David Rendel 1949-2016

David Rendel on Newbury Town Hall steps - Some rights reserved  by Martin TodAs we reported earlier, former Liberal Democrat MP David Rendel has died aged 67.

David was born in 1949 in Athens, Greece. His father was a foreign correspondent for The Times, and he was a great-grandson of civil engineer Sir Alexander Meadows Rendel, and a great-great-nephew of Liberal MP Stuart Rendel, the first Baron Rendel, a benefactor of William Gladstone, as noted in Roy Jenkins’ book “Gladstone: A Biography”.

David was educated first at Horris Hill school, Newtown, Hampshire, and then as a scholar at Eton College. He spent 14 months as a volunteer teacher in Cameroon and Uganda with Voluntary Service Overseas. Afterwards he went to Magdalen College and St Cross College, Oxford where he gained a degree in Physics and Philosophy and rowed in the record-breaking Boat Race crew of 1974.

After leaving Oxford, David worked in the energy industry (Shell International, British Gas and Esso) as a manager in the computing and finance departments.

David fought and lost two elections in 1979 and 1983 at Fulham, before moving to Newbury in 1986, when his wife Dr Sue Rendel started work as a GP in the town, a role she continued in until 2013. He became a Newbury District Councillor from 1987 to 1995, and fought and lost the Newbury seat in the 1992 general election, gaining 37% of the vote.

Both at Fulham and in Newbury, David gained local recognition and affection by running an annual “Football Card” scheme, which tapped into a slice of the electorate not normally interested in politics. He was known for meticulous attention to detail and a super-human capacity for hard work. His “canvassing walk” between doors is particularly remembered for its huge speed and athleticism.

One of David’s noted early campaigns in Newbury was in opposition to a Tory plan to build a multi-storey car park on the historic wharf, accompanied by private leisure facilities. David’s campaign to fight this, and instead develop more suitable parking sites elsewhere in the town, garnered great popularity for the local Lib Dems and helped to win control of the council for us in 1991.

Newbury calamity and catastropheDavid was elected MP for Newbury in a by-election on 6 May 1993, with a majority of 22,055 – the largest Liberal or Liberal Democrat Westminster majority in history (See the front page of the Evening Standard the day after – right). This historic victory was won against a backdrop of the UK’s financial chaos, the enormous unpopularity of the Conservative government and the clumsiness of the Chancellor of the Exchequer. He was Norman Lamont. He declared at a press conference at the Conservative HQ in Newbury’s Cheap Street: “Je ne regrette rien” when asked whether he regretted most saying he saw “Green shoots of recovery” or that he was “singing in his bath” at the departure of the UK from the European Exchange Mechanism. This statement, needless to say, received a bad press, and was exploited mercilessly by Chris Rennard, who engineered the hugely successful campaign built on David Rendel’s great energy, inspiring leadership and very firm local base.

David won Newbury again in the 1997 and 2001 general elections. As Liberal Democrat spokesperson on Higher and Further Education, David led the campaign against university tuition fees and top-up fees.

David was a front-bench spokesperson for the Liberal Democrats on local government (1993-97) and social security (1997-99) and served on the influential Public Accounts Committee (1999-2003). As social security spokesperson, he led the largest rebellion of MPs of the Parliament, against Government plans to scrap single parent benefits. He also led opposition to benefit cuts for people with disabilities. He was the MP who first brought the SERPS fiasco to the attention of Ministers and asked the National Audit Office to investigate. As a result, the Government was forced to restore the pension entitlement of widows who were disadvantaged, at a cost of £12 billion.

As MP for Newbury, David was closely associated with successful campaigns for the Newbury By-Pass, the West Berkshire Community Hospital, a new cinema, the refurbishment of the Corn Exchange and the return of Greenham and Crookham Commons to public use. In 2004, he introduced the Cinemas (Rural Areas) Bill in Parliament, calling for more support for local cinemas in rural communities and small towns.

At the 1993 Newbury by-election, at a rally at St Bartholomew’s School, David was asked for his views on fox hunting. He stated very clearly that he was opposed to hunting with hounds, a clarity which was praised by party leader Paddy Ashdown, also at the rally. This caused much local Tory resentment for years, but David was able to vote for the Hunting Act 2004 in parliament. The Conservatives claimed that this stance led to David’s defeat as MP in 2005. However, David always maintained that for every vote he lost, he gained at least one more from voters who shared his belief that hunting (killing) with hounds was morally wrong.

