The Returning Officer


R C Wallhead (Merthyr, 1922-34) and James Clunie (Dunfermline Burghs, 1950-59) both started their careers as house painters. Wallhead decorated the headquarters of the Salford Independent Labour Party with Sylvia Pankhurst, but Pankhurst then discovered that women were not allowed into the building.

In his memoirs, Clunie recalled his most difficult time as an apprentice when a client harassed him about his love of "socialist" red paper to decorate with, even though he had chosen it himself. J R Vincent's study of Victorian poll books showed that decorators were politically divided: in 1868, in Cambridge, they voted 45 to 29 for the Liberals Torrens and Fowler, but their Dublin contemporaries voted six to one in favour of the Tories.

In 1873, the West End section of the International Workingmen's Association had five painters in membership, but tellingly, in 1880, the Market Hall ward of the famed Birmingham Liberal caucus had only one master decorator.

This article first appeared in the 16 August 2010 issue of the New Statesman, The war against science