Tag Archives: michael steed

Michael Steed obituary in The Guardian

Last month Michael Meadowcroft wrote an obituary for Michael Steed in The Guardian, but it has only just appeared in the print edition where it occupies a whole page.

It focusses on his pioneering work as a psephologist, working with David Butler and John Curtice on, amongst other things, some new approaches to measuring election swings, and as a Lecturer in Government at Manchester University.

Amazingly he had been a member of the Liberals, followed by the Liberal Democrats, for 65 years. He was at various times a Parliamentary, European and Council candidate. I only got to know him a few years ago through the Social Liberal Forum, where his deep knowledge of liberalism and the Liberal Democrats influenced our thinking.

A prominent Liberal party activist, he was the vice-chair of the National League of Young Liberals during its radical phase in the 1960s, frequently at odds with the party leader at the time, Jeremy Thorpe. He consistently championed gay rights, called for a federal Europe and proposed constitutional reform, including regional government. Steed did not just snipe from the wings but took on key roles in the party, becoming a member of the party executive and serving as its president (1978-79) under an election system he had devised and which the party backed.

William Wallace wrote a beautiful tribute to him on Lib Dem Voice last month, and Michael Meadowcroft’s contribution stands alongside that.

Posted in Obituaries | Also tagged | 7 Comments

William Wallace writes: Michael Steed, his Liberal history

Liberal Democrats in Kent, Yorkshire and Manchester in particular will remember Michael Steed as a candidate, councillor, and activist on many issues over more than 60 years.  Others will recall him as party president in 1978-9, as a regular attender of party conferences in spite of being wheel-chair bound by a neurological disease that resisted precise diagnosis, and latterly as an active member of the Liberal History Group and of its journal’s editorial board.

Michael grew up on a farm in Kent, went to a local independent school, and took six months before he went to Cambridge University in 1959 to work on the continent, coming back a convinced European and internationalist. After narrowly losing election to the presidency of the university Liberal Club he became president of the Union of Liberal Students (then a separate organization from the Young Liberals).  There he cultivated closer links with ‘the World Federation of Liberal and Radical Youth’ and its Swedish president, Margareta Holmstedt.  They married some years later, and set up home in Todmorden.

He was, however, always as much of a scholar as a campaigner.  He was a student of David Butler at Nuffield College Oxford from 1963-65 (alongside Alan Beith), and then for many years a lecturer in government at Manchester University.  As a student he already demonstrated an astonishingly detailed knowledge of parliamentary and local government elections.  He contributed the statistical appendix to the Nuffield election studies through many elections, in later ones in cooperation with John Curtice.  Teaching about the British constitution and commitment to political and electoral reform linked his professional and political lives.

Michael was on the radical wing of the 1960 Young Liberals, becoming vice-chair of NLYL’. He campaigned on apartheid in South Africa, on gay rights and on joining the European Community. He fought his first parliamentary campaign in the Brierly Hill by-election in 1967, gaining less than 8% of the vote. From his study of constituency histories and results he then decided that Truro was one of the most promising prospects, and travelled down to fight it in the 1970 election – disappointingly coming third.  He came closest to entering Parliament in the bitter Manchester Exchange by-election in 1973 – a safe Labour seat, almost entirely council housing, where Labour reacted furiously to what councillors saw as a Liberal ‘invasion’, in the wake of by-election wins elsewhere.  After an enthusiastic campaign in a seat that had had no Liberal activity (and which Labour had taken for granted) he gained 36.5% of the vote.  Typically, he afterwards wrote an academic article which noted that the real winner had been the 56% who had not voted.

Posted in Op-eds | Also tagged and | 5 Comments

Michael Steed 1940-2023

Sad news dropped into my inbox this afternoon. Michael Steed, President of the Liberal Party from 1978-79, died this week.

From Young Liberal anti-apartheid activist who was once prevented by the South African authorities from delivering aid to Sharpeville to eminent psephologist who provided the stats for the British General Election Guides up until 2005 to radical social liberal who was ardently pro-European but not blind to dangers of concentrated power in the way the EU worked, he spent his whole life working for liberalism, and was elected as a councillor in Canterbury in 2008.

He was also one of those brave liberals who fought for gay rights well before it was fashionable to do so. He helped fight the early battles that won the freedoms we take for granted now.

Posted in News | Also tagged | 24 Comments

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