In 1999, David did not take sides in the planning application by Vodafone to build a huge HQ on green fields north of Newbury. This stance was probably sensible, as the terms of the “deal” were changing right up to the last minute and therefore only councillors, privy to all the discussions, were able to make a sound judgment. In the event, the application was narrowly passed by West Berkshire Council but there was a very strict “green plan” which bought Vodafone into the provision of a bus service and parking restrictions for staff.

David lived in the heart of Newbury just yards from the A34 dual carriageway which snaked through the town. As such, he was able to see daily, at first hand, the devastation wreaked by heavy traffic painfully and slowly progressing through the town, with a particularly heavy array of large lorries travelling to and from the Southampton ferries. David was a consistent campaigner for a western by-pass for the town, over many years, and was instrumental in finally ensuring the construction of the road, while acknowledging the balanced environmental issues and bearing attacks from anti-by-pass elements with good grace and dignity.

David stood in the 1999 election for the leadership of the Liberal Democrats, but came fifth of five candidates, losing to Charles Kennedy. Despite that, David fought the campaign with typical dignity and vigour.

As an MP, while impeccably loyal in public, in parliamentary party circles, David quietly, but forcefully, stated his opposition to Paddy Ashdown’s “project” of closer union with Tony Blair’s Labour party.

He held on to his seat in 1997 and 2001 with reduced majorities, but at the 2005 election he was defeated by the Conservative candidate Richard Benyon.

It is a testament to David’s immense campaigning skills, dogged determination and local popularity that he held Newbury, a traditionally Tory seat, for twelve years. Before, after and during his stint as MP, David was well-known for his unfailing courtesy and his genuine and sincere acts of kindness to ordinary people. These included staying behind to help with the washing up at local gatherings, sending touching notes to people who were grieving, and, after meetings, offering lifts to the old and infirm, who he knew were likely to have to walk home.

After 2005, it was rumoured that he was offered elevation to various posts, but David chose, typically, to concentrate on local campaigning.

In May 2006, David was re-selected by local party members as the Liberal Democrat candidate for the Newbury seat for the 2010 election. At the general election in May 2010 he was defeated by the sitting Conservative MP, Richard Benyon, whose majority grew to 21%.

David was a directly elected member of the Liberal Democrats Federal Executive committee until 2014.

Following the 2010 election, David was the only member on the Liberal Democrats Federal Executive to vote against the recommendation that the party form a coalition government with the Conservative Party. He foresaw the impact it would have on the Party he loved. Again, he stated his opposition quietly and without rancour.

After our debacle at the European Elections in May 2014, David did not hold back privately in his critique of the party leadership’s performance.

After his period as MP, David continued to serve the people of West Berkshire as a councillor for Thatcham from 2007 until 2015. While working on his councillor’s papers one night at 1am, David felt an earth tremor at his home in Bucklebury, West Berkshire – as he related to the press at the time:

I was sitting at my desk downstairs when I heard quite a large noise and I thought there was a lorry or a train going by but I’m not near a railway line and my lane outside is very small for lorries.

There then seemed to be a shaking and then at this stage I realised it was an earthquake because it was going on so long. I got up and I felt giddy. It was very definite.

I went upstairs to see if my son was awake and what he thought and he was coming down to tell me he thought there had been an earthquake but perhaps it was not enough to wake people up.

In 2015, David stood as our parliamentary candidate in the Somerton and Frome constituency, fighting with his usual flair and determination, inspiring many to work hard with him.

David was, for a long period, President of his local regional Liberal Democrats.

David is remembered for his commitment to Liberal values, for his kindness, unfailing courtesy and for his phenomenal capacity for hard work.

David leaves his wife, Dr Sue Rendel, three sons, Mark, John and Andrew, who were all educated at local Newbury schools, and two grandchildren.

Shortly before his death, David was over-joyed to receive news of the spectacular Liberal Democrat by-election win in Newbury’s Victoria ward, part of his old “home patch”.

With acknowledgements and recognition to Wikipedia and David’s website.

Photo: Some rights reserved by Martin Tod.

* Paul Walter is a Liberal Democrat activist. He is one of the Liberal Democrat Voice team. He blogs at Liberal Burblings.

