Parliament has been remembering one of Birmingham’s greatest MPs as it celebrates the 200th anniversary of the birth of John Bright.
Bright was a Birmingham MP from 1858 until his death in 1889, after previously representing Manchester.
A Quaker and member for most of his political career of the Liberal Party, he played a leading role in a series of radical causes including the campaign to reform the election laws and widen the franchise to working class people.
He was born on November 16, 1811. Now, his life has been celebrated with an exhibition in the House of Commons estate, where it can be seen by MPs, members of the House of Lords and their researchers.
The display, including historical information, photographs and even an early political cartoon from Vanity Fair, showing Bright with top hat and umbrella, has been installed in Portcullis House, where many MPs have their offices and Commons Select Committees regularly meet.
Bright was one of only two MPs representing the city when first elected, although that number rose to seven by the time of his death. He was initially elected unopposed and while his actions place him at the heart of Birmingham’s reformist political tradition associated with the Liberal Party, he was very much his own man.
He campaigned against the Corn Laws, which were designed to protect British farmers by prohibiting cheap foreign imports. Critics claimed they pushed up the price of bread, causing poverty and starvation.
Bright also called for India, then under British Imperial rule, to be allowed more autonomy, and supported the anti-slavery North against the slave-owning South in the American civil war, describing slavery as “that most odious and most indescribable offence against man and against Heaven”.
MP John Hemming (Lib Dem Yardley) said: “Birmingham was very much a Liberal city and enormously powerful. Some of the issues John Bright campaigned on, such as ensuring we have a fair political system, are issues we are still debating today.”