Tony Devine RIP

Lydiate Parish Councillor Tony Devine at Sandy Lane Playing Field- Photo early 2000’s

Tony Devine was a stalwart of the community in Lydiate where he had lived for many a year.

A retired teacher, he spent a considerable number of years as a Lydiate Parish Councillor serving as Vice Chairman. After he decided to leave the council he continued to serve the community as a leading light within Lydiate Bowls Federation.

Lydiate Parish Councillors back in the late 1990’s when Tony was on the Council – Robbie Fenton, Pat Foster and Tony

I first got to know Tony in The SDP/Liberal Alliance days. I recall his house being used during a by-election on polling day but whether that was in the Alliance days or later when the parties merged to form the Liberal Democrats I’m not sure.

I last saw Tony out walking the lanes of Aughton with his lovely wife Dot back in the spring whilst I was out cycling. I stopped, we had a chat and I recall thinking back then that Tony looked well, so you can imagine how surprised I was to be told that he was very seriously ill only two or three weeks ago. Moving on it really shook me when I was told that sadly Tony had died.

A good and decent man who cared about his community.

RIP Tony Devine

Shirley

The death of Shirley Williams has touched me deeply; she was a unique politician and a very good and decent human being. As a fresh-faced lad new to Liberal politics in 1980 I was soon swept up in the most amazing political experience; the Crosby by-election.

I met many famous politicians of the day during that campaign such as Roy Jenkins, David Steel & Jo Grimond but it was Shirley who I grew to know, respect and admire. Apart from her boundless enthusiasm and ability to put in many hours of hard slog day in day out she was the most enjoyable person to be in the company of. I recall that when she was listening to you she always seemed to lean her head to one side which I found most endearing.

Of course, like many others at this sad time, I’ve gone looking for photos of Shirley so here they are:-

Andrew McKinlay with Shirley – Maghull Country Club December 1981

Either side of Shirley are Dave Hylands and Jack Parkin – Maghull Country Club December 1981

1983 General Election in Southport – Shirley is with Iain Brodie Brown

Shirley with Anthony Hill in 2009 – Pritchards Book Shop Crosby

Shirley with Andrew Blackburn also in Pritchards Book Shop 2009

Lord Ronnie Fearn, Shirley and John & Annette Pugh

Tony Robertson, Shirley and Richard Clein – 2008

We shall not see the likes of her again and our political life is all the poorer. Today, at least to me, our leading politicians seem to have little stature and few if any are held in high regard across the political spectrum. Shirley was liked and indeed loved by many who did not share her left of centre and sometimes radical views; today our politics in comparison looks childlike, petty and far too tribal and no good will come of that. Shirley’s guiding hand will be missed by many for years to come but her legacy is to have inspired many young women to become politically active and that is a huge legacy of good.

Remembering Doreen Service

Doreen Service lived on Foxhouse Lane in Maghull, opposite the former Red House pub (now The Fox), for many a year before retiring to Rock Lane in Melling opposite the Bootle Arms pub. Her husband Ian died quite some years ago when they lived in Maghull and Doreen herself passed away very recently at the grand old age of 91. Doreen had been a teacher and a local magistrate.

I relate this information not just because some Maghull and Melling residents will have known Doreen and will be sad to hear that she has passed on but because she was a significant part of one of the biggest political events of the 1980’s – The famous 1981 Crosby By-election (see link below) won by the SDP’s Shirley Williams, now Baroness Williams of Crosby.

en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1981_Crosby_by-election

Doreen and Ian’s Foxhouse Lane home became akin to a parliamentary by-election HQ full of photocopiers, state of the art computers and dot matrix printers – it was the very early days of IT becoming big in UK politics. As a fresh faced young Liberal helping in that 1981 campaign I recall going to their house to find it full of people, boxes of leaflets to be delivered and with well known political faces of the day popping in and out for tea, sandwiches etc.

Not many people would allow their homes to be taken over in that way but Doreen and Ian were very much into helping Shirley Williams win in any way they could. And even after Shirley’s victory they backed her up whenever she needed help often putting people up (including Shirley) at a moments notice.

I really got to know Doreen well after these momentous times, following Ian’s death and her move to Melling. I would call to see her now and again to talk about the old days and indeed more modern political problems as Doreen never lost her reforming zeal. Sadly, her physical health was poor and she could no longer get around much at all, Finally she had to go into a nursing home where she died a few days ago. Her funeral was yesterday.

Thanks to Andrew Blackburn I managed to track down the photo of Doreen above which was taken in May 1992. She was a strong person who had strong views and she did not have much time for fools. We got along well and I will certainly remember her. On the face of it just another elderly lady living out her retirement under the radar yet she was of huge local political influence in the early 1980’s. RIP Doreen

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

Thinking back about the SDP & the parallels with the TIG

My good friend and fellow blogger Phil Holden has recently been pondering on the issue of the new Independent Group in the HofC and in doing so reflecting on the rise and fall of the SDP. His posting is accessible via this link:-

phlhldn.blogspot.com/2019/02/so-chuka-chucked-it-in-for-what.html

One particular part of Phil’s posting stood out for me and it is this:-

‘The SDP foundered in part on whether it should be a party of the left, taking on Labour in a fight to the death, as David Owen wanted, or a centre-party that cosied up to the Liberals, as Roy Jenkins wanted. Jenkins of course won that one.’

