Cambridge University (UK Parliament Constituency) - History


In the early 18th century the University electorate were mostly Tory. However the Whig ministers of King George I were able to persuade the King to use the royal prerogative power to confer doctorates, so from 1727 the University returned Whig representatives. Oxford University, where the King did not have the same prerogative power, remained safely Tory (indeed often Jacobite) in sympathies.

The leading mid-18th century Whig politician, the Duke of Newcastle, was for many years (1748–1768) Chancellor of the University. He "recommended" suitable candidates to represent the institution in Parliament. This practice continued under his successor, another Whig Duke and Prime Minister (1768–1770), the Duke of Grafton (Chancellor 1768-1811). However Grafton was less prominent as a politician than Newcastle had been and less attentive to the University. As a result some of Grafton's choices were criticised, notably that of the Duke's friend Richard Croftes.

Croftes lacked the sort of characteristics a University MP usually had. He was neither the son of a peer (like the Hon. John Townshend, the Marquess of Granby or Grafton's own son the Earl of Euston), a distinguished lawyer-politician (such as William de Grey, James Mansfield or Sir Vicary Gibbs) nor a prominent political figure (like William Pitt or Lord Henry Petty).

In the late 18th and early 19th centuries Pittite/Tory candidates began to be elected. At the start of this political development some of the Pittite MPs, like William Pitt himself (MP for the University 1784-1806), called themselves Whigs. As time passed the division between the 19th century Tory and Whig parties became clearer.

The future Prime Minister, the Viscount Palmerston, retained his seat as a Whig after he left the Tory ranks. However by 1831 he was defeated. After the Viscount ceased to represent the University he was elected by a territorial constituency. No further non Tory/Conservative MP was to represent the University until the 1920s.

Even after the introduction of the single transferable vote in 1918, most Cambridge University MPs continued to be Conservatives.

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