Wednesday, 8 July 2009

Deeper Reckonings: Mark's MP Meme II (The Political Geek Cut)

After I posted my response to Mark Thompson's meme listing all my MPs through life I read some of the others including Caron's, the political geek in me got interested. Caron had given a brief pen-picture of each and her own connection if any to others. North Down my home constituency is known for being an eccentric or unusual or trend-defying Northern Irish constituency and as for the others I knew there were tales to tell. Here are those tales.

September 1969 - February 1970 George Currie (Ulster Unionist) North Down: George was first elected in 1955 in succession to Northern Ireland's first female MP* Patricia Ford who had succeeded her father Sir Walter Smiles who was a victim of the MV Princess Victoria disaster in Great Storm of 1953 (Sir Walter's great-grandson, Patricia’s grandson may have relished the challenge of surviving that storm he is Bear Grylls). But I digress.

George Currie was first elected in 1955 as I said with a 96.9% share of the vote. This would have had more to do with the only challenger being Sinn Féin's Joseph Campbell actually achieving that party's highest ever box count in North Down than due to Communist era electoral rigging. Four years later he was returned with a largest numeric and percentage majority of 98%. He had already announced his intention to stand down by the time I was born. He died in 1978 hence I never got to meet him in the flesh.

February 1970- September 1988 Sir James Kilfedder (Ulster Unionist-1977; Independent Unionist-1980; Ulster Popular Unionist-1995): Kilfedder was first elected to Westminster for West Belfast in 1964 but lost out to another Northern Irish celebrity politician Gerry Fitt the founding leader of the SDLP in 1966. West Belfast's lost became North Down's gain as Kilfedder served from 1970 to his death in 1995 as the MP for North Down. He also elected for the 1973 Assembly for North Down, in 1975 for the Constitutional Convention, and the 1982 Assembly where he served as speaker to 1986 (earning at the time more than the Prime Minister for his dual roles).

On 20 March 1995 the Belfast Telegraph ran with a story that an Ulster MP was one of 20 MPs targeted by LBGT group Outrage!, led by Peter Tatchell, to come out in an open letter. Kilfedder was died of a heart attack the same day on his train in to Westminster from Gatwick Airport. A 2005 article in the same paper carried a story alluding to Kilfedder's past pointing to being that MP.

September 1988- July 1991 Richard Tracey (Conservative) Surbiton: Moving to Kingston for at the time the Polytechnic I found the third lawyer turned MP Richard Tracey as my MP. In the land of Tom and Barbara Good though he served merely as a JP and followed a career in journalist and Radio and TV current affairs before his election.

He's now a Member of the London Assembly elected in 2008. In 1997 he stayed (see later) to fight for the Kingston and Surbiton seat after boundary changes losing out by just 56 votes to our own Ed Davey. Although I first ran into Tracey on my return to the area in the Surbiton club, I was there playing for Surbiton Chess Club, I'd abstained on the vote to move to such a Conservative hotbed.

I enjoyed the summer all over the place before:

September 1991 - April 1992 Dave Nellist (Labour) Coventry South East: Another character of an MP, many Scottish socialists will find his mantra 'a worker's MP for a worker's wage' very familiar. For yeah in the height of Militant I found myself in the constituency of a Trotskyite Labour deselected Member of Parliament who was the next target of Kinnock's cohorts.

In 1983 when he was first elected it was initially allocated to share an office with the newly elected MP for Sedgefield. But the differing views of the two soon meant that the later was swiftly moved in with another of that year’s intake the member for Dunfermline East so possibly Nellist had something to do with the Blair-Brown pact.

I got to vote in my first election in 1992 Nellist stood as Independent Labour gathered 10,551 votes, trailing the Tory Martine Hyams on 10,591 and my next MP Jim Cunningham on 11,902. Nellist went on to form the Socialist Party (not to be confused with the Socialist Party of Great Britain. In 1998 he was elected to Coventry City Council, 12 years after he had last been a Labour Councillor for Coventry on West Midlands County Council.

April - August 1992 Jim Cunningham (Labour) Coventry South East: As said above Jim won my first Westminster election I could vote in, without my vote, and still represents Coventry South today. For the first time I was represented by a Scottish-born MP as Cunningham hail from just out West at Coatbridge. He has in the past called for the Queen to pay Income Tax as well as serving as PPS to Harriet Harman and Mike O'Brien while they were Solicitors General.

August 1992 - May 1996 Norman Lamont (Conservative) Kingston Upon Thames: Returning to complete my Economics degree I found accommodation in the constituency of the then Chancellor of the Exchequer, and another Scottish born: did I not see the trend starting? Shortly after he became my MP and just before I resumed studies of course Norman presided over Black Wednesday and I had to reassure new landlord when he walked back in through the door that his mortgage was no longer effectively 50% more expensive but back where it was where he stared the day.

