Tony Greaves has died

I am still reeling a bit from the shock. For the second time in almost exactly a month, we’ve lost a liberal legend. Last month it was Derek Barrie. A short while ago, Lib Dem Lords Leader Dick Newby posted the sad news that Tony Greaves had died very suddenly this morning.

Tony was a legend who held this party together through its dark days in the 60s and 70s. He moved the motion in 1970 which committed the Liberals to community politics, which led to us having such a strong local government foundation and surviving long enough to form the Alliance and then the Liberal Democrats – though he had a few words to say about that process. He wrote a book, Merger: the inside story, with Rachael Pitchford in 1989, which was reviewed here by the Journal of Liberal History.

He went to the Lords in 2000 and was in fine form there only last week, speaking on everything from the Coronavirus Regulations to his last, withering, contribution, on the Heather and Grass etc Burning (England) Regulations 2021. He was unimpressed and, as usual, didn’t hold back.

My Lords, where I live, we are surrounded by moors. I would describe them as peat moors; a lot of them are heather moors and a lot are grass moors. Every year, there are fires on them. Some of them are managed fires on the grouse-shooting estates. Others are unmanaged fires caused by people who accidentally drop cigarette ends, or whatever, or have barbeques. It is not quite central to this statutory instrument, but I have asked questions of the Government previously about banning people from having barbeques on open country of this kind. The answer I get is that it is up to local authorities. The problem is that many of these moors are, by definition, the places where local authority boundaries are drawn, because they are up on the hills and the tops between the valleys, and getting local authorities together to organise jointly on this is not easy. I will just make that point.

The Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments has written a pretty damning report on the SI that has been presented. I think it is another example of how regrettable it is, with the way that parliamentary business is being organised at the moment, that there has not been the opportunity or the time available for the Government and the Joint Committee to discuss it and negotiate properly in the way in which it always happened in the past. We are told by the Government that they do not agree with it; the department says that it does not agree with it. That is not satisfactory—they should be having a discussion, getting together and sorting it out before it comes here. It is very unsatisfactory for us to have a statutory instrument where the JCSI is basically saying, “Don’t pass it”.

He was not known for his subtlety. Every so often, he would email me in no uncertain terms telling me where I or Lib Dem Voice had gone wrong. I would respond in equally robust terms. In fact, the last thing I said to him was “Bloody cheek…..” when he complained about the all member email I’d written about phone canvassing last month. But after those robust exchanges came the good chats. I will miss those emails more than I could imagine.

The very first time I came across him was in 1992 when he was speaking alongside Sheila Ritchie, now the Scottish Party Convener. She summed him up with great affection, on Twitter.

A few weeks ago, Sheila was asking if anyone had volumes of Russell Johnston’s speeches and Tony, who was one of the people you go to when you want old liberal stuff, responded. He sent them off to Caithnesss, Sutherland and Ross candidate Molly Nolan and they arrived this morning.

Ed Davey paid tribute to a “liberal legend.”


The Party is going to be reeling from the shock and I know that many of you will have memories to share of Tony. Please feel free to share them in the comments.

Our love and thoughts are with his wife, Heather and daughters and all his many friends and colleagues on the Council and in the Lords.


* Caron Lindsay is Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice and blogs at Caron's Musings

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This entry was posted in Op-eds.


  • Andrew Houseley 23rd Mar '21 - 4:22pm

    That’s sad news. Best wishes to his family and many friends. Tony took an interest in a by-election I was running because the BNP were mounting a serious challenge. Gerry Gable of Searchlight rang me out of the blue before polling day and name-checked Tony for the work he had done with them. On the way out of a fringe meeting at Conference in the early 90s at which he had been typically rude to Bob McLennan, a young lady was selling Tony Blair magazines: “Ah! Rosa Luxembourg…”

  • Adrian Sanders 23rd Mar '21 - 4:24pm

    A very sad day for all Liberals inside and outside the Party, and especially for those who were inspired by him. We have lost a great Liberal. Cantankerous old git, even when he was young, but I can’t think of any other individual who did more to motivate our growth in local government and beyond. Many of us owe our best times in this Party to Tony. It was an honour to have known him.

  • One way I’ve used to explain his impact is to say that it someone’s ever had a Liberal / LibDem councillor since 1970, Tony was very probably part of the reason why.

