Monday, 25 March 2013

Stephen the Terrible-The Liberal Commission 1970-71

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Arriving in December 1970 (on foolscap paper) the call for evidence from the Terrell Commission on relations between the Party and the Young Liberal Movement. It takes you back. A colleague of mine was moving office and found the letter behind a bookcase.

I'm not sure who wrote the wikipedia entry on NLYL ( I shall refrain from guessing who wrote it, but I would note that in parts it gives undue prominence to a few obscure people) but the bit about the Terrell Commission if fairly accurate:

The party leadership were very unhappy about the antics of their youth wing, and party leader Jeremy Thorpe set up a three-man commission which produced the Terrell Report. The report accused some of the Young Liberals of being communists. Many Young Liberals described themselves as "libertarian socialists". Peter Hain explained:
"Underlying libertarian socialism is a different and distinct notion of politics which rests on the belief that it is only through interaction with others in political activity and civic action that individuals will fully realise their humanity. Democracy should therefore extend not simply to government but throughout society: in industry, in the neighbourhood or in any arrangement by which people organise their lives."
Thorpe went on to try to stop the election of Peter Hain as chair of the Young Liberals.
At the same time as being active on foreign policy, a group of Young Liberals led by Bernard GreavesTony Greaves (later to become a Liberal Democrat peer), Gordon Lishman and David Penhaligon (later to become a Liberal MP) developed the combination of a radical YL approach and involvement in their communities. The Young Liberals put forward an amendment to the party's strategy at the Liberal Party Conference in Eastbourne in 1970 which was passed with little enthusiasm from the Party leadership. The amendment defined the new strategy as:
"a dual approach to politics, acting both inside and outside the institutions of the political establishment to help organise people in their communities to take and use power to build a Liberal power-base in the major cities of this country to identify with the under-privileged in this country and the world to capture people's imagination as a credible political movement, with local roots and local successes."

I well remember being invited to meet Terrell -who was the PPC for Eastborne-in the Spring of 1971 in the basement of the Regent Hotel. I understand that the Regent is now a Travel Lodge but in those days it still had pretensions to being 'grand' . The young Queen Victoria stayed there and by mid C19th standards with 100 bedrooms it was a big hotel. It was the place to stay when fashionable  'society people' came to Leamington to take the waters. In 1971 it showed signs of wear and was in need of new investment. Terrell struck me as that sort of Liberal. 

The 1971 Assembly at Scarborough Terrell presented his report complete with derogatory comments and unsubstantiated smears. It was a thoroughly unpleasant few days. Interestingly none of the modern histories of the Party that I have even mention it as a footnote. Much more fun was the NLYL conference held at Easter 1971 in Plymouth. As wiki mention Thorpe tried to stop Hain becoming Chair. The farcical process unravelled at the conference when Thorpe tried to rig the elections enrolling vast numbers of fictitious members from Devon. I might get this wrong but my memory was that there was a YL Commission of Inquiry led by Stuart Mole. I distinctly remember him revealing the identity of the North Devon members who turned out to be farm animals and the like.

Hain stood again at the Morecombe NLYL conference in 1971 when he was returned with a big majority despite the antic of a small fringe group -including one Richard Kemp lately of Liverpool but then a railway worker from Leyland. Again the conference was at Easter time. Morecombe and Heysham Corporation had a bye law that forbade dancing on Good Friday -which coincided with the |Civic Reception. Few people took much notice especially as Bernard Greaves had successfully moved motion that same sex dancing should be encouraged so that gay delegates felt welcome. Hain looked most uncomfortable especially when Bernard suggested in his speech that he would be asking him to dance!  It is difficult to recall just how hostile society at large was to gay people. The Young Liberal Movement was well in advance of public opinion in promoting gay rights and under Steel's Leadership the party followed 

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