A word of warning though for Darling Lamont starting to see the 'green shoots of recovery' in 1993 during the Newbury by election. After the Government lost that seat to the Lib Dem's David Rendel Lamont was sacked.

I have another chess anecdote about Norman, one evening I overheard the following conversation at the Surbiton club "Norman's seen the figures he's heading for a safer seat.", "Where?", "Harrogate." Of course that safe Conservative seat added to my joy on Election Night 1997 as while SW London went yellow through Twickenham, Richmond Park, Kingston & Subiton, Sutton & Cheam and Carshalton & Wallington. The look on the former Chancellor's face as Phil Willis accepted the people's decision to elect a Lib Dem to serve Harrogate and Knaresborough.

May 1996 - April 2001 Robert McCartney (United Kingdom Unionist) North Down: McCartney was originally an Ulster Unionist like Kilfedder. In 1987 the Unionist Party's agreed in a pact not to stand against each other just a year after all the Unionist MPs had stood down in protest at the Anglo-Irish agreement losing a couple of their number in marginals in the process. Of course North Down was not really in any danger of turning Nationalist but Bob refused to stand down. He was expelled from the party and stood as a Real Unionist. The resulting election proved the narrowest of Kilfedder's 25 year career in North Down in all elections.

He didn't contest the 1992 General Election which saw the Conservatives as the closest challengers to Kilfedder. But in 1995 following Kilfedder's death he was returned with 37% of the vote in an 8 challenger contest, the Tories losing all but 583 of their vote 3 years earlier.

McCartney was elected to the May 1998 Assembly Election and carried 3 other MLAs into Stormont with his former One Man Party. However, by December he'd fallen out Cedric Wilson in Strangford, Patrick Roche in Lagan Valley, Norman Boyd in South Antrim and Roger Hutchinson East Antrim, to remain a one man band in the Assembly getting re-elected in 2003. However, his demise came in 2007 when he lost out on the last seat for North Down to Brian Wilson (not the Beach Boy) the first Green to be elected at that level in Northern Ireland.

May - November 2001 Robin Cook (Labour) Livingston: Having had a Chancellor, Speaker (Northern Irish) I racked up my next high office MP with the Foreign Secretary just before the 2001 General Election. Robin was first elected to Edinburgh Central in 1974. But in 1983 like Lamont was in Kingston was worried that boundary changes might cost him his seat so moved to Livingston a new constituency.

Of course Robin famously took a call at Heathrow, en route to holiday, from Alistair Campbell shortly after becoming Foreign Secretary asking him to choose between his then wife Margaret or his then mistress, later second wife, Gaynor before the press announced the affair. He chose to tell his wife it was over and made the announcement via a press statement in the departure lounge.

He also resigned as Leader of the House on principle over the decision to go to war with Iraq in 2003. After winning the election in 2005 I last saw him at the start of the Make Poverty History March in Edinburgh the date of birth of this blog. Within weeks he was dying whilst walking down Ben Stack on 6 August. His gravestone bears the epitaph 'I may not have succeeded in halting the war, but I did secure the right of parliament to decide on war.'

November 2001 - November 2004 Sir Tam Dalyell Bt. (Labour) Linlithgow: Moving less than two miles from Stoneyburn to Whitburn found me in a new constituency.

Tam is, although he never uses the title, 11th Baronet Dalyell of the Binns. He is named after his famous ancestor General "Sir Tam" Dalyell (1615–1685) who was a military commander for both Charles I and Charles II in the Civil War.

Tam first was elected in 1963 for West Lothian and of course leading up the devolution debate in the 1970s asked the famous and so far thus unsatisfactorily answered West Lothian Question about the role of Scottish and English MPs post devolution. The former having votes over English matters while the latter had no say over devolved issues the other way around. In 1963 the seat was split into two and Tam chose to represent the Northern Linlithgow section in which the Binns, a National Trust of Scotland property is located.

Following the 2001 election succeeded former Prime Minister Ted Heath to the honourific position of Father of the House, whose only recognised role is to chair the vote to appoint a new Speaker, which is bestowed on the longest serving member of the House. In 2004 he announced he was standing down at the next General Election to spend more times with his bees and to write his autobiography. The bees must be very demanding and the autobiography has yet to appear.

November 2004 -August 2005 Robin Cook again see above.

September 2005 - March 2006 Jim Devine (Labour) Livingston: Devine served as Robin's agent for decades and is a former, and rumours have it, future psychiatric nurse. I first heard Jim Devine speak at a hustings for the 2005 General Election in Loganlea, Robin couldn't make it and the agent stepped in and quickly took over proceedings something that the candidate would never have done. Of course recent events do not need going over but yet another character in my list of MPs who will go down in history as an MP who never faced a General Election vote despite not dying in office following an by election in peace time.

