In memory of our former Chairman, Sir David Butler (1924-2022)

Former Hansard Society Chairman Sir David Butler alongside our current Chair, Baroness Taylor of Bolton, when she was Leader of the House of Commons. Photo taken during a Hansard Society event in the late 1990s. ©Hansard Society
Former Hansard Society Chairman Sir David Butler alongside our current Chair, Baroness Taylor of Bolton, when she was Leader of the House of Commons. Photo taken during a Hansard Society event in the late 1990s. ©Hansard Society

Sir David Butler was Chairman of the Hansard Society between 1994 and 2001. To mark his long association with the Society, we have brought together a collection of some of his work for us, including some of his articles for our journal, Parliamentary Affairs.

To the wider public Sir David Butler was best known as the inventor of the 'Swingometer' and the resident expert on the BBC's election night programmes. He was just 20 years old when in 1945 he translated that year's constituency General Election results into percentages. In doing so he founded psephology (or election science), explained a party's gains and losses in terms of 'swing', and changed forever the way we would analyse and understand election results. But his interest in politics went much wider than elections: he was passionate about the role and work of politicians and Parliament. This, combined with his commitment to communicating in accessible terms for a mass audience, drew him to support the Hansard Society.

The Case for an Electoral Commission. ©Hansard Society

The Case for An Electoral Commission (1998)

In 1998 Sir David wrote The Case for An Electoral Commission, promoting the merits of an independent body to oversee the administration of elections.

This 'King-Hall Paper' (one of an occasional series of briefings named in honour of our founder Sir Stephen King-Hall) was critical in persuading the Committee on Standards in Public Life to support the proposal which was subsequently enacted by the Labour Government in the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act 2000. The Electoral Commission began operations the following year.

Cover image to The Chellenge for Parliament. ©Hansard Society

The Challenge for Parliament: Making Government Accountable (2001)

As Chair of the Society, Sir David was the driving force behind the setting-up of our Commission on Parliamentary Scrutiny, chaired by Lord Newton.

The Commission's recommendations were published in 2001, providing a roadmap for parliamentary reform that was taken up by the new Leader of the House of Commons, Robin Cook. The Commission greatly influenced the development of Parliament as a more committee-based institution with a greater scrutiny role played by Select Committees.

Sir David and Tony Benn MP in conversation (2004)

In 2004, as a fundraiser to mark the Society's 60th anniversary, we hosted a fascinating discussion between Sir David and his lifelong friend Tony Benn MP.

David and Tony first met at Oxford University, where they were tutorial partners. Although they were not political allies, they maintained their friendship through the decades and their conversation was full of wonderful political anecdotes and insight spanning both UK and US politics.

Cover image for No Overall Control. ©Hansard Society

No Overall Control? (2008)

In 2008 the Society published No Overall Control: The Impact of a 'Hung Parliament' on British Politics, amid increasing speculation that the next UK General Election might produce a result in which no single party held a majority of seats.

This edited collection of essays explored what the consequences would be for Parliament, the political parties and MPs. Sir David contributed a chapter on the history of hung parliaments, setting out when they had occurred in the past and the factors that might lead them to occur in the future.

To mark Sir David's contribution to Parliamentary Affairs, the quarterly journal of the Hansard Society, we have curated a special collection of some of his articles that will be freely available to download for a limited time.

A comment on Professor Rasumussen's Article (on 'The disutility of the swing concept in British psephology') David Butler (May 1964)

The strength of the Liberals under different electoral systems David Butler, Arthur Stevens and Donald Stokes (September 1968)

The Australian Crisis of 1975 David Butler (March 1976)

The renomination of MPs David Butler (March 1978)

A level playing field for British elections? David Butler and Roger Mortimore (April 1992)

The Legacy of Stephen King-Hall David Butler (October 1994)

Electoral reform David Butler (October 2004)

Join the Hansard Society as a Premium Member and receive the print edition of our journal, Parliamentary Affairs, every quarter.

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