Retro: White togas and pitched battles for right to vote

Well, it seems to have gone on for ages but the end is in sight for the General Election and soon we will all know the fate of the candidates.

Irvine Patnick after the 1992 election success
Irvine Patnick after the 1992 election success

They include two South Yorkshire-based party leaders, Doncaster MP Ed Milliband and departing coalition Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg, so this region will be in the limelight more than usual come tomorrow night.

According to the Collins English dictionary: “The history of the word ‘candidate’ goes back to ancient Rome, where people who stood for political office would wear specially whitened togas while campaigning.

“These men came to be called candidati (‘whitened men’), a name derived from the Latin word candidus, meaning ‘pure white’.

Pictured at St Wilfreds RC School, Millhouses Lane, Sheffield, where children held a mini general election as part of their school citizens project. Seen is MP Richard Allen as he casts his vote watched by pupils and Coun Roger Davison school govenor.

“The same Latin word is also behind two other English words: ‘candid’ (pure and unbiased) and ‘candida’ (a type of parasitic fungus).”

We’ll leave you to make the obvious jokes about the other meanings…

Incidentally, the dictionary’s newsletter reports that Milifan - meaning someone who’s keen on the Labour leader is one of the top new words of April.

Here, however, we’re looking back to some past election campaigns and there are some well-known faces on these pictures for Sheffield voters, including two MPs who are no longer with us, Labour’s Bill Michie and the Tory Sir Irvine Patnick.

David Blunkett out among the shoppers at Firth Park on the start of his election campaing.

Hallam MP Patnick was credited with coining the phrase “socialist republic of South Yorkshire” when he was leading the Tory charge against the city’s left-wing policies.

In later years, he had to apologise for passing on what he said was “inaccurate, misleading and plain wrong information” about the behaviour of Liverpool fans in the Hillsborough disaster, which he said had been given to him by South Yorkshire Police.

Bill Michie was a popular MP for the Heeley constituency and was part of the left-leaning Socialist Campaign Group of Labour MPs.

He joined demonstrations against the Iraq war in 2003 which was being waged by his own government.

Election 97: Labour candidate Bill Michie making his acceptance speech for the Heeley constituency.

Thirty years ago, he was at the centre of the city council’s fight against rate capping by the Thatcher government, addressing a rally of 15,000 when the city council refused to set a rate.

Eventually the rebellion petered out when 15 rebels councils were forced to set a rate.

In local elections, Sheffielders have only been able to vote for their councillors since 1843, when the city won its charter and became a borough.

Only ratepayers of three years’ standing were allowed to vote in those days – and male ratepayers at that.

In those days, the now genteel Paradise Square at the edge of the city centre was the place where many political debates and discussions took place.

In September 1838, a crowd of 20,000 heard Chartist leaders argue for political rights for working class people.

The demands of The People’s Charter of 1838, which was a giant petition to Parliament, included a vote for every man aged 21, a secret ballot to protect the elector in the exercise of his vote, no property qualification for MPs, allowing anyone to serve, equal constituencies, securing the same amount of representation for the same number of electors, and annual Parliamentary elections to bribery and intimidation.

A pitched battle was fought in the square with soldiers from the Dragoons and protesters were arrested.

Political hustings continued to take place there until the 1890s. It’s hard to imagine such goings-on there these days.