March 2006 - Present Michael Connarty (Labour) Linlithgow and Falkirk East: Former leader of Stirling Council, former Economics teacher (there were three Economics graduates on the 2005 ballot for L&FE).

Of course Michael and I first crossed swords thanks to the Boundary Commission. Before the current boundaries although Bo'ness and few others where historically West Lothian they had been part of Falkirk Council since the end of Lothian District Council, and Grangemouth had never been with West Lothian before. This is also the closest I have ever lived to a MPs office. It is literally only about 90 seconds walk away from where I'm typing this in my lounge.

Although I have letters from 5 of my previous MPs (6 if you count the election 'letter' from Jim Devine) this is the MP I have had most interaction with. Partly because I've stood in direct opposition, partly because of the ease of email, which has once led to a response with 10 minutes.

However, as the fifth most expensive MP (excluding transport 2nd with), who considers it 'ridiculous and tiresome' to submit all expenses to his employer for scrutiny. And who's first response to the Telegraph printing his expenses was to attack the source as stolen rather than try and explain them, maybe his days are numbered.

Of course while some of the men (sorry WLDs everywhere no gender balance) who have represented me in the past have been replaced by a Lib Dem, just not in my time. So I'd love to be in a constituency with a Lib Dem MP. However, would that outcome really lead to a Lib Dem representing me? I guess that is up to the local party and the electorate.

Update 

August 2010 - Feb 2013 Sylvia, Lady Hermon (Independent) North Down: Born Sylvia Paisley but not related to that Northern Irish political dynasty of that name she studied law at the University of Aberystwyth before lecturing in that subject at Queens, Belfast at the same time as a certain David Trimble, who would go on to become the first First Minister.

She was married to Jack Hermon as his second wife on New Years Eve 1988, who was to rise to the the Chief Constable of the Royal Ulster Constabulary from 1980-89. It is because of his knighthood from 1982 as Sir John Hermon that she holds the honourific title Lady Hermon. From 2004 to his death in 2008 Jack was to suffer from Alzheimers which is why Sylvia is so connected with that cause.

However, it was in 2001 that she was chosen by the North Down Ulster Unionist Branch to take on Robert McCartney (see above). The Alliance Party chose not to stand against her and she won the seat with a majority of 7,324 with 56%.


In 2005 she won again with 50.4% of the vote but was the lone Ulster Unionist returned to the House of Commons. When David Trimble resigned as leader she was considered a serious contender for the post, but because of the state of health of her husband at that point not widely known, she instead threw her support behind North Down MLA Alan McFarland.

During that parliament the overtures of the Conservative Party to the Ulster Unionists weren't to the liking of their sole MP, indeed she had often supported the Labour Government much to the disapproval of party leader Sir Reg Empey. She eventually resigned from the party on 23 February 2010 and vowed to stand in the election that year as an Independent. So like her two predecessors she parted ways with the Ulster Unionists as of yet, unlike them, she has not formed a new Unionist Party.

Ulster Conservatives and Unionists – New Force (UCUNF) the combined UUP and Conservative banner that was running candidates had selected the 2009 Alliance European candidate Ian Parsley as their candidate in North Down. But Lady Hermon secured a majority of 14,364 with 63.3% of the vote.

Feb 2013 - Present Alistair Carmichael (Liberal Democrat) Orkney and Shetland. Finally after over 24 years association with the party I actually get to live in a held seat, although the job I doing kinda makes it a necessity as I'm working for the MP.

Born in Islay, almost as close to Northern Ireland as any Scottish islander can get, he worked as a hotel manager before completing his law degree from Aberdeen University. Although a brief period before that at Glasgow University was where he met his wife.

After graduation he stayed in the North East of Scotland working as a procurator fiscal depute in the criminal courts. For the 2001 General Election he was selected to replace Jim Wallace, who had been elected as the MSP for the Orkney seat in 1999.

He has been the Lib Shadow for the Home Office, Transport and Scotland but after the 2010 General Election became the party's chief whip and Deputy Chief Whip for the coalition government.



*See trend setting though it took 46 years to get North Down's second.

1 comment:

  1. Of course , Robin Cook failed to use Parliament for the British war in Kosovo ( Sierra Leone ,too ? )and certainly did not seek United Nations sanctions for it preferring to employ the Cold War alliance of NATO to carry out a war strategy so rather a bit of humbug when his famous saying was that British foreign policy was going to be ethical - such as honouring arms deals with Indonesia when they committing atrocities against East Timor

    I am pleased that you recognise the SPGB should not be confused with the ex Miltant Tendency who usurped the Socialist Party name

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