Tuesday, 6 March 2012

Viv Bingham- Radical Liberal and Peace campaigner 1932-2012

I learnt last night my friend Viv Bingham had died (1932 - 2012). I've known Viv since around 1974 when he fought his first parliamentary election-although before that he had be active in the party, he joined in 1962. He went on to be the candidate in Hazel Grove in 1979. His next electoral outing was in the same year at first Euro election when he was the candidate for East Cheshire and I was his agent. He served as Liberal Party President in 1981/2 and offered himself as a candidate to Warrington Liberals at the by election in 1981 which Roy Jenkins fought. He went on to fight West Derbyshire against Mathew Parris in 1983 and it always seemed to me that was the election he enjoyed most.

So much for the dry stuff. Viv could be fun. He a Cecilia held some great parties and after Cecilia died Viv did the same in his Harrytown flat- reflecting that with its mullioned windows and space Cecilia would judge it a good place to hold a party.
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Back in the early 70's Viv and I were both on the Party's Policy Committee-chaired by John Pardoe and then Richard Wainwright. A few of us who were travelling back north after the meetings (this was in the day when BR still ran a night sleeper service to Liverpool/Manchester) used to go out for a meal often to an Indian Restaurant near Warren Street tube called the Agra which had a particularly fiery lime pickle.

When I was young and broke at Liberal Assemblies Viv often took me out for a meal. We kept up our conference meals almost without a break up to and including the Conference at Birmingham in 2011. I know I was not the only one who benefited from his support and encouragement and it is sad that no more young folk will profit from Viv buying them a good meal and listening to their ideas.

Viv's Presidency was dominated by the slow emergence of the SDP. Roy Jenkins made his Dimbleby Lecture in 1979 and that marked the beginning of the movement in earnest. Many of us-Viv included- were very anxious about some of the folk who were aligning themselves with the break away . It seemed that this may not turn out to be the realisation of our long held dream of a re-alignment of the Left-the vision Grimond proclaimed that brought many of us into the party-but rather a bolt hole for wholly unreconstructed , authoritarian, socially conservative hacks from the Labour right who were 'dockyard nationalists'. Viv was a man of the Left, he might not have shared Cyril's view that the SDP should be strangled at birth but he had very real concerns that its continued life would harm our long term objectives.

Two events from this period stand out in my memory. First is the weekend he and I spent in Herefordshire along with other Liberals meeting some of the players at the heart of the Jenkins project. On our side it was hosted by party chair Roger Pincham and on the Social Democrats side by Clive Lindley in his palatial hillside palladian mansion. Before the meetings Roger had sent round an essay by David Marquand, who had resigned as a Labour MP to take up a post with Jenkins in Europe. Viv mas mightily impressed and I remember he rang me to talk about the Marquand essay and he and I had a meal with the late Chris Wilding
when Viv's enthusiasm for the essay was clear. Sadly we all knew that was not the whole picture, nevertheless it encourage us all to listen with an open mind to the Jenkinsites . I remember that on the Sunday morning Viv was very keen to set aside the agreed agenda to spend sometime discussing foreign and defence policy. This was typical of Viv. He recognised that his tradition of peace and disarmament which was firmly embedded in the Liberal Party may not prove attractive to those coming out of the Labour Party- many of whom had won the spurs in the battles against unilateralism. He meant to establish that in joining up with Liberals that was part of the package.

That meeting was a success and Viv went on to organise a northern get together in Manchester with David Marquand who had been absent from the Herefordshire meeting. As I recall it Viv, Michael Steed and I spent an evening finding common cause with Marquand especially on constitutional issues.

As I have already noted defence was a key issue for Viv. He was a disarmer. He not only believed that Britain should not have an 'independent' nuclear weapon he thought no-one else should. He believed we should be prepared to take risks to bring that about. I think his last platform speech at conference was supporting a David Grace motion on disarmament during which he got sustained applause and carried the delegates. He campaigned with CND-especially against Cruise missiles and involved himself in cross party initiatives on peace. If hope that now that he has died people will not try to remove his radicalism or soften his words. He believed that nuclear weapons should be scrapped and that Britain should lead by example-now.

The other main policy area in which Viv made a big contribution was in Industrial policy. His working life had been spent in -what was then called- Personnel Management. He held senior positions at Crown and later at the Co-operative. He chaired the party's Policy panel. He was an advocate of industrial democracy and co-ownership. He would have relished contributing to the debates this weekend at Gateshead and we shall be poorer for his absence, but he will have been cheered that we are again taking up this policy which he advocated so strongly all his life. During his Presidency some of us arranged a meeting with D66 -the Dutch Social Liberal party -and Viv led a session on Industrial and Economic policy going back to the guilds and tracing movements of worker participation and ownership to the present day. It was the highlight of the meeting.

Viv's family life with Cecilia and his two daughters and latterly grandchildren was central to his life and at that last Conference meal in Birmingham he spoke of little else. He was so proud of his children. He often told the story of having to go and ask Cecilia's father for permission to marry her. I never heard him speak of a time before his marriage to her.As those of us who went to Cecila's funeral know she had a firm christian faith that found its expression in the Cof E and that Viv shared it. He spent his share of time singing in church choirs and of course many of us remember him most vividly leading the sing of We Shall Overcome at the Glee club

And so finally to his other family much of which is meeting at Gatehead this weekend- the Liberal Party. Viv spoke at our rallies and adoption meeting, he did our fundraising appeals and was never too grand or important to turn up at a small event. He helped in every general Election I fought and spoke in Southport and Congleton for me. It was typical of him that he fought the 2005 General Election in Stalybridge. He kept up with friends travelling distances to come to our parties and  family events. He was given a gong, but not the peerage he really wanted.  I hope there was no pettiness around that decision. Viv would stand his ground and although all people counted with him none did so too much.

Viv overcame some health scares and looked to be back in fine form at Birmingham having missed the previous Spring Conference. I shall remember him enjoying making those conference speeches, overturning the platform and going along to the Glee Club determinded to lead the singing. 

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