Tag Archives: david steel

David Steel pays tribute to Derek Ezra, emphasising his pro-European views

Derek EzraIn twelve years as Liberal Leader, David Steel only got to nominate eight peers. One of them was former National Coal Board chairman Derek Ezra, who died last December.

In London this week, Lord Steel gave a speech at Haberdashers’ Hall (Derek Ezra was an honorary Liveryman) in which he paid tribute to Derek Ezra. He also explained why his colleague was so in favour of a European organisation that worked together and kept the peace.

During my twelve years as party leader Prime Minister Thatcher was notoriously mean in Liberal peerages, allowing me only eight during that time in spite of the encouragement of the Tory leader in the Lords – Willie Whitelaw – to do better. Subsequent Prime Ministers were much kinder to Ashdown, Kennedy and Clegg and allowed them several nominations in each list. Inevitably my eight nominations were all either former senior MP’s or party office-bearers – with one exception – Derek Ezra.

In his memoirs he says that I nominated him “in order to introduce some industrial experience on to the Liberal benches” and that is true but not the whole truth – I thought it important for the public to see that we had people of his calibre in public life. He was known as chairman of the National Coal Board but few knew he was an ardent Liberal, arguing against the pattern of “them and us” in so much of British business. And what a success he was, one colleague saying “Derek ought to give lessons to the rest of us on how to put questions in the Lords” and another describing his contributions – even from his wheelchair in later life – as combining “integrity, clarity and relevance”. I always considered his expertise on energy and conservation debates as adding greatly to the prestige of our party.

Lord Ezra was an active and committed European from his earliest days as a student at Cambridge, as Major Ezra during the war and in his four-year service in the European Coal and Steel Community in Luxembourg. Delivering a lecture in this very hall in 2005 he mentioned his earlier work with Jean Monnet “one of the most remarkable men of the 20th century” who “was convinced that in order to avoid future wars and promote stability and prosperity, European countries would have to cooperate on a more integrated basis than ever before”. Derek added “Britain remained a reluctant participant – in my opinion much to our disadvantage”.

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David Steel on Northern Ireland abortion law

David Steel

We’ve just caught up with an interview with David Steel on the BBC Northern Ireland political show The View. (The interview starts 17:58 minutes in)

David was responsible for introducing the Abortion Act in 1967, which made abortion legal up to 28 weeks, later reduced to 24 weeks. But the law was never extended to Northern Ireland where the Offences Against the Person Act of 1861 still applies. Under that law a woman who procures her own abortion is guilty of a felony and can be given a prison sentence of life, or for up to two years ‘with or without hard labour, and with or without solitary confinement’. Current regulations permit termination only if the woman’s life is at risk or if continuing the pregnancy would put her long-term health at risk.

David says:

I think they’ve got to face up to the fact that the law in Northern Ireland is simply ridiculous – 1861 – and it is time they came up at least to 1967, if not 2016.

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LibLink: David Steel: We need liberalism more than ever

David Steel has written an article for the Scotsman explaining why liberalism is needed more than ever in the face of both domestic and international challenges. He praises both Tim Farron and Willie Rennie and urges liberals to “re-assert themselves and support them.”

His comments about the SNP also struck a bit of a chord with me. It’s not just that they stitched up the Scottish Parliament with their majority, giving themselves control of the committees so that they couldn’t be effectively scrutinised, it’s their general attitude to politics. They are reminiscent of Labour in the ’80s and ’90s, with such a sense of entitlement to power and objection to even the mildest, most evidence based criticism. Yesterday, we had three shouty nationalists in the space of a couple of hours in our office. Clearly such intimidatory tactics are designed to spook us. Actually, we enjoy the fact that they are clearly rattled by the scale and success of our campaign. It is very like the days in Derbyshire when Labour thugs would shout at you as you delivered leaflets and it’s sad to see that kind of politics.

Anyway, back to David’s article. He wrote:

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LibLink: David Steel: Tim Farron is a man of conviction and a risk taker – that’s why he got my vote

David Steel has written in the Guardian about why he backed Tim Farron and what he thinks he’ll bring to the party:

That level of deep commitment which Farron obviously has, combined with his organisational skills and northern public persona, has all the ingredients of a successful leadership. I speak as one who sat in a gloomy Commons party of six after the 1970 election debacle, three of us clinging to majorities under 1000. It took time, but we turned that round, and went on both to increase our numbers and form the significant Alliance with the SDP and eventually the new united party, which at elections under Paddy Ashdown, Charles Kennedy and Clegg reached new heights of public support. The same can happen again.

A colleague said to me during this contest: “But isn’t Farron a bit risky?” I responded that that may be so, but what the party needs at this time is a risk-taker, not afraid to revisit more traditional Liberal policies – on Trident, on Europe, on industrial democracy, on land value taxation, on the pursuit of a more just society, and on the need for a federal constitution including a new upper house.

It will be a long and at times painful journey, but with Tim Farron inspiring and leading it I see grounds for real hope and optimism.

 You can read the whole article here. 
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LibLink: David Steel – Six ways Nick Clegg steered the Liberal Democrats to disaster

On the Guardian Comment is Free, David Steel has a must-read article with remarkably perspicacious observations:

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Peter Preston reminisces about David Steel’s by-election victory half a century ago

Former Guardian editor Peter Preston has been reminiscing about the Roxburgh, Selkirk and Peebles by-election 50 years ago which was won by a young David Steel. He’s been to the opening of a new exhibition celebrating the by-election and muses on the difference between politics then and now.

First, he sets the scene:

Fifty years ago, as a neophyte Guardian reporter, I covered the Roxburgh, Selkirk and Peebles byelection that catapulted David Steel into parliament. Now I’m back in Selkirk to open an exhibition celebrating his victory: a kind of still living artefact in a mini-museum full of faded speeches, posters and promises. Ah yes, I remember it well. The eerily youthful “boy David” who went on to lead the Liberals through that pact; wildly enthusiastic meetings, 300 or more strong, greeting big hitters – George Brown, Lord Hailsham, Jo Grimond – up from the smoke; an enthusiasm and a turnout (81.5%) with referendum intensity.But the past is not an island – even in a chilly mansion-cum-embryo-arts-centre perched by a loch. For the clan gathering to congratulate the old boy (aka Lord Steel of Aikwood) is large and intriguing. Here’s George Reid, the early SNP warrior who succeeded Steel as presiding officer in the Edinburgh parliament. Here’s Tam Dalyell of the Binns, Labour’s superlative stoker of backbench trouble through four decades. Here (well, at least expected soon) is Ronald King Murray, 92, who lost his Labour deposit but went on to win laurels as lord advocate. Here are canvassers who tramped the streets of Galashiels, folk with a memory leaning on a stick.

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Is David Steel right about the Liberal Democrat attitude to a future coalition?

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  • User AvatarGlenn 24th Aug - 3:53am
    I don't get why this id relevant to the Lib Dems? It's irrelevant who leads the Labour Party as the attacks would be exactly the...
  • User AvatarMark Goodrich 24th Aug - 1:15am
    This does have the potential to lose Corbyn the leadership race. All he had to do to win was basically do nothing but this is...
  • User AvatarNeil Sandison 24th Aug - 12:02am
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  • User AvatarPaul Murray 23rd Aug - 10:59pm
    Corbyn didn't lie. He sat.
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    There is a serious issue about overcrowding on some rail services. Not sure how nationalisation would change that. On the specific the fact that we...
  • User Avatarpetermartin2001 23rd Aug - 10:23pm
    @Hugh, You'd have to ask a monetarist what they'd think! If the government gives an amount of money to a individual, as a tax rebate...