One would be hard pressed to find a more pleasant London neighborhood than the leafy suburb of Twickenham, where this author resides. Situated on the Thames River and immersed in history, Twickenham was for years a bastion of conservatism. In the last two decades, however, Twickenham has become something of a solid outpost for the liberal, globalist elite.
Most famous today as the “Home of England Rugby,” Twickenham’s history shows the town to have been a locale particularly congenial to those of conservative and traditionalist views. In the 17th century it became the residence of a number of those associated with the royalist cause in the English Civil War. York House, which is today the seat of local government, was once a royal property and formed part of the marriage settlement of King Charles I and his queen, Henrietta Maria. Following the restoration of the monarchy in 1660, it would become the home of the leading royalist statesman of that era, Edward Hyde, Earl of Clarendon, Lord Chancellor to King Charles II.
Appropriately, given Twickenham’s connection with a king beheaded by revolutionaries, the town would become in later centuries something of a haven for royals fleeing revolution. In the 19th century, York House would become the home of the Comte de Paris, grandson of King Louis Philippe of France. The House of Orleans’ connection with Twickenham is memorialized in another of the town’s famous houses, Orleans House, where Louis Philippe himself lived while in exile from 1815-1817. The Comte de Paris’s daughter married Carlos I, King of Portugal. Following the overthrow of the Portuguese monarchy by leftist revolutionaries in 1910, Carlos’s son and heir Manuel II fled to England and settled in Twickenham. Manuel became active in the local community, and today Twickenham streets reference Manuel or Portugal: Manoel Road, Augusta Road (named after Manuel’s queen), Lisbon Avenue, and Portugal Gardens.
Twickenham’s political past is also somewhat reflected in its literary history. Twickenham’s most famous building is the spectacular gothic castle known as Strawberry Hill, home to the Whig politician and inventor of the literary genre of gothic horror, Sir Horace Walpole. The town was also meeting place for the Tory poets of the Scriblerus Club. One of those poets, Alexander Pope, resided in a villa in Twickenham, famous for its garden, though now only Pope’s Grotto, the underground cavern where he wrote many of his famous works, survives. Pope and fellow club members Jonathan Swift and John Gay were amusingly called the “three Yahoos of Twickenham” by the leading Tory statesman of the day, Lord Bolingbroke.
When Twickenham first became a parliamentary constituency in 1918, its first MP was William Joynson-Hicks, a strong social conservative and anti-communist who was also an early opponent of open immigration policies.
Along with this impressive heritage, Twickenham presents an oasis of calm in the crazy city that is modern London. Still recognizably English, it has been little affected by mass immigration, multiculturalism, and their associated problems. It enjoys some of the lowest rates of unemployment, ill health, and crime in London. Unlike so much of London, it is an exceedingly pleasant place to live with none of the decay that afflicts so much of the larger capital. Given these facts, one might hope that Twickenham would have remained a bulwark of conservatism and would have strongly supported Brexit. But alas, this is not the case.
In the mid-1980s, the Liberals, in alliance with the Social Democratic Party (SDP), captured Richmond Council, under whose authority Twickenham falls. In 1988, the Liberals amalgamated with their SDP allies to become the Liberal Democrats (usually referred to by the abbreviation “Lib Dems”). The Lib Dems have held the council in all but three elections since.
Just how liberal are the Lib Dems? It would be fair to say there are moments when they rival Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour Party in their fanatical commitment to the latest politically correct fads. Just a few days before the last election, the party’s leader, Jo Swinson, was on TV discussing her party’s support for transgenderism, hardly a priority for voters. Among the policies enunciated in the Lib Dems’ election manifesto was a commitment to “fund abortion clinics to provide their services free of charge to service users regardless of nationality or residency.” In addition to providing free abortions to the entire planet, the Lib Dems committed themselves to granting a married person the right to change his or her gender without the consent of their spouse. Their manifesto denounced a system that supports the “traditional family with a main breadwinner and two children” as “entirely out of step with the modern world.”
The Lib Dems further committed themselves to legislating to allow political parties to run all “BAME” (black and minority ethnic) and all “LGBT+” shortlists of candidates and to require companies with over 250 employees to publish data on gender, BAME, and LGBT+ employment levels.
Due to undergo an election for new leadership later this year, one of the declared Lib Dem leadership candidates is Layla Moran, a self-described “pansexual” who recently dropped this gem about the current coronavirus crisis: “Farage and Trump engaging in racial hatred by ‘pointing out’ the virus ‘started in China.’ You know what else ‘started in China’? The fleet that discovered America in 1492.”
Yes, this woman could actually be the future leader of a major British political party. Such is the party that has dominated Twickenham’s local and national politics for going on three decades.
Twickenham’s victorious parliamentary candidate in the 2019 general election, whose result dwarfed that of her Conservative opponent, was one Munira Wilson, who dubs herself “Whitton’s woman in Westminster” (Whitton is an area of Twickenham). The Richmond and Twickenham Lib Dem website describes her as “passionate about fighting Brexit and the untold damage it will do to our country.” Interestingly, Mrs. Wilson is of Indian ethnic origin, though representing an area with little ethnic diversity. The Lib Dems, in spite of their self-conscious obsession with “diversity,” have never managed to corner the ethnic minority vote, that being overwhelmingly the preserve of the Labour Party. The Lib Dems’ image is that of an overwhelmingly white, middle class, and affluent party. It has been said that the Lib Dems are the party of those liberal middle-class people who just can’t bring themselves to vote for an openly socialist Labour Party.
