By the way: a look back at memorable by-elections

In a new series for BBC Parliament, Rosalyn Ball looks back at memorable Westminster by-elections.

Gatton 1803: A 'rotten borough'

PM William Pitt the Younger intervened

The borough of Gatton in Surrey was one of the country's most notorious rotten boroughs. With a population which numbered around seven, it returned two seats to Parliament, at the time the Lord of the Manor of Gatton, Sir Mark Wood, and his brother-in-law James Dashwood.

In 1803, at the request of Tory Prime Minister William Pitt the Younger, Mr Dashwood vacated his seat to make way for Philip Dundas, a former president of the East India Marine Board.

This was due to be an uncontested formality; however this was changed by the arrival of the barrister Joseph Clayton Jennings, who found someone to vote in his favour.

As a consequence, a voter was also brought in for Mr Dundas. However, the returning officer, who just happened to be the outgoing James Dashwood, rejected the one vote for Mr Jennings, meaning Philip Dundas was duly elected with just one vote.

Oxford 1938: The appeasement election

The master of Balliol College stood for election

The by-election was caused by the death of the sitting Conservative MP, Robert Bourne, and took place just weeks after Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain had signed the Munich Agreement, which handed over control of the Sudetenland to Adolf Hitler.

This process of appeasement angered many Labour, Liberal and some Conservative politicians, and became the central focus of the by-election.

The Liberal and Labour candidates - Ivor Davies and Patrick Gordon Walker respectively - both stood down in favour of the master of Balliol College, Sandy Lindsay, who stood on a "Independent Progressive" ticket.

Standing as the Conservative was former President of the Oxford Union and future government minister Quintin Hogg, a supporter of Chamberlain's appeasement policy.

The campaign was deeply polarised and many high-profile Conservatives, including Harold Macmillan, used the campaign to voice their opposition to the notion of appeasement.

In the end however, on a turnout of almost 80%, Mr Hogg won the seat, but with a majority slashed by almost a half.

Orpington 1962: The Liberal breakthrough

Liberal victor Eric Lubbock congratulates his opponents

After many years in the doldrums when the old joke went that the party conference could be held in the back of a taxi, 1962 saw the start of a Liberal revival.

The sitting MP, Conservative Donald Sumner stepped down following his appointment as a County Court judge, and many expected his successor to be fellow Conservative Peter Goldman, who had worked with the party in drawing up its successful 1959 election manifesto.

Local councillor Eric Lubbock - who later entered the Lords as Lord Avebury - was selected by the Liberals, and he used the campaign to play up his local connections.

This was in stark contrast to Mr Goldman, who lived outside the constituency and publicly stated that he had no plans to move into it.

When polling day came in March, the size of the Liberal victory shocked most analysts as the party which at the previous election had less than 6% of the vote took the seat on a swing of nearly 22%.

Copyright © 2019 BBC. The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.