Diana Maddock, remembered by her first researcher

Of all the heartfelt tributes to Diana Maddock this weekend, one on Facebook by George Crozier, whose first job was as her parliamentary researcher immediately after her spectacular by-election win in 1993.

He has very kindly agreed to let me post it on here so that you can all enjoy it too. I will admit to a few tears when I read it.

He recounts how well they got on and has some details about her parliamentary work (eg against puppy farms) that we might otherwise have missed.

George tells how she was reported in the local press and how she worked so hard as a constituency MP.

Kind and wise are two words we’ve heard a lot describing her over the last few days, and this post sums up why.

Hugely saddened by the news yesterday of the death of my first boss, Diana Maddock. Diana was a lovely person – I can’t recall us ever falling out during the three and a half years I worked for her though there were plenty of stressful moments – speeches finished with minutes to spare among the most common. She was a genuinely caring and thoughtful employer – though what she was thinking when she got me a Mickey Mouse tie for Christmas one year is anyone’s guess!

I first knew Diana in Southampton, where I was a student and she was Lib Dem council group leader and a parliamentary candidate in 1992. My house – or rather Rosemary Hasler’s – was the campaign headquarters that year, such as it was, so I lived for months amid stacks of Maddock Focuses and stakeboards. Then the following year the Christchurch by-election was called just a few weeks after I graduated, Diana was selected to fight it, and I spent so much time there that I ended up as the campaign caseworker for the final week and after she won – biggest ever swing against the Conservatives in a by-election at the time – she took a leap of faith (for which I will be forever grateful) and hired me as her researcher.

I say hired – the timing of her election was such that she couldn’t take her seat until Parliament returned in October so none of us (including Diana I think) were paid for nearly three months. Most of that summer was spent with Diana, Andrew Garratt and others in the Ferndown office sorting through rooms (literally!) full of papers of all kinds from the by-election. The scale of that campaign had to be seen to be believed. There were days when the whole constituency was canvassed and separately delivered. The detritus we had to sort through probably added a percentage point to the district council’s recycling rate!

Diana was a brilliant constituency MP – the absolute model of how to go about building non-political support through visits, regular surgeries, diligent casework, taking up local issues in Parliament and keeping constituents informed through local papers and post, in the days when this kind of thing was a novelty. We once saw an internal Conservative note expressing exasperation that she seemed to be everywhere – why were so many local groups asking to meet her? Why were people asking her to open fetes? Why? (The answer to the latter, it emerged, after she was bounced out of the ceremonial opening of the Verwood Carnival one year, was closely related to the availability or otherwise of local celebrity Buster Merryfield (Uncle Albert from Only Fools and Horses). But hey, that’s life, and she took this crushing blow in her stride.)

I remember once hearing from the Bournemouth Echo’s Westminster correspondent that he loved the story we were giving him but he couldn’t cover it because he’d already given her twice the coverage that week of the county’s seven Tory MPs put together. On another occasion he confided that a Dorset Tory had complained to him about the amount of coverage he gave to Diana. He had had to find a way to diplomatically explain that he was just reflecting the news generation and activity levels of the local MPs as they appeared to him.

Not all the media was perfect of course. One article about the by-election win referred to the victor, a Mrs Diane Haddock. Another, in The Guardian I think, was more to our taste. Challenging a claim somewhere else that the old folk in the constituency had taken to Diana because they identified with, her it asserted that, to the contrary, nice middle-aged Mrs Maddock brought a touch of glamour to the town – in the ‘zimmerframe world of Christchurch’ (the constituency was, I think, the second oldest in the country) Diana Maddock was, it asserted, a veritable Sharon Stone!

Diana worked extremely hard but she also had some peculiarly good luck in Parliament. She confided a few months into her time in the Commons that she hadn’t been putting in PMQs so far because she felt things were hectic enough already and she wanted to get into her stride and get her maiden speech, etc over with first. But she was going to start putting them in that week. First draw – she came top, and a highly significant question teasing out the government’s attitude on VAT on fuel followed. Then, just a year after being elected, she came top in the ballot for private members’ bills. As she remarked at the time, people kept asking her to choose their lottery tickets for them, but she had to tell them that it would be no good – she was incapable of winning money, only work!

The bill she took up became, following an outstanding grassroots campaign and equally impressive cross-party effort in Parliament, the Home Energy Conservation Act, giving local authorities a new duty to survey the energy efficiency of residential properties in their areas and report to the Secretary of State to support national strategy in this crucial area. The Association for the Conservation of Energy called it the most important Bill for energy conservation since the war. Its provisions are still in place.

I could go on – her work as housing spokesperson, the ‘puppy farms’ bill she took up which became law the following year when a Labour MP sponsored it, the ‘Wessex Group’ of MPs with Davids Rendel and Chidgey, her hands-on approach to campaigning and finding local election candidates… Diana packed a huge amount into her just-under-four-years in the Commons. But alas, in the end not even Diana’s top class constituency nurturing could save Christchurch – bluntly, a pretty conservative kind of place if ever there was one – from a return to the Conservative fold in the heat of a general election where attention was focused on parties and prime ministers rather than a local representative. She went on to do exemplary work in the Lords (picture is from her investiture) and as Party President – in which capacity I worked with her and Alan Beith on a party strategy paper the exact contents of which I forget, but which no doubt played a crucial role in the party’s successes over the next 10 years (before, clearly, being cast aside for the decade since 2010).

In recent years I didn’t see all that much of Diana, but she always made a point of turning up at my employer’s annual parliamentary reception on the House of Commons Terrace, which I coordinated. She never RSVP’d. She would just breeze past the reception desk with a cheery ‘I’m only here to see George, where is he?’ before bustling up to me and reassuring whoever I happened to be in conversation with – typically a Conservative MP to whom I was trying hard to maintain my strict professional political neutrality – with a ‘do you know George? He used to work for me. He’s very good.’ And then turning the topic of conversation to old friends and colleagues. Last year she was upbeat that she had beaten off her breast cancer. Alas it seems she spoke too soon.

Farewell Diana – those three and a half years we shared in that tiny office in Norman Shaw North, where we couldn’t both push our chairs backwards simultaneously without clashing, towered over by piles of ‘filing’ and the huge ‘Christchurch – Where Time is Pleasant’ poster, divided by a semi-partition from the even more crowded other half of the office where David Rendel, Nick Rijke and a succession of lanky American interns also towered over us, all sharing the rudimentary Rendel/Maddock fax machine which cranked out about a page a minute – they were quite an adventure, and I will forever be grateful to you for giving me the opportunity to join you on it.

* Caron Lindsay is Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice and blogs at Caron's Musings

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