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1962: Liberals seize Orpington

The Liberals have seized Orpington from the government in their first by-election victory for four years.

Eric Lubbock won the seat with a majority of 7,855, marking a swing of nearly 22% away from the Conservatives. It brings the number of Liberal MPs to seven.

It is the first seat the Government has lost since the general election in October 1959 and is probably its biggest humiliation since 1951, when the Tories returned to power.

"We must not stop in our efforts to overthrow Tory blunder"

Eric Lubbock

The election was caused by the appointment of Donald Sumner, formerly Conservative MP for Orpington, to be a county court judge.

The Liberal victory crowns a long series of by-elections in the past two-and-a-half years in which their candidates have captured second place.

Mr Lubbock, 33, an engineering consultant, told the jubilant crowd: "We want more Liberal councils, more Liberal candidates. We must not stop in our efforts to overthrow Tory blunder. There is not a safe Tory seat in the country."

Liberal leader Jo Grimond was delighted. "It is an incredible result. I must say the first thing that I should like to do is to congratulate Mr Lubbock. It is a wonderful victory," he said.

Lord Aldington, vice-chairman of the Conservative Party, who was with Mr Grimond, said: "I am quite certain the Conservative Party will not be shaken by [this result]. We shall march on and win the next general election."

Today's result follows the collapse yesterday of the safe government seat at North Blackpool into a marginal.

In today's other by-election in Middlesbrough, an experienced Labour front-bencher, Arthur Bottomley, was returned to Westminster. He lost his seat of Rochester and Chatham in 1959.

In this election too, the Liberals came a strong second.

There is to be another by-election at Pontefract on 22 March.

The seat was held with a Labour majority of more than 24,000 at the general election.

In Context
The Orpington by-election did not mark a dramatic Liberal resurgence.

But it is still regarded as one of the biggest by-election upsets in British political history.

Eric Lubbock stood in the leadership contest for the Liberal party in 1967 but lost to Jeremy Thorpe.

He lost the Orpington seat in the 1970 general election and to date (2002) it has remained Conservative. It ranks 12th on the party's list of target seats.

Mr Lubbock succeeded to the peerage in 1971 as Lord Avebury.

He founded the parliamentary human rights group in 1976 which he chaired for 21 years.

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