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7 Comments

  • Richard Underhill 17th May '16 - 2:46pm

    and the Lib Dem parliamentary candidates’ association. Sadly missed.

  • Gordon Lishman 17th May '16 - 3:31pm

    Very much missed. A delightful man and a resolute colleague. It’s also worth remembering his passionate campaigning for PR as a necessary condition of any deal, past and future. He was vindicated by events – not for the first time in his career.

  • I was David’s aide in his 1993 by-election victory. He was also gentle, charming and understated.
    My favourite memory of him was when he went to test drive the new jaguar as a photo opp. While he was off in the car with Liz Lynne the Labour candidate supported (sic) by Peter Mandelson and pursued by the press pack turned up. Mandy’s strategy for discrediting David (an old Etonian) was (ironically given what later happened with Cameron) to pretend that we were calling him “Dave”. As David got out of the car, and before I could intervene, Mandy stuck out his hand and David – being a gent and a natural candidate took it. “How’s it going Dave? How are you Dave?” said Mandy making a big show for the press. David was very polite until – montified – I managed to bundle him into our own car. As we drove away, David turned to me and asked “who was that?” If only he had asked Mandelson – then one of the best known political figures in the country – who he was in front of the press, it would have been even better than calling him “Pete”. But it was David all over…I will miss him greatly.

  • gavin grant 17th May '16 - 6:44pm

    I had the great pleasure in “interviewing” David at our final Regional Conference before the 2015 General Election. He was his courteous, intelligent, enthusiastic and humorous self having thrown himself in the battle to defend Somerton & Frome. I reminded him of his Newbury by-election triumph but as ever he attributed his success to others. A delightful, committed, principled, liberal person. May his family and many friends find solace in their happy memories of him.

  • He was a lovely, highly principled man – his byelection was the first one where I had seen the terrific phenomenon of people running out of their houses demanding orange diamonds (later in Christchurch this became an even more common practice, sadly now pretty well defunct!)

    One treasured, small memory came at a Leadership hustings in Cornwall, where we were doing a little fundraising by selling pasties to everyone – David immediately put his hand in his pocket to make his generous donation, whereas at least one of the other candidates needed strong persuasion to fork out!

    His strong principles made him a favourite of our late son, who voted for him first preference in that Leadership election.

  • George Crozier 20th May '16 - 1:26am

    Have only just heard the sad news. I shared an office with David for three years (cramped in with David, Diana Maddock, who I was working for, Nick Rijke and a succession of – for some reason mostly Republican – American interns) and I can honestly say that it was a real privilege. David combined generosity and courteousness – I can’t recall a single occasion when he tried to pull rank as an MP – with good humour and complete unflappability.

    I remember him once poking his head around the partition at around 5:30, on a day when Nick was off, and asking, terribly politely, if I could possibly spare a couple of minutes to help him put some notes together for a speech he had agreed to give on local government finance, to a gathering of local government directors of Finance (so no pressure there then), which he hadn’t started writing yet. It turned out the speech was to be given in half an hour’s time.

    Many, perhaps most, MPs would’ve been flying around in some kind of blind panic at this point. But not David. As I said, completely unflappable. 15 minutes later he had the notes he needed and sauntered off cheerily to catch a cab to wherever it was that this event was taking place. It was of course a triumph (or at least as much a triumph as a speech on local government finance can ever be!)

    I remember the carrier bags of constituency correspondence he would carry around, making the most of every spare five minutes to scribble or dictate responses.

    I remember the battles (polite ones of course) over the shared fax machine (God that dates us doesn’t it!) and who needed to send their Budget day press release out most urgently.

    And I remember how in team meetings he was just as keen to hear what a wet behind the ears, fresh out of university, researcher thought should be done as he was to set out his own ideas.

    Full of encouragement for others. Incredibly hard-working. A great constituency MP. A dedicated liberal in bad times as well as good. And basically an all round nice guy.

    Rest in peace David. It’s a privilege to have known you.

  • Tracey Eames(Rustell 24th May '16 - 2:02pm

    My thoughts are with David’s family at this very sad time . I had the privilege of working with David in last years campaigns , representing Berkley Down . He was a lovely man to work along side and was very committed .
    Tracey Eames ( Rustell)

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