UK election trivia-2

In my schooldays a common insult was “Balls to you”. It is unclear whether this is pure Indian English or of British origin.

In later years I taught high school mathematics for some years. Many of the examples for probability in 11th/12th grade involved bags containing black,white and red balls. More about different kinds of balls here:

A major point of interest in the UK elections was the defeat of many stalwarts of the Labour and Lib-Dem party. One of them was former minister Ed Balls:

Anyway he is young enough and is likely to be a major figure in any Labour government in the distant future. But is the UK ready for a PM with the surname Balls? Probably Germany in the 1930s was not ready for a Fuhrer with the surname Schicklgruber either although it could be argued that this was Adolf Hitler’s actual surname. He was lucky as “Heil Hitler” sounds much snappier than “Heil Schicklgruber”. More on Hitler’s family name here:

However, the fact is that the UK did have a Prime Minister whose surname was originally Ball. More about John Major’s ancestry here:

and a shorter one here:

While on this topic, Bill Clinton’s surname came from his stepfather. His actual father was named Blythe, as we see from this extract:


Clinton was born William Jefferson Blythe III on August 19, 1946, at Julia Chester Hospital in Hope, Arkansas. His father, William Jefferson Blythe, Jr. (1918–1946), was a traveling salesman who died in an automobile accident three months before Bill was born. His mother, Virginia Dell (née Cassidy; 1923–1994), traveled to New Orleans to study nursing soon after he was born. She left Bill in Hope with her parents Eldridge and Edith Cassidy, who owned and ran a small grocery store. At a time when the Southern United States was segregated racially, Bill’s grandparents sold goods on credit to people of all races. In 1950, Bill’s mother returned from nursing school and married Roger Clinton, Sr., who owned an automobile dealership in Hot Springs, Arkansas, with his brother and Earl T. Ricks. The family moved to Hot Springs in 1950.

Bill Clinton’s boyhood home in Hope, Arkansas

Although he immediately assumed use of his stepfather’s surname, it was not until Billy (as he was known then) turned fifteen that he formally adopted the surname Clinton as a gesture toward his stepfather.


Would he have had such an easy run in public life as Bill Blythe rather than Bill Clinton? Or would Hillary Blythe have a better shot at the White House than Hillary Clinton? After all, Clinton is a more “recognizable” American surname than Blythe.

Cricket fans may wonder if he had any connection with this prominent Test player of the 1900s:

Colin Blythe’s 15-wicket haul was one of the best match bowling figures of that period. He was one of several prominent cricketers who were killed in the Great War.

UK election trivia-1

One of the main stories of this election was the near-wipeout of all “national” parties from Scotland. Of the 59 parliamentary seats there, the local party won 56 with the Tories, Labour and Lib-Dems winning one each. (Sounds a bit like the 67/70 in Delhi not so long ago, though it would be difficult to identify the analogues of Mr Kejriwal and Ms Bedi here).

The three seats which defied the trend were:

Edinburgh South: Labour

Dumfriesshire…: Conservative

Orkney and Shetland: Liberal-Democrat

The constituency of Dumfriesshire, Clydesdale and Tweedsdale is of some interest to those familiar with the history of disasters. It includes Lockerbie (site of the worst aviation disaster in the UK) while a few miles away is the old railway installation of Quintinshill, which was the site of the UK’s worst rail disaster in 1915:

However, we turn our attention the the constituency of Orkney and Shetland, which is the second smallest constituency in the UK. It has an electorate of about 33,000 while most others have around 60,000 all over the UK. In case you are wondering, the smallest constituency is the one corresponding to the Outer Hebrides islands to the west of the Scottish mainland.

The system in India has somewhat more distortion as there are many small states and union territories which have one seat with electorates considerably lower than that of constituencies in most of India. A few examples would be Lakshadweep, the Andamans, Daman and Diu, Dadra and Nagar Haveli, Sikkim and Mizoram. This allows for freak results. India’s smallest constituency

did return an NCP member in 2014, though the party did badly in most of India. It now has only 6 Lok Sabha MPs. The Lib-Dem victory seems to follow a similar pattern.

Coming back to the Orkney and Shetland islands. They are the most isolated part of the UK with the Shetland islands being a bit closer to Norway than the British mainland.

I have traveled a bit in Scotland but have not been to that area. However, there is an interesting sidelight which I heard from my father. He had moved to Britain in late 1947 in the course of higher education. He spent most of his time in London, but sometimes did travel to out-of-the-way places.

In those days there were a fair number of South Asians in the UK, though much less than in the present. And they were more concentrated in London and a few major cities. It is understandable that the Orkney Islanders of c.1948 would not be familiar with the Sikh community.

My father somehow ended up on one of the ferries running between various islands of the Orkneys. On the boat he met a Sikh gentleman (complete with turban and beard) who was a traveling pedlar. Nearby there a couple of young Scottish boys aged around 10 who were watching the Sikh intently. Naturally the Sikh was glad to meet someone who was from (roughly) his part of the world and he was even more glad to see that my father could speak Hindi fluently. I suppose his English was not too good, as he could not understand what one young Scot whispered to the other:

“Look, Harry! It speaks!”