even merit a mention on Wells’ Wikipedia page.

Yet he did run for the lower house of the British Parliament, and for a most unusual seat: not representing an actual geographic district, but for the seat representing London University.

See, the House of Commons used to have so-called “university constituencies.” The seven universities of Birmingham, Bristol, Durham, Leeds, Liverpool, Manchester, and Sheffield collectively had two seats in the House of Commons. Cambridge, Oxford, and London Universities also each had their own seats as well: two each for Cambridge and Oxford, one for London.

Journalist P.W. Wilson, himself a former British member of Parliament, wrote in 1922 for the New York Times Magazine that Parliament might actually be beneath the level of a mind such as the one Wells possessed:

It is, perhaps, a little unfortunate astronomically considered that, in the British Empire, which is after all only a local and temporary affair, there should be no Parliament adequate to a thinker like Wells. England has at times annexed ungrateful areas, but not as yet the solar system, over which, therefore, the House of Commons exercises no legislative jurisdiction.

In his “Outline of History,” Wells refers to “the student teacher of the universe, unifed, disciplined, armed with secret powers of the atom and with knowledge as yet beyond dreaming, who will presently stand upon this earth as upon a footstool and stretch out its realm amidst the stars.”

Just so; but not, I am afraid, this session.

In the November 1922 election, Wells came in last place: third out of the three candidates. Sydney Russell-Wells of the Conservative Party (also known as the Tories) won with 51.5%. The Liberal Party’s Albert Pollard was a distant runner-up with 29.3%, then the Labour Party’s Wells even further behind with 19.1%.

The practice of such “university constituencies” lasted until 1950, when they were abolished by the Representation of the People Act of 1949.

If Wells Went to Parliament

Published: Sunday, August 20, 1922

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