The death of Ernest Millington, who won a historic war-time by-election in 1945 at Chelmsford for the radical Common Wealth party, produced a fine story about his arrival in the House of Commons. Although he’d come from an ordinary – and poor – family, and had been sacked from at least one pre-war job for his left-wing campaigning, he’d risen through the ranks of the RAF, becoming a Wing Commander. There’s a fine anecdote in Ray Roebuck’s obituary which captures Millington’s spirit and the social turbulence of the time:
He first arrived at the Commons with his newly awarded Distinguished Flying Cross ribbon inexpertly self-sewn on to his uniform. A Conservative MP, who was a squadron leader in the RAF police, approached. “You are improperly dressed,” he told Millington. “If you are talking to me as an RAF officer,” Millington replied, “take your hand out of your pocket and address a senior officer as ‘Sir’. If you are addressing me as a fellow MP, mind your own business and bugger off.” He did.
Obituaries such as this pour light on parts of our history which have been obscured. Having re-read some of the 17th century English Revolution history recently, I’m also struck by the link between the wartime Common Wealth party and the use of language about ‘Common Treasury’ and ‘Common Storehouse’ by the 17th century egalitarian ‘Digger’, Gerard Winstanley.