As someone who had only joined the old Liberal Party on New Years Day 1980* I was very new to politics when the SDP came along soon after and then I was swept along in the tide that was the famous Crosby by-election**. Heady days indeed but my perspective is just a little different to Phil’s.

Firstly, I think it is fair to say that we Liberals looked upon David Own as a stubborn difficult person with rather right-wing views (who seemed obsessed with NATO for some odd reason) but that the other 3 of the Gang of 4 were to the left of him and far more in tune with Liberal values. Liberals have always been at their best when they espouse radical and left of centre views. Attempts to look moderate or centrist will always fail in my book.

So I saw Owen, Rodgers, Williams and Jenkins from the other end of the telescope to Phil, indeed in my view Owen was probably a big factor in the failure of the SDP along with our appallingly warped electoral system of course. We Libs often referred to Owen as ‘Dr Death’, probably because we feared he would kill us off along with the SDP. In truth he nearly did but we survived and prospered until we tried to commit ritual suicide in the Clegg era on a worryingly moderate platform with one infamous and devastating political U-turn – Tuition Fees.

That there was no love lost between the Liberals and Owen to me is a given and it will be interesting to see whether anyone from the IG starts to fill Owen’s boots again – I hope they don’t but fear they might. And I say that because in my experience many in the Labour Party hold views that are well to the right of us Liberals.

And just to be nostalgic, my abiding memory of the Crosby By-election was a public meeting in Deyes High School, organised by the SDP/Liberal Alliance. It was packed out and standing room only. Obviously, Shirley was there as the soon to be winning candidate, along with Roy Jenkins and Joe Grimond the former Liberal leader who had saved his party from the political wilderness in the 1960s. Being in the same hall as these 3 was wonderful to a fresh-faced political lad like me. Ah memories……

And talking of SDP/Liberal Alliance memories, whilst I’m at it, here’s another story told to me by my very good friend Roy Connell. One day during the heady days of the Alliance he was asked in to drive Roy Jenkins and BBC reporter Kate Adie on an open-top tour of parts of Liverpool. It seems that at one point he had to pull up sharply and Jenkins and Adie were thrown around a bit. Roy can still hear ringing in his ears the words ‘steady driver’ from Jenkins.

* I had read the 3 main party manifestos for the 1979 General Election and concluded I was a Liberal.

** I lived (and still do) in that constituency (now named Sefton Central) and got to know Shirley Williams well. She is indeed a lovely person and the fact that she became a life-long friend of Anthony Hill the already selected Liberal candidate for the seat (who stepped down for her to be the Alliance candidate) says a lot about how well the SDP and Liberals got on in our part of the world back in the early 1980s and indeed many of my friends in the present Lib Dem Party are former SDP activists.

The Left – Every sect thinks it’s tribal way is the right way hence the Tories are in power more often than not

The left of British politics has always been factionalised with numerous socialist parties coming and going, the Labour Party often engaged in vicious internal warfare (as they are at present) and the Lib Dems, in recent years, having been pulled towards economic rather than social liberalism. Of course looking back a while the SDP also failed to ‘break the mould’ as it became split by the ‘Owen’ factor amongst other things.

The lack of unity on the left has always been a problem and our warped first past the post electoral system has also helped to put many Tory Governments in power who have nothing like majority popular support; just like the present one.

What beggars belief therefore is why when Labour have grabbed power for the odd short period they have not pursued electoral reform and a fair voting system. I suppose the last Labour government was too arrogant and thought their ‘New Labour’ guise would last and be popular for generations. Well it wasn’t so Labour went further to the right in opposition, even openly bashing the poor along the way. But as they became labeled Red Tories the electorate said stuff that we may as well have proper Tories.

The Lib Dems also discredited themselves by lying about Tuition Fees in 2010. Nick Clegg thought the electorate would forgive him. They didn’t. Indeed, because many of those who voted Lib Dem in 2010 thought he was a straight forward chap whom they could trust his backing out of a clear promise caused them to drop him and his party like a stone. They expected other parties to tell porkies but having been persuaded the Lib Dems were trustworthy they turned against them big time. Rebuilding that lack of trust in the Lib Dems is probably Tim Farron’s biggest challenge.

The Greens tried lurching to left after 2010 and were the most socialist of the mainstream parties at the last general election but of course this move set their traditional environmentalist sect against an upstart socialist sect. Socialism and environmentalism have never sat comfortably together in my experience. Socialists on Merseyside that I have come across have always seemed to be very much disinterested in environmental issues.

But within the left there is at the heart of so many of its difficulties one major factor that causes the disunity which the Tories always benefit from. Many left wing sects think they are absolutely right and all other left wing sects are utterly wrong. Such tribalism then sets these sects against each other and the Tories win again whilst the left debates, often viciously, who is right and who is wrong. In differing ways I think that the emergence of the SDP and the rise of Tony Blair were reactions to the self destructive nature of the left.

The SDP failed and despite huge initial success Blair’s New Labour failed because he wandered to far right, got involved in the appalling Iraq war and probably laid the foundations for Labour to be cat called ‘Red Tories’.

The real danger that the left faces now is that we could have a seriously right wing Tory Party in power for a generation with UKIP effectively pulling their levers. Is this not enough of a nightmare to sober up the left of British politics?