  • I’m extremely sad to hear this sudden and awful news about my old friend, Tony. For a while we were at school together, and later when he was Chair of ULS and I was Vice-Chair at NLYL we occasionally used to play snooker together at the National Liberal Club.

    My thoughts and prayers are very much with Heather and the family. He will be very much missed. A proper Liberal and a very good man.

  • David Luscombe 23rd Mar '21 - 4:55pm

    Tony was an inspiration to me when I was first elected elected in 1997. I remauned a

  • That’s terrible news to hear and a huge loss to Liberalism and the party. Whilst I feel the word ‘cantankerous’ may be doing a lot of heavy lifting in the next few days he was the best understander of the the electoral mood of an area I ever encountered.

    The are perhaps any number of stories I could related – but one memory that sticks out is being on a panel discussing the problems of electoral fraud. Tony arrives, looks at the assembled panel and explains ‘We could rig some elections between us’!

    He once (anonymously) referenced me as a friend on an online forum. I thought that was quite an honour.

  • David Luscombe 23rd Mar '21 - 5:04pm

    Tony was an inspiration to me when I was first elected elected in 1977. I remained a councillor until 2002 using Tony’s community politics theme that eventually led to obtaining 100% constituency Lib Dem representation including the MP ( Birmingham Yardley).

    Rest in peace Tony

  • David Evans 23rd Mar '21 - 5:04pm

    A great man, liberal and friend.

  • Sarah Chamberlain 23rd Mar '21 - 5:05pm

    Anthony and I will miss you dearly!
    We cherish your friendship and thank you dearly for always being there when we needed advice or just to pop in for a chat. I know Ant will miss your chats of football and I will miss hearing all your amazing stories. RIP x

  • keith orrell 23rd Mar '21 - 5:08pm

    Many memories of Tony. Driving back to my parents home in Leyland I stopped to join a by-election day somewhere in Pendle I think around 1990. At 8.30 Tony ripped up the shuttleworths and just gave them out to the dozen or so people in the Committee Room for us to go and knock up. We won by 6.
    Tony was on Lancs County with my mother Neva for many years and I did hear stories of his being “difficult” at times but at the same time how brilliant he was. She would always want him on her side.
    When my mother died in 2004 he came and collected 40 years of Liberal and Lib Dem material for his collection.
    Sad loss
    Keith Orrell

  • Joseph Bourke 23rd Mar '21 - 5:33pm

    What a terribly sad loss. I had the privilege of working with Tony in recent years on the APPG on Land Value Capture. He was due to submit a private members bill on reform of the Land Compensation Act 1961 on behalf of the APPG this year, after we had delayed it first due to Brexit and then the Pandemic.
    I had an email from Tony just yesterday afternoon in response to my request that he continue as the LibDem officer on the APPG. This was his typical humble and accommodating response, prioritising local council work in Pendle as always:
    “Hello, Joe
    Yes, you can put me down again, faute de mieux. I cannot promise to come to the AGM I’m afraid as it’s close to Polling Day in the Council elections and a couple of hours in an afternoon is precious.
    I was going to say that if you want to pursue a PMB, it will have to be done for the new Queen’s Speech which will be on 11th or 12th May by all accounts. But from your stuff it seems you are looking to a longer time period.

    Trust you are keeping well.

    Cheers – Tony”

    A wonderful human being. One of that special breed of radical young liberals that came of age under the leadership of Jo Grimond, who never lost their youthful exuberance for making the world a better place.

  • Phil Beesley 23rd Mar '21 - 5:49pm

    I guess that Tony Greaves wants you to act Liberal, get elected and empower your electorate.

  • He was a proper liberal. Very sad news.

  • Ian Barfield 23rd Mar '21 - 5:55pm

    I first met Tony when he stumbled into my Manchester bookshop in 1991. I was fortunate enough to visit him in Colne a couple of times to sell him books. He was an inspiration and eventually I became a councillor on my home unitary authority.RIP Tony. I’m sure you would hate the outpouring of sentimentality I’m reading.

  • Cllr. Richard Good 23rd Mar '21 - 5:56pm

    Very sad news indeed, A Liberal who called a spade a spade, with true Yorkshire grit. We will all miss him and all he did for our Party. He & the late Maggie Clay where the driving force of the Liberal Councillors association (now ALDC). Condolences to his family.

