A new generation contested the 1868 General Election. The Tories selected the young lord of the manor, a 22-year-old Cambridge undergraduate James Agg-Gardner. The Liberals chose a 23-year-old Oxford undergraduate, Henry Samuelson, the son of wealthy Banbury Liberal MP Sir Bernhard Samuelson. It was a good time to be the Liberal candidate. The party nationally had also broken with its aristocratic leadership and was now led by the dynamic William Gladstone who swept to a landslide victory on a platform of reform and opposition to privilege. Henry campaigned in particular for universal education and turned the Tories’ narrow majority into a Liberal one of 188.
Even the kindest friend would have to admit his maiden speech was hopeless. He chose a debate on the odd subject of the House of Commons Ladies Gallery screen. According to the official record, he dismissed the suggestion that removing the screen would force ladies to wear evening dress because ‘it was the custom in society for both sexes to appear in full dress or neither’. Gales of laughter ensued but Henry missed the joke. Within a couple of years he was putting in a much more assured performance in favour of the revolutionary 1870 Education Act for which he had campaigned and which paved the way for universal primary education for all.
But the mood of the country – and the state of the economy – was changing. Disraeli’s Tories had picked up the baton of social reform too and when the 1874 election offered Agg-Gardner and Samuelson a rematch, it was the Conservative who won. Henry didn’t waste any time looking elsewhere for a seat. Just two years later he was elected at a by-election for the safer seat of Frome.