Wilson’s predecessor as MP for Twickenham, Sir Vincent Cable, who had held the seat for all but two years between 1997 and 2019, had in 2018 denounced his own party for being “very male” and “very, very white,” though Cable is himself a white male. In the same speech, Cable accused Brexit voters of being driven by “nostalgia for a world where passports were blue, faces were white, and the map was coloured imperial pink.” In response to Cable’s indictment, the party established a Racial Diversity Campaign to recruit more minority candidates.
Mrs. Wilson appears to see herself as the answer to the party’s new diversity fetish. In her victory speech she stated: “I’m a living, walking, breathing example of some diversity in the party…We are making great strides working within the party to improve our representation from ethnic minorities and women, and that’s what I’m here as a product of…” As if to allay any suspicion that she might be a beneficiary of affirmative action she then added: “as well as my own hard work.”
In her maiden speech to Parliament, Wilson began by telling her colleagues that her five-year-old daughter was sitting in the gallery and that “with a record number of female and BAME MPs elected in this Parliament, I hope that I and others will be an inspiration to girls like her and other young women as we strive towards a more diverse Parliament that truly reflects British society.” She ended by stating she entered politics to “promote internationalist values,” whatever that means. To give the woman credit, she largely chose to focus on issues of concern to local people, in between these politically correct platitudes.
Twickenham might be called “deepest remainland.” In the Brexit referendum of 2016, Twickenham voted 66 percent to 33 percent in favour of remaining in the European Union. Anti-Brexit stickers on house windows are common. “Brexit wrecks it” is a popular one. During the recent general election, the Lib Dems campaigned under the slogan “Stop Brexit,” and, as if to further show their contempt for the country and the people who had voted to leave the EU, they invited the European Parliament’s leading Britain-baiter Guy Verhofstadt to be a speaker at their party conference.
Despite the party’s bad showing in the election, including its leader Jo Swinson losing her seat in parliament, in Twickenham the Lib Dems were returned with an increased majority. In the council elections of 2018, they won 39 seats, the Conservatives 11. The Labour Party has little presence in Twickenham, but the Lib Dems have now been joined on the council by that other ultra-progressive party of the “woke” middle class, the Green Party, who elected four councillors, one of them representing a ward in the heart of Twickenham.
The Greens and Lib Dems reached an agreement whereby the two parties agreed not to run against each other in six wards. The idea was to ensure a pro-remain majority on the council. One local pundit called the result “revenge of the Remainers.” In September 2018, the council passed a motion calling for what they called a “people’s vote on the future Brexit deal,” remainer speak for a second referendum to overturn the results of the first one. The Lib Dems and Greens forged a similar agreement in the 2019 general election when the Greens decided not to run a parliamentary candidate, lest they damage Lib Dem chances. This was part of a pact called the Unite to Remain Alliance. On January 31, 2020, Brexit finally happened. While many of those who supported it rallied, draped themselves in the Union flag, danced and sang patriotic songs in Westminster and elsewhere, there can have been little celebration among the politicos of Twickenham, who had spent the last three and a half years warning of the supposedly devastating economic effects Brexit would have.
As if to illustrate its “wokeness” and adherence to the current zeitgeist, the local council recently declared a “climate change emergency” and announced its target of becoming a “carbon neutral organisation” by 2030. Far more sinister, however, has been its effective criminalization of a local pro-life vigil. This vigil, which began outside a local abortion clinic many years ago, consisted largely of Catholics quietly praying the rosary at a substantial distance from the clinic entrance. However, even such inoffensive activity has become intolerable to those who regard killing babies as a human right. The council imposed a Public Spaces Protection Order, creating a huge “buffer zone” that stretches several blocks from the clinic’s location, making the vigil’s continuance virtually impossible and imposing fines on any who violate the order.
Ironically, from 1970 until 1997, Twickenham was represented in Parliament by the pro-life and strongly anti-EU Conservative MP Toby Jessel, who had opposed the establishment of an abortion clinic in his constituency. Jessel’s long reign may have been extended by a sense of personal loyalty felt by many of his constituents due to his impressive record of getting things done at the local level.
Twickenham’s transformation from a traditionalist conservative stronghold to a bastion of the metropolitan elite has been paralleled by many other locations on the outskirts of London. It has evolved from a semi-rural locality within what was once the County of Middlesex into a London suburb dominated by a liberal professional class who make up the bulk of those who voted to remain in the European Union and who champion “woke” so-called progressive causes.
In common with so many other places in Britain, Twickenham has been a victim of the dull standardization caused by the multiplying of chain stores and the grim functional oversized boxes that are modern office blocks, which often replaced charming local-run businesses and aesthetically pleasing older buildings. Yet in spite of this and its liberal politics, Twickenham is still an attractive place to live. In its beautiful historic mansions, pleasant village-like green, old churches, old boats on the river, and lovely riverside pubs, we are able to catch a glimpse of an older and better Britain.
Image Credit: Strawberry Hill House, Twickenham, Sir Horace Walpole’s gothic castle