General Election 2015: The Whigs reappear on ballot papers after 150 years

If a week is a long time in politics, the Whigs’ return has been an age in the making

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The most successful political party of the last 400 years is back: a mere 147 years since its dissolution – and 14 decades after the triumphant repeal of the Corn Laws – a former army officer from south London has revived the Whigs. The modern faction of the party founded in 1678 will field four new candidates in May’s general election.

The Whigs were the leading progressive political party and main opposition to the Tories during the 18th and 19th centuries. They were responsible for abolishing slavery, emancipating the Catholics and establishing British parliamentary democracy as we know it.

Now 32-year-old management consultant Waleed Ghani has resurrected the party, a feat that, to his surprise, appears not to have been attempted in the century and a half since the Whigs fell apart.

Mr Ghani, who appointed himself party leader, said he decided to revive the Whigs because he could not vote for any of the candidates standing in the general election.

“I didn’t feel it reflected a sense of optimism or confidence for Britain,” he said. “We came out of the Olympics in 2012 and there was an ease with modern Britain, a confidence about who we were and where we were going. Fast forward two years to the next national conversation about who we are: it’s all immigration.”

 

Mr Ghani said he had “always admired” the Whigs. “A lot of people who know about the Whigs like them. They were the good guys for about 200 years.”

It took four and a half months for the Electoral Commission to grant him the rights to use the historic political brand. After relaunching the party in October, Mr Ghani attracted interest on social media. He interviewed 10 prospective parliamentary candidates and four will now stand in May, including Mr Ghani and his fiancée Felicity Anscomb.

The party’s first manifesto in more than a century is pro-Europe, pro-immigration and defends the rights of renters. It calls for the abolition of university tuition fees, universal childcare from ages two to four and the defence of women’s rights and human rights worldwide.

On the stump the first questions are usually about the toupé but “once you’ve got over the barrier of explaining it’s with an ‘h’, it’s not about hair, people are interested”.

Paul Bradley-Law, 40, is standing in Stretford and Urmston, Greater Manchester. He also studied the Whigs at school and found the party again on Twitter. “We’re a new thing trying to represent old ideas,” he said. “I’m the first Whig standing at hustings since 1868. If I lose, I will be the first Whig ever to lose in Greater Manchester.”

Mr Bradley-Law is upbeat about his chance. “We don’t know how we’re going to do on 7 May, but if I could give people the opportunity to vote for somebody hopeful and optimistic that would make me very happy.”

Mr Ghani, who will stand in Vauxhall, is more sanguine. “I’m instinctively relaxed about losing my deposit,” he said. “This is about being engaged with politics and doing something positive.”


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