You would expect someone with the titles Marshal of the Royal Airforce, Professor, the Lord Garden to be, at the very least, a little self important if not down right pompous. I had not met Tim Garden before Charles Kennedy nominated him for a place in the House of Lords in 2004. So I was not prepared to meet so fully a paid up member of the human race. My sense of humour can veer towards the schoolboy, so calling one of the highest ranking officers in the Royal Airforce “Biggles” could have tried the patience of lesser men. But Tim Garden was instantly one of the boys without ever losing his dignity or a certain sheen of quality about everything he did.
Let us be frank, when the party recruits a star attraction there is a temptation for that newcomer to have a “aren’t you lucky to have me” attitude. It was quite the opposite with Tim. He served on Party Committees, he was President of the UK section of Liberal International, he was President of Camden Liberal Democrats, he played his part as a local activist, he attended conferences. He was, pure and simple, one of us. I start with that part of Tim’s character and approach because, quite naturally, the outstanding obituaries which followed his untimely death on 9 August concentrated on his brilliant military and academic career. What I want to make clear is that Liberal Democrat activists have lost one of their own.
So too has the House of Lords. The place is, of course, a complete anachronism. It is also a shrewd and worldly wise place. It can sniff out a phoney. It can also recognize the genuine article. It certainly recognized the genuine article in Tim Garden. It is hard to believe that his Parliamentary career lasted only three years. The attention he received whenever he rose to speak was recognition by the whole House that they were about to hear an honest opinion from someone who knew what he was talking about. To no-one was the term “woolly liberal” less suited. For that reason, when he challenged the Labour Government on Iraq or Afghanistan or some technical detail of defence procurement the House knew that they were listening not to a knee jerk reaction, but to a carefully analysed and thought out opinion.
I have found it interesting how someone whose death could, in the usual order of things, be remote from ordinary party members has left all of us with a genuine sense of loss. Defence Spokesman in the House of Lords is not the usual material for genuine party affection. What I think was recognized was that in a life that won many of the glittering prizes Tim Garden remained true to a set of beliefs: radical, liberal, internationalists which are our beliefs as well. If such an able, successful clever person can share our values then we cannot be getting things too badly wrong. I have been in politics now for almost fifty years. During that time I have met some good men and women as well as my share of rascals. There are a select few for whom I retain a pride at having known them and from whom I continue to gain inspiration and strength. Tim Garden was one such. We are all the poorer for his passing. We are also the better for having had him with us, all be it for all too short a time.
Tim Garden, Liberal Democrat Peer, former Air Marshal and defence analyst, passed away 9 August 2007, as reported, and was buried yesterday. Tim’s Leader in the House of Lords, Tom McNally, has written this tribute for Lib Dem Voice.