Obituary: Dennis Wrigley

Dennis Wrigley, who died earlier this week, was an inspirational pioneer in the rejuvenation of the Young Liberals and the Liberal Party in the Manchester region and the North West during the 1950s and 1960s.

Dennis came to national prominence in the High Peak by-election in 1961, in the year before Orpington. A combination of the rising national Liberal vote, a lot of outside help including Manchester students and YLs, and Dennis’s personal charisma and campaigning energy produced a Liberal vote of 30.5%, narrowly third but up by more than 10% from the General election in 1959. He contested the seat at the following three General Elections, polling well but never as well as at the by-election.

In 1964 the Labour candidate was the subsequent Liberal Democrat peer and Lords Chief Whip John Roper. The story that both of them told is (from Dennis) “Of course I was able to preach in every chapel in the constituency” with the riposte from John “Yes but I drank in every pub!” Unfortunately neither won that year.

Together with the likes of Alan Share, Terry Maher, Mary Mason and Muriel Burton, Dennis was one of the team who made the Manchester Young Liberal Organisation a power in the party and the spearhead of Liberal revival in Greater Manchester, all of them going on to fight constituencies in the 1960s. They went on to play a key part in another significant body in promoting a North West Liberal revival, the regional candidates association, together with the likes of Geoff Tordoff, and Merseyside’s Cyril Carr and Gruffydd Evans.

Dennis’s very specific input came with Northern Radical Publications. This was a publishing outfit run from his home in Flixton in response to the perceived failure of the national Liberal party to produce good campaigning literature. Their distinctive crimson-red and black leaflets and pamphlets with their punchy style featured in many a local Liberal campaign in the region. In 1970 Dennis wrote a Liberal Publications Department pamphlet “A Realistic Approach to Transport” with a young Andrew George.

Dennis was always a committed evangelical Christian and after the disappointing 1970 election he gave up on party politics and devoted his life to his Christian zeal, founding and running the Maranatha Community. This formed his main life’s work as he rather wrote out his previous Liberal party activities. But he never gave up local campaigning, co-ordinating a mass campaign in Trafford on the rates support grant formula, pressing for the Flixton motorway spur road and against the stenches from the Davyhulme sewage works, among many other local causes including most recently action against the proposal to build a Biomass Incinerator in the Urmston and Flixton area.

I met Dennis on a couple of occasions when he came to lobby the Lords on behalf of various Christian campaigns. It was a privilege to talk again to a person who half a century ago had been such a campaigning inspiration to a generation of new Liberal activists in and around Manchester. Our thoughts are now with his wife Sheila and their family.

* Lord Tony Greaves is the Liberal Democrats Lords Spokesperson for the North of England.

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  • So very sorry to hear about the death of Dennis. I well remember his enthusiasm – and, as Tony says, charisma – when he came to speaking in Huddersfield with Donald Wade and Richard Wainwright – and again in the Colne Valley by-election in 1963 when Richard got close to taking the seat.

  • David Evans 12th Nov '15 - 1:07pm

    One of the good guys. He will be sadly missed.

  • George Kendall 12th Nov '15 - 3:59pm

    Dennis was a speaker at a Lib Dem Christian Forum fringe meeting around 1990, on the ethics of the campaign trail.

    If I recall correctly, he talked about successfully appealing to the conscience of a local community, when it looked like they would reject housing some asylum speakers. It was inspiring.

  • I am so sad to hear the news of Dennis Wrigley’s death.
    I campaigned with and on behalf of Dennis in High Peak when he was the Parliamentary Candidate there.
    A truly inspiring charismatic, and sincere man. Westminster would have been better and wiser if Dennis had been returned to Parliament.

    I haven’t seen Dennis for many years but I will never forget him. I think of him so often. An inspiring Liberal and a wonderful man.

  • Dennis did not give up party politics in 1970 he stood in 1972 onwards in Stretford Urmston constituency against Winston Churchill Jr until 1983 the in the newly formed Davyhulme constituency again against Winston until a boundary change. l know this for fact as l helped him from age 13 and have a copy of a photo from 1974 At his funeral his son said he was approached by both Labour and Conservative and offered a safe seat if he joined them. Dennis found that very funny.

  • Margaret Weaver 24th Feb '16 - 2:24am

    Dennis Wrigley was the reason I joined the Liberal Party. In 1965 he came to talk to a bunch of teenagers at New Mills Youth Club, as did the then Labour potential candidate at the next General Election. The sitting Tory MP was also invited but declined to attend.

    This man held us spellbound while he outlined his vision for us teenagers, and we could not fault him. He talked to us. He listened to us,. He welcomed our input, naïve though it was. He respected us. And we respected him. So it was a no-brainer when, in 1970 he stood for parliament, that every single one of us teenagers who had met Dennis Wrigley voted for him. What a man, what an inspiration. His family rightly must be proud of him.

  • Steven Gerrard 5th Jul '16 - 5:49pm

    Dennis was a right lad.

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