  • Neil Hickman 23rd Mar '21 - 6:16pm

    Desperately sad news.
    I have a happy memory of the Iraq War march, being alongside a group which included Tony G, singing The Land Song as we came in sight of Parliament.
    Tony, of course, knew the words by heart. Some of his colleagues (no names) fairly evidently didn’t.
    British politics will be the poorer without him.

  • Irreplaceable.

  • I had a couple of “run-ins” with Tony, but it was more than made up for when I had the most long, lovely, relaxed chat with him on the side-lines of conference. We set the world to rights.

    I cannot think of anyone else about whom I would say this: Tony was the one person you could go to to see whether or not something was liberal or Liberal. – What the liberal/Liberal answer was to any particular conundrum. You knew he would come up with the 100% gold standard liberal/Liberal answer to any given question.

    He was a one-off.

  • Graham Jeffs 23rd Mar '21 - 6:42pm

    Gutted. He has always been there.

  • How very sad.

    I did not always agree with his comments on here, but he was very clearly very passionate about his beliefs and what he stood for.

    My condolences to all his family and Libdem friends and to all those that knew him.

    I will miss his comments on here, and this forum for which I love very dearly, will sadly not be the same without him and the interesting debate he would often create.

  • Tony was well known for his work in the party at large and in local politics in Pendle. But it is often overlooked that perhaps his biggest impact on national politics happened on the other side of Pendle Hill in the Ribble Valley.
    For it was Tony who created the winning strategy for the Ribble Valley by-election (which came about, when John Major elevated the then Home Secretary David Waddington to the House of Lords)
    He realised that the only issue for people living in terraced houses that previously had tiny rateable values, was the dreaded Poll Tax.
    Tony was there doing the hard yards in late 1990, immediately after Waddington’s ennoblement. He made sure that by the time the writ was moved in early 1991 not only were the Lib Dems the clear challengers to the Tories; but that the issue that the by-election would be fought on was clear.
    Therefore, when the newly-elected Lib Dem MP, Michael Carr, announced after the declaration of the result: “Here lies the poll tax, killed in Ribble Valley” – it was in no small part, due to Tony Greaves.

  • A sad day. He will be greatly missed.

  • Just stunned by the news – only speaking to Heather yesterday. Known Tony since 1970 when I joined Pendle Liberal Party and became part of a strong local political force winning the new Pendle council in 1974 as the largest party. He inspired so many ordinary people to get involved and although I haven’t been involved for many years we always had a good chat whenever we met. He demonstrated that with hard work change was possible both locally and nationally. I always admired his energy and enthusiasm for whatever he was doing.

  • Michael Carr 23rd Mar '21 - 7:39pm

    I will never forget the debt I owe I owe to Tony Greaves. I had just been re-adopted as the PPC for the Ribble Valley constituency when we heard that David Waddington – then Home Secretary – had been reshuffled by john Major and was to become Leader of the Lords. This meant a by-election! I had a phone call from Tony that evening and I remember clearly, exactly what he said. “Michael, we can win this. We have to make sure that we are seen as the challengers. I’ll get started.” Having finished a mere 19,528 votes behind David Waddington in 1987, I can’t say I was convinced, but Tony was a brilliant campaigner, organiser and strategist, so I said, “Yes, I think we can” with fingers and toes firmly crossed. How right he was! Tony had the constituency leafleted at least twice before any other party had put anything out. By the time the magnificent Liberal Democrat by-election machine from party HQ swung into action Tony had achieved his first objective; we were clearly seen as the main challenger. The national scene wasn’t doing us any favours. The Tories had within a few weeks gone from being several points behind the Labour Party in opinion polls to around 7 or 8 points ahead of them, simply by changing their leader; we were around 7% or 8% in national polls. The Tories, however, played into our hands and didn’t move the writ until February, by which time – thanks to Tony’s early campaining nous – we were very clearly the challenger. We had the issue – poll tax – and the momentum. The rest, they say, is history. On the 7th. March 1991 we overturned that massive majority of David Waddington’s and took the seat with a majority of 4,602 – a 27.1% swing! Thank you Tony. You were a beacon of liberalism, a fighter for fairness and justice and you will be sorely missed.

  • Nick Collins 23rd Mar '21 - 7:44pm

    Very very sad.

