Huffpost UK uk

Three Political Families Who Shaped The Twentieth Century

Posted: Updated:
Print Article

They might not have the personal drama of the Kennedys or the soap-opera scandals of the Clintons but Britain's political history is littered with families which have been heavily involved with politics. HuffPost looks at three British families who have seen plenty of political action:

THE CHURCHILLS

winston snr

Sir Winston Churchill

Britain's wartime leader was in 2002 voted Greatest Briton in a major BBC series, for his role in securing Allied victory against the Nazis. Sir Winston came from a long line of Dukes of Marlborough - six generations on his paternal side served in UK governments, stretching back to George Spencer, the 4th Duke of Marlborough, who was a counsellor to the King during the Seven Years War of 1760.

What is less well-known is that for much of the Second World War Sir Winston's son Randolph was sitting in Parliament....

randolph churchill

Randolph, named after Sir Winston's father, must have been seen as a let-down after generations of successful politicians. A heavy drinker, Randolph only served in Parliament for four years, and strugged to carve a niche for himself thereafter. He died young, aged only 57, of a heart attack, just two years after his father passed away.

winston churchill grandson

Winston Churchill MP, pictured with Margaret Thatcher in 2002

Some say that Winston Churchill, grandson of the wartime leader, never came out from his grandfather's shadow. Born at the PM's country residence of Chequers in 1940 when his grandfather was running the country during the war. Winston junior held various seats across the north of England, but never achieved any significant ministerial office. None of his four children have entered politics, suggesting that although Winston Churchill senior saved Britain from Hitler, his legacy was that a long line of political over-achievers was in effect broken in the process.

THE HURDS

douglas hurd

Douglas Hurd

Douglas Hurd's grandfather Percy began a long political tradition, first becoming elected to Parliament as the Tory MP for Frome in Somerset in 1918. He stood on a coalition ticket - before 201 the last time the Tories and the Libs worked together - and remained in Parliament until 1945.

The same year Hurd's father Anthony was elected as the Tory MP for Newbury, a seat he held until 1964. Nine years later Douglas entered Parliament, taking the seat which is now known as Whitney - currently held by one David Cameron.

Hurd served throughout the Thatcher and Major government from 1979-1995, holding the post of Foreign Secretary for the last seven years of his time in front-line politics. Hurd was seen as a "centre ground" Tory, and spent much of the final years of the Major government trying to hold the party together, amid constant battles between traditional one-nation Tories (often known as "the wets") and Thatcherite eurosceptics. Hurd remains an influential figure in the House of Lords having given up his Commons seat in 1997.

nick hurd

Nick Hurd

It would only be eight years before the next member of the Hurd family entered Parliament in 2005. Nick Hurd was immediately successful - getting a Private Members Bill into law while serving in the Tory Opposition, and is now the Charities Minister in Cameron's government. He's serving at the heart of the Cabinet Office, purportedly at the heart of the Big Society project, though whether that's still on the political agenda remains to be be seen.

At the time of writing it seems unlikely the Hurd political dynasty will continue - Nick Hurd's eldest son is a model, but there is hope; he had a daughter in May of 2012 with his second wife.

THE BENNS

the benns

Tony, Hillary and Emily Benn

One political family which shows signs of continuing well into the Twenty-first Century is the Benns, a Labour family which has been at the hear of left-wing thinking for over well over a century.

Tony Benn's grandfather, Sir John Williams Benn, tried several times to get into Parliament, finally getting elected in 1904 in Devenport. His son, William Wedgewood Benn, joined him in the Commons just two years later in 1906. William was a bit of a flipper - beginning as a Liberal MP before switching to Labour. For his political service William was made a hereditary peer, something which would ultimately cause his son difficulties and help to shape political history.

Tony Benn entered the Commons in 1950, becoming the Baby of the House - the youngest-serving MP. Unfortunately for Benn the death of his father ten year's later meant he inherited the peerage, and at the time it was illegal for peers to serve in the Commons and he was disqualified. Despite this Benn contested the ensuing by-election and won it easily. His victory was annulled by the authorities and the runner-up took his place. But the government acknowledged that the situation was untenable and passed an Act in 1963 which allowed peers to renounce their titles. Benn was re-elected to Parliament in 1964 and served there until 2001, having served in several Labour governments in the 1970s. He was branded part of the "loony left" in the 1980s but gained a new generation of supporters in the 21st Century with his fierce opposition to the Iraq War.

His son Hillary became an MP in 1999 during a by-election, having served as a special adviser to David Blunkett from 1997. Benn rose through the Labour ranks quickly, and was International Development Secretary by 2003, becoming Environment Secretary under Gordon Brown in 2007.

Hillary remains in Ed Miliband's shadow Cabinet, serving as Labour's local government spokesman. Of all the political dynasties of the last 100 years, it's the Benn family which seems most likely to continue; Hillary's niece Emily Benn contested a safe Tory seat in 2010 - Labour's youngest candidate at the general election at the age of just 20. Expect to hear a lot more from the latest in the Benn family in the years to come...