1979 – My political awakening

The Liberal Party leaflet scanned above is from the period of my party political awakening and as I’ve said before on this blog site I ended up joining the old Liberal Party on New Year’s day 1980. I mention it now because my dear friend Peter Gibson presented me with the leaflet a few days ago as he thought I’d like and appreciate it. He was right.

My original grasp at politics was with a small ‘p’ when I decided to become an activist in my trade union IRSF (Inland Revenue Staff Federation) in 1978 and it was only after this that my thoughts turned to politics with a big ‘P’. I was sure I was not a Conservative as at the time I lived with a sometimes card-carrying one (my Dad) but frankly I was not particularly well versed in party politics. This pondering was brought to a head by my old friend Andrew Beattie who sadly died back in 1999. Andrew obtained the 1979 GE manifestos of the 3 major political parties; well he did work in a book shop! Anyway, we set about reading and debating them; him from a left-leaning household, me from a right-leaning household. In the end, we both concluded we were in fact Liberals by instinct and joined the party of that name together, at Peter Gibson’s house, on the 1st day of 1980.

It soon became clear to me that the Liberals were streets ahead of Labour in terms of worker rights and and worker participation in companies. I recall listening to policies outlined by the likes of Richard Wainright MP and thinking that’s what I think too. Richard saw Labour as a party tinkering around the edges of employment issues but without the courage to really empower workers in the workplace. I liked the idea of worker cooperatives, mutuals, and meaningful worker participation in companies as opposed to the ‘us and them’ approach to industrial relations offered and indeed promoted by Labour and Tories.

It’s interesting that this old political leaflet talks of a ‘A new industrial partnership that gives workers equal rights with shareholders, joint decision making, employee ownership and profit sharing’ and those ideas are still needed over 40 years later!

I met Steel once in Liverpool and saw him on many more occasions. He was a good political performer although having developed my true political opinions to one of being a Social Liberal I must admit he was actually selling a moderate centrist outlook which with hindsight (always a wonderful thing) lacked a truly radical Liberal edge.

So interesting memories were brought back to mind by a historic political leaflet.

Shirley Williams & Norman St. John-Stevas – 1979

A guest posting by Andrew Blackburn, who is in the first photo below with Shirley Williams

Tony Robertson and Richard Clein with Shirley Williams

At the 1979 General Election, the Conservative MP Norman St. John-Stevas, on hearing that Labour’s Shirley Williams had lost her seat, said:

“I am very sorry to see Shirley defeated, that is speaking personally, because I had a great admiration for her. We were on opposite sides of the Commons, we debated very fiercely but she is a marvellous person. She is one of the most honest and sincere people in politics and I’m very sorry that she’s lost her seat because she’s a loss to British political life and I hope she’ll soon be back in the Commons.”

She was, in 1981, as the SDP MP for Crosby, including Maghull and Lydiate.

However, the more important thing is that you can’t imagine a political opponent saying anything so generous today.

Do the remarks say more about those times, more about the person making them or more about the person they’re being made about?

1983 General Election campaigning in Southport with a young Iain Brodie Browne and Shirley Williams.

Former Cllr. Anthony Hill in Crosby’s Pritchard’s Bookshop with Shirley in 2009