Julian Huppert writes… Thoughts on a memorial service

On saturday, I attended the memorial service for a life-long Liberal, George Watson. It included a reading from John Stuart Mill ‘On Liberty’.

George stood for Parliament in 1959 in Cheltenham, unsuccessfully, and then became a Fellow at St John’s College Cambridge, where he became a noted scholar in literature, literary criticism and liberal political thought.

I got hold of his campaign literature from 1959, and while the layout and style is different – no bar charts – the central messages are unchanged.

To quote from his section ‘Put Freedom First’:

Liberals made them get rid of identity-cards – but the State Still has far too much power in our lives

The Home Secretary thinks the police ought to tap private phone-calls and exercise summary arrest

Liberals say: give all men equal rights before the law

From the section ‘buy the things that count’ we have:

Liberals say: stop all nuclear tests now, get rid of the wasteful British Bomb that costs £500 millions every year, seek a common defence policy in NATO.

And under ‘Unite Europe and the Commonwealth’ we find:

We need the European Common Market … – and Tory policy closes the door of Europe in our faces.

I think George would want us to continue his campaigns from 1959.

* Julian Huppert was the Liberal Democrat MP for Cambridge from 2010-15

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  • John Clough 3rd Feb '14 - 5:27pm

    An interesting article on George Watson in this week’s New Statesman by the former cricketer and Cambridge graduate Ed Smith, worth a read.

  • Tony Greaves 3rd Feb '14 - 5:40pm

    George Watson was the intellectual pillar behind the Unservile State Group which published an important book “The Unservile State” in1957 – one of the foundations of the revival of the Liberal Party under Jo Grimond, and a series of pamphlets (Unservile State Papers) on all manner of policy issues over some 30 years. (I had the privilege of publishing the last few of them in the late 1980s.)

    George was passionately anti-socialist – his own contributions to the US Papers included “Is Socialism Left” in 1967, revised and reissued in 1972, and “The Toppling of the Terms – Thoughts on the death of socialism” in 1990, In spite of this he was a fairly mainstream Liberal of the Grimond era.

    The USG was formed in Oxford in 1953, at the very nadir of the Liberal Party’s fortunes, by a group of friends including George and Richard Wainwright – Liberal MP for the Colne Valley 1966-70 and 74-87, who subsequently largely funded the USG’s activities. “The Unservile State” called itself “the first full-scale survey of British Liberalism since the Yellow Book of 1928” (not that the Yellow Book was quite that). George also edited “Radical Alternative”, a lesser collection of essays, in 1962.

    For many years Nancy Seear chaired the Group, Richard was the permanent Treasurer, George was Editor and Philip Watkins became Secretary. The rest of the Group, 15 or 16 in total, were a collection of leading Liberal Party thinkers spanning generations from the 1930s to the 1980s. The pamphlets rather coyly stated that “Some of its present members are actively engaged in politics as Liberals, but the Group has no formal connection with any political party.” But the pamphlets were for many years published on behalf of the USG by LPD (the Liberal Publications Department) and between 1985 and 1990 by Hebden Royd Publications (LIberal Party Publications) at Hebden Bridge.

    I talked to Richard Wainwright about it not long before he died and he was typically modest, telling me that the purpose was to provide Liberals with some underlying conviction that their creed and party had some substance, some right to continue to exist – and to make a contribution to Liberal policy development which in the 1950s before Grimond was moribund. He said that they would perhaps just provide one “footnote in history” – USG number 26 written by Samuel Brittan and Barry Riley – “A People’s Stake in North Sea Oil” – which proposed that some of the proceeds of the oil should be distributed to all adult citizens by means of shares (North Sea stock).

    Liber Books have a selection of USG pamphlets if anyone is interested – email me at [email protected].

    Tony Greaves

  • How many millions of pounds have we wasted on nuclear weapons since George Watson’s 1959 campaign?

    The pamphlet ‘Is Socialism Left?’ is always worth re-reading. I think I will go and look out my copy now.

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