Obituary – David Hughes

David Hughes died suddenly at a Party meeting last Saturday. David spoke with his usual with passion, eloquence and good sense. But there was far more to my old friend.

In 1973 the St Paul’s School pupil left London for Lincoln. Labour MP Dick Taverne had resigned to fight a by-election as a pro-European, Independent Social Democrat. Taverne won, and David’s lifelong commitment to liberalism began.

In 1975 he was elected Student Union President, one of only four Liberal Presidents.‎ I was one of the others.‎ As Presidents-elect, we sought each other out. A lifelong and deep friendship was forged.

Inevitably, David became Chair of the Union of Liberal Students. I became his Vice-Chair, joined among others by LSE General Secretary Julian Ingram as Treasurer and City University’s Simon McGrath.

In 1979 David was Liberal candidate for Southampton Itchen. He won a creditable 11% vote share as Labour’s Bryan Gould lost the seat and Mrs Thatcher swept into power.

By 1981 David’s hero, Dick Taverne was among the founding members of the Social Democratic Party. An Alliance with the Liberals was forged. Having revitalised the Union of Liberal Students, it was time to reboot the Liberal Parliamentary Candidates Association. David became Chair, and a familiar team of myself, Julian and Simon were among his Officers.

David never learned to drive. So, one of us transported him to a series of dramatic Alliance by-election wins. His map reading skills were exposed in Brecon and Radnor (the first time around), but his passion for curry was enhanced during a five day stay at Roy Jenkins’ Glasgow Hillhead triumph.

David was selected to fight Wiltshire’s Westbury seat in 1983 (and ’87).‎ Sadly, the “mould of British politics” refused to break, but David’s commitment to the West had begun. So, had his commitment to the Lib Dems.  He was a passionate advocate of a merger.

David met and married Jane and three children, Alice, Harry and Lucy followed. His was a ramshackle, large house in Somerset. Sadly, the marriage did not last, but as ever with David‎, the split was civilised. He and Jane remained firm friends to the end.

David dedicated himself to getting others elected. In 2010. Nick Clegg asked him to ensure his Sheffield Hallam seat was firing on all cylinders as Nick toured the country.  David then threw his weight behind his friend Tessa Munt, accurately predicting Tessa’s narrow Wells win. He helped mastermind successive European Parliamentary victories for Sir Graham Watson. Typically, he ensured he was beside Graham when he lost after 20 years committed public service.

Even more challenging times followed‎. Our West Country MPs were wiped out in 2015. With another election looming, David’s key task was to help secure a Lib Dem bridgehead in the West. He sat on the “star chamber” that approved Wera Hobhouse as a potential candidate for Bath. As his Regional Vice-Chair, I know the rest is history.

David’s formidable skills were in demand. He became English Party Treasurer and joined the Federal Party Finance and Administration Board. ‎He was one of the first to spot our federal finances were not in good order.

Working with successive English Chairs, he sorted budgets to increase G8 funding for crucial May elections, boost Regional and Local Party funding and develop a deposit guarantee fund.

David’s final day was dedicated to delivering the English Party budget. His last words were on our General Election disappointment and the way forward.

Our Party has lost a true stalwart, leaving a huge hole in the lives of all who loved him. We also know David Hughes has enriched our lives.



* Gavin is currently the Vice Chair, Western Counties Liberal Democrats

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This entry was posted in Obituaries and Op-eds.


  • Duncan Brack 4th Mar '20 - 10:51pm

    I endorse everything Gavin, and others, have said about the tragic loss of David. One thing to add: he was a stylish writer. Just two weeks ago I emailed him to explore whether he would be interested in contributing a chapter to the fifth book of political ‘what ifs’ I’ll be editing together with Iain Dale (due for publication next year).

    His chapter in the second volume (‘President Gore and other things that never happened’) – ‘What if the Liberals had formed the government in 1924?’ – explored the possibility that Asquith’s Liberals, who had won 159 seats in the December 1923 election, and held the balance of power in the Commons, had decided not to put Labour in (as they did in reality) but to form a government themselves. It is entertainingly written as a series of diary entries and letters from the key players, including a critical meeting between Asquith and Lloyd George closely mirroring the Blair – Brown ‘Granita pact’ of 1994 – but it’s not just fun to read, it’s thoughtful and credible too. I was hoping that David would be able to write something just as good for the new volume. We miss him dearly.

  • Tony Harris 5th Mar '20 - 10:08am

    David was a key contributor at FFRC meetings. He had great financial insights and a wonderful Rottweiler like quality to not let go of issues no matter how many times he was told ‘everything is fine’. His role in helping to bring the party back into the black should not be underestimated, cannot be quantified, but was significant. A dear colleague who will be sorely missed.

  • Bernie Cummins 5th Mar '20 - 12:41pm

    I remember David well from our shared times, in the Southampton Union of Liberal Students branch, in the mid 1970s, for his constant good humour and friendliness to nearly all. I also remember his enthusiastic report backs, on his trips, with his often sidekick Chris or Nick or David ? (or some other first name), but surname Scully, to European kindred Liberal togethers (ELD?) across the Channel. He was a hardworking enthusiastic Liberal throughout his student days and continued to be in the cause of Liberalism there on, up to his untimely death.

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