First political memories: Geoff Reid

While the Suez crisis was unfolding some of us ten year olds in a junior school playground discussed our vague awareness of Government incompetence. It was not my first school. I was born in the tough Scotswood Road area of Newcastle. Crucially I was an only child so my parents, living in a two room flat couldn’t get on the council house waiting list. This led to my father joining a ground-breaking self-build housing scheme, which in due course led to us moving across town.

That may well have contributed to my assumption that alternative solutions to problems were part of life. In the post-Suez years, after I moved on to the grammar school, very rare references in newspapers to Jo Grimond and his tiny band of Liberal MPs made me think that this was an alternative to the established Labour-Tory duopoly that was worth taking seriously. I read what I could find. Radio was not very helpful. Eventually we got a cheap black and white television set and Liberals, especially in the party conference season, became a bit more visible, including their charismatic leader.

The Orpington by-election in 1962 made me think about joining the Liberal Party but I had no idea where to find them. At the local elections the party was putting up two candidates in the city. So I got on a bus to Jesmond on polling day, waited until I heard a loudspeaker car inviting people to vote Liberal and ran behind it until I found somebody inside who could connect me up with the party. After two years with the Young Liberals, who met in a damp upstairs room with a photograph of Clem Davies belonging to an ageing Women’s Liberal Association, I was the Agent for Byker Ward while still at school! We went to help in the Roxburgh by-election and were intoxicated by the thought of a Liberal MP an hour’s drive away from Newcastle. While in the Borders I travelled in a car with Jeremy Thorpe, who ignored my advice to take over the microphone from the inexperienced local volunteer. He seemed to be pre-occupied with his own thoughts….

Shortly before starting at Newcastle University I was able to get to Scarborough for the duration of the Conference. I remember avoiding being mown down on the prom by a rather large George Mackie MP. Before I came back somebody thrust a thousand leaflets into my hands and told me to revive the University Liberal Society. As a fresher I had no idea how to acquire a stall but I was rescued by the Communist Party! A young woman with the aristocratic sounding name of Bonamy Clavering generously offered me half her table.

And so to the Union of Liberal Students, meeting characters like Tony Greaves, Ruth Coleman-Taylor (as she now is) and John Smithson. It was a time of parliamentary weakness and near-invisibility but we enjoyed an exciting ferment of alternative ideas!

* Geoff Reid is a Liberal Democrat Councillor in Bradford

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