Tributes paid to Willie Goodhart

It’s sad to hear that Willie Goodhart, founder member of the SDP, retired peer and co-author of the Liberal Democrat constitution, has passed away.

Tim Farron paid tribute to Willie:

Willie Goodhart was a founding member of the SDP and stalwart of the Liberal Democrats. He believed passionately in social democracy, human rights and the rule of law. In writing our party’s constitution, he has left a lasting legacy that will be cherished by party members for decades to come.

I send my heartfelt sympathy to his wife Celia and his children Frances, Laura and Benjamin.

Lords Leader Dick Newby said:

Willie will be very sadly missed by friends and colleagues in the Lords. He was a doughty campaigner for human rights, for Europe, and for a fairer society, issues which he promoted tirelessly in the Lords.

He played a vital role in establishing the SDP and in its subsequent merger with the Liberal Party. He won the respect of all those with whom he worked and he will be remembered with great fondness.

Willie was an active member of the British Humanist Association. They put a lovely biography on their website and their Chief Executive Andrew Copson said:

With Willie’s death, the BHA has lost a friend and Parliament has lost a heavy hitter for social justice and human rights. His work in Parliament represented not only a profound service to Humanism, but to society as a whole. He will be much missed.

Six years ago, during the 2