W J Brown

William (W J) Brown was elected independent MP for Rugby during the Second World War, and held his seat in 1945.

Brown had previously been the Labour MP for Wolverhampton West (1929-31), beating the Conservative MP Robert Bird, chairman of Alfred Bird and Sons, the firm that invented the famous custard powder.

During the campaign, Brown publicised the fact that Bird's paid "trade board rates", common in sweated industries, to its mostly female employees. He also sent some custard powder for analysis, which revealed that it was - as he said in his autobiography, So Far - mostly cornflour.

In the crisis of 1931, he planned to go with Oswald Mosley's New Party, but backed out at the last minute. He was a leader of a civil service trade union, but his relations with the Labour Party never repaired. And he judged: “It will never, I think, command an independent majority in the House of Commons."

This article first appeared in the 11 October 2010 issue of the New Statesman, Melvyn Bragg guest edit