Lord Newby (Dick Newby) has just been appointed as the new Liberal Democrat Chief Whip in the House of Lords. This appointment is made by Tom McNally (as our Leader in the House of Lords) and at the same time Nick Clegg has asked Dick to serve as Government Deputy Chief Whip in the House. Dick will take up his duties in time for the State Opening of Parliament on 9th May.
Dick is a greatly respected and much liked figure amongst all those who have worked with him (and in roles in which it is sometimes difficult to be both). I first knew him when he was National Secretary (Chief Executive) of the SDP. He came up to the West Derbyshire parliamentary by-election campaign that I was running in 1986. I quickly noted that he was a persuasive and effective canvasser as well as a very astute political manager.
Kipling’s poem ‘If’ about capacity to ‘keep your head whilst all about are losing theirs’ could have been based on Dick Newby. Dick helped to keep the bulk of the SDP together and true to its founding principles of a ‘one member one vote party’ when its Leader David Owen decided to organise a minority breakaway faction following the disappointment of the 1987 General Election.
Dick was universally respected in the process that led to the merger of the SDP and the Liberal Party and many of us regretted the fact that he subsequently decided to take a break from the political fray for a few years. But he was never far away and was again at Paddy Ashdown’s side throughout the 1992 General Election. He was always a calming and wise influence and with Tim Clement Jones acted as one of Richard Holme’s two Deputies in the 1997 General Election campaign in which we more than doubled our number of MPs. He entered the Lords (partly at the behest of Roy Jenkins) in August of that year.
Against the expectations of the media, the party went on to gain significantly more MPs in both the 2001 and 2005 General Elections with Dick as Chief of Staff to the Leader, Tim Razzall as Campaign Chair and me as Campaign Director/Chief Executive. Dick’s experience, calming influence and wise counsel helped to steer the party through some of the traumatic episodes that led to Charles Kennedy’s resignation.
More recently, Dick has been co-chair of our Treasury Parliamemtary Party Committee whilst running a corporate responsibility consultancy. He is Chair of sport for Life International (which manages education programmes linked to major sports stadiums globally, including in Trinidad, Barbados and Pakistan). He is also Chair of Sport at The Prince’s Trust and of International Development through Sport (IDS UK).
Dick is is proud of his Yorkshire heritage and is married to Ailsa, the Rector of St Mary’s Putney (venue of the famous Civil War Army debates). He has now taken on another very tough role, but has earned tremendous goodwill in undertaking it. Our peers will also wish his predecesssor David Shutt all the best and we will hope that he and Margaret enjoy his retirement from the frontline in the Lords.
* Chris Rennard is a former Chief Executive of the Liberal Democrats. He has led for the Party in the House of Lords on the Electoral Registration and Administration Bill