  • Very sad news. And yes, so soon after Derek Barrie. We are losing a great generation of Liberals.
    I always wanted to be on the same side of an argument as Tony, and on the (rare) occasions when I found out that I wasn’t, it always made me wonder if I was wrong. There’s not many people I can say that about.
    Someone should write a biography of Tony. His contribution to the Liberal Party and LibDems is incalculable and mustn’t be forgotten.

  • Rachael Vasmer 23rd Mar '21 - 10:08pm

    Absolutely devastated to hear this news. From the time that I got to know Tony when we served on the Merger negotiating team together he has always been a great inspiration to me. A great Liberal who called a spade a spade and knew the importance of getting on the doorstep and representing your local community. The Party owes him a huge debt that must not be forgotten. Condolences from David and me to Heather, Victoria and Helen.

  • I’d endorse what Paul Walter says about Tony always having the definitive Liberal answer to any question. He was also an excellent writer – his Liberal Democrat News columns were always lucid expositions of radical liberal ideas. We have too few people in the Party who are capable of writing with such clarity of thought.

  • I came across Tony in 1979, at an ALC conference in Hebden Bridge. That weekend with Maggie Clay, Trevor Jones(Dorset) and Tony opened my eyes to campaigning.
    Tony put into practice what he preached yes he could be tetchy but in the old slogan he was a work and a winner. Without Tony and his kind, the party would have died in the 1970s. We must never forget his lessons and his radical Liberalism. He gave me the will to work and win elections to beat the Tories in there blue back yard. Tony’s legacy must live on in the party, by building from the grassroots, and speaking out without fear.
    Thank you Tony for your gift to Liberalism.

  • David Vasmer 23rd Mar '21 - 11:07pm

    A very sad day. Tony devoted his life to Liberalism and anyone elected as a Lib Dem Councillor owes him an enormous debt. I learnt so much from him and Maggie Clay while working for ALC during the 1980s. I will remember him by redoubling our efforts to win more seats in Shropshire’s Council elections this May in an effort to put Liberalism into practice. That is what Tony would have wanted.

  • Today is the very sad one. The anniversary of my old friend David Hughes funeral. The day of our beautiful dalmatian, Lucy’s last tottering, slow walk to the vet (I carried her the last 50 yards). And now the news of Tony’s sudden loss. Boy, did he and I fight with passion unabated on various Liberal Party and Lib Dem Committees and Conferences. BUT however much we disagreed, and we did, Tony was principled, honest, courageous, committed and thoroughly decent. I did not think this bloody day could get sadder but it has just plunged to an entirely different level. RIP Tony

  • Joseph Bourke 24th Mar '21 - 12:07am

    A letter from Lord Greaves was published in the Guardian on 11 March:
    “Your excellent editorial (9 March) praising public spaces misses one key point. There is indeed a need for more “serious investment in the civic spaces that define a community’s sense of itself”. But the harm is also in the austerity cuts in routine spending on those spaces, which councillors like myself struggle with. It’s about commonplace neighbourhood services – street cleaning, mending pavements, looking after parks properly, tackling antisocial behaviour including a return of youth services, refuse collection, pest control, traffic management, street lighting, community policing, public lavatories, and all the rest.

    High-profile, expensive services such as adult and children’s care, major highways, fire and police are vital, but it’s the local neighbourhood services that are most forgotten and which matter so much. These are often run by district councils – or town and parish councils – which are left out of government funding.”
    Tony Greaves
    Liberal Democrat, House of Lords

  • As you and Tony H have both said, another great loss to the party so soon after Derek. I never had the honour of meeting Tony, but was well aware of the influence and the direction he had steered the party campaigning in over many years to the point where we could even win in places like Dunfermline or Rosyth.

    I have visions now of Tony and Derek sitting on high, jointly preparing the first celestial Focus leaflet….

  • Ruth Bright 24th Mar '21 - 8:18am

    with letraset Keith

  • Bill le Breton 24th Mar '21 - 10:16am

    Our lodestar

  • David John Woodhead 24th Mar '21 - 10:59am

    My earliest memory of Tony was sharing the driving of a minibus from Manchester University to help in David Steel’s by-election campaign. We worked together in Manchester and then in Wilmslow where Tony was agent. Needless to say I learned a lot from him. In recent years I have followed his regular comments on the Vote UK blog – indeed he was there right till the end. RIP.

  • If he’d written his memoirs, they’d be a must have.

  • Steve Comer 24th Mar '21 - 1:45pm

    Very sad news. Tony like Trevor Jones was the inspiration for so many of us who got involved in Community politics in the 1970s and 1980s.
    When I produced my first Focus leaflet for my Ward in inner city Bristol most of the local party were quite dismissive. I sent it to Tony who gave me constructive feedback, and told me to ignore them and carry on…. I did, recruited John Kiely the following year, and two years later we were both Liberal Councillors with a 600 majority!

    The Party must never forget that it owes its continued existence to those who devleoped the theory and practice of Community Politics. I may have retired from the fray and emigrated, but I know what underpins my politics and it is that famous 1970 Conference resolution moved by Tony Greaves.

  • Catherine Royce 24th Mar '21 - 8:46pm

    Yes our lodestar, speaker of uncomfortable truths and member of the awkward squad. He certainly livened up many a lack-lustre Federal Policy Committee meeting. Who will replace him as keeper of the flame of radical liberalism? I shall miss him.

  • Marek Trelinski 25th Mar '21 - 12:07am

    Tony Greaves always was, is and will be my radical Liberal hero. I was a humble grassroot Liberal Democrat Councillor for 24 years in a very strong Tory area; all of it was due to his inspiration via Liberal News, ALDC and conference speeches. He stuck up for Liberal values to the end! Someone must write a biography urgently. One for The Lib Dem History Group perhaps.

  • Mary Fallon 25th Mar '21 - 1:47am

    Irreplaceable Tony. A supreme example of the Liberal who believes that nothing is impossible and that truly, any individual can change things for the benefit of all. For many of us, Tony examplified that which is on the back of each of our membership cards. “We exist to build and safeguard a fair, free and open society, in whichwe seek to balance the fundamental values of liberty, equality and community and in which no-one shall be enslaved by poverty, ignorance or conformity.” A man who every day practised what he preached, sometimes to the discomfort of the indolent but a veritable inspiration to those who will never desert Liberalism.

  • A friend from the Old Union of Liberal Student days in the sixties, he probably shaped the development of my politics more than anyone. I think he was quite shocked to find a Methodist minister who was so much aligned to his ways of thinking. An absolute inspiration whose involvement in the preamble to the constitution has impacted on our thinking and acting across the decades.

  • Duncan Brack 25th Mar '21 - 10:42am

    Just responding to the various suggestions for a biographical article on Tony. We are indeed planning one; it will appear in the summer issue of the Journal of Liberal History, but we should have it before then, and we’ll put it on the History Group website for all to see – join our email mailing list ( to be notified when it’s published, or keep an eye on our Twitter account (@LibHistoryToday). What a loss to the party; we’ll aim to commemorate him as fully as we can.

  • Bill le Breton 25th Mar '21 - 1:54pm

    Duncan, is there a way of posting Tony’s contribution to your *Why I Am a Liberal Democrat*?

    It is quite superb.

  • Paul Sample 25th Mar '21 - 4:11pm

    Thanks for the support, Tony. Your words were always golden.

  • Absolutely devastated to learn about Tony’s death . I worked with him at Hebden Royd Publications and have many wonderful memories of him not limited to climbing through windows at party conference, driving up and down the country in a transit van and most notably him comandering the lifts at the Barbican centre and telling the two David’s if they wanted to use it they had better help us “shift some boxes” .

  • I haven’t been on LDV for two weeks so have only just caught up with this very sad news. I didn’t know Tony but I always found that his word on LDV and on the old cix conference were worth listening to and perhaps more importantly worth long term thinking about – particularly his disdain for campaigning “by numbers” – in that there is much good ALDC advice on how to put together a good campaign – in design of leaflets, number of photos etc. but a true campaign comes from the heart.

    Can I suggest two things.

    1. That the party does remember him in some way – an award or something named after him.

    2. That people do write up a history of their campaigns and Lib Dem experience and there is somewhere to collate and store this “oral history” – within the liberal history group or whatever especially as people may not want it made public and available to opponents immediately.

    It saddens me that I didn’t write up a short account of elections that I have been involved in immediately afterwards and scanned in leaflets etc. – as one begins to forget about it – and there are now quite a large of people who like Tony were involved in the Lib Dems/Libs/SDP from say the 60s-90s in particular that won’t sadly be here forever and it will be sad if their memories are lost.

    RIP Tony and thanks – and my thoughts and prayers to his family, friends and council and House of Lords etc. colleagues.

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