LibLink: Dick Taverne: The MP who beat Eurosceptics to hang on to his seat

A passionately pro European MP faces deselection by an anti-European local party. What happens then?

You could imagine this scenario unfolding for a fair few MPs today, but one person actually had this happen to him  and he survived. In 1972, Dick Taverne’s local Labour Party in Lincoln deselected him or voting for us to join the then Common Market.

It wasn’t the end of the world for him. He resigned as an MP and fought the subsequent by-election as an Independent and won.

He writes about his experience in this week’s New European to give moral support to any MPs in a similar situation today.

What also swayed a lot of votes was my appeal that politicians should put country first, constituency second and party third.

Burke proved popular. Indeed Roy Jenkins, not a natural populist, temporarily became a popular hero and told me that taxi drivers would wind down their windows if they passed him and shout: “You stick to your guns, mate.”

Are circumstances less favourable for a deselected dissident today? They are probably more favourable. At that time, party loyalties were much stronger than now. When I announced I would stand as an independent, the general view in the media was that I had committed political suicide.

I thought I had a chance of winning, but was astonished at the general enthusiasm that my by-election aroused and indeed at the size of my victory. I have no doubt that the flood of my supporters in Lincoln will be nothing to the tidal wave that would pour into a by-election about Brexit today, if a pro-European MP is hounded out of his or her constituency.

Many groups in different parts of Britain have already started their own local Stop Brexit activities and have been longing for an opportunity to express their passionate frustration at the referendum result on the national 

The not-so-secret weapon of a Stop Brexit campaign are the young. Remember shortly after the referendum vote, when many thousands of young people took to the streets spontaneously to express their deep concern about their future. There was no national organisation behind their demonstration. Nor was there one to back me in 1973.

You can read the whole article here. 

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  • There was a vote in 1973. It was a legitimate one in Parliament. We elect MPs to take decisions for us. Referendums have only been used when the governing party was split (Wilson in 1975 and Cameron in 2016).
    I do really tire of those who wish to undermine Parliament which is the source of power and authority on all legislative matters in the UK.

  • What of other Referendums such as the Welsh and Scottish devolution ones?

    But in any case Parliament can variously be described as an “Elective Dictatorship” (Lord Hailsham I seem to recall) due to our unwritten constitution and/or as a minority dictatorship due to FPTP almost always producing minority Governments (in terms of votes) but with majorities in terms of seats. Massive majorities in terms of Thatcher and Blair at their height. Then there is the completely undemocratic other half of Parliament in the Lords.

    For those reasons I never agreed with people like Tony Benn and Dennis Skinner when they pontificated on the absolute Sovereignity of Parliament. I was also very attracted to “The Theory and Practice of Community Politics” when I first read it as it rejected the idea that we just elected politicians to ‘do things to us’ and advocated working with and empowering communities.

  • “I do really tire of those who wish to undermine Parliament which is the source of power and authority on all legislative matters in the UK.”

    So do I.

    And that makes the idea of voting LibDem all the more bizarre. Why on earth would you vote for a party whose sole purpose is to hand that ‘source of power and authority on all legislative matters in the UK’, back to that undemocratic, and unelected bunch of rogues in the EU?.
    The real trick that [some!] liberals haven’t quite grasped yet, is that once sovereignty returns to the UK in 397 days, the general idea that leave voters had, was that we should KEEP IT?.

  • Tristan Ward 25th Feb '18 - 1:26pm

    @Shelia Gee

    If your understanding of membership of the EU is that it exercises sole soverignty and power over its members then you are simply wrong. Go away and read up on how it works, and then come back to make an informed contribution.

    Sorry to be blunt, but that’s how it is.

  • John Marriott 25th Feb '18 - 1:44pm

    Lord Taverne’s replacement, Freddie Stockdale, may have got only 4% of the vote in 1979 but, four years later, following parliamentary boundary changes, the same Freddie Stockdale, running for the SDP/Liberal Alliance, got 25%, only 2% behind the Labour candidate, Malcolm Withers. The chief beneficiary of the ‘split’ opposition was sitting Tory MP, Kenneth Carlisle.

    Like Roy Jenkins, Dick Taverne had the courage of his convictions in campaigning for a cause in which many of his party – but, significantly not that many in the Tory – did not believe. Unlike the former, he actually resigned his seat, fought and won a by election, retained the seat in the first General Election of 1974, and founded a new local party that, by 1976, controlled the Lincoln City Council for the next three years. I remember meeting him back in 1987 when he visited Lincoln to do a walkabout to support the Alliance candidate, Peter Zentner in the General Election and was amazed at the warm reception he received from many local people, especially the ladies!

  • John Marriott 25th Feb '18 - 6:14pm

    And ….. Actually you will find that Dick Taverne RETAINED his seat at a by election, which he caused (rather like David Davis did in East Yorkshire a few years ago), when he resigned his Lincoln seat, which he had held for a number of years, on a matter of principle, as he was about to be deselected by his local Labour Party, which was officially anti Common Market and one of whose leading lights was one Leo Beckett, who eventually married the lady who, having narrowly lost to Dick in the first, went on beat him in the second General Election of 1974, one Margaret Jackson (I’m sure you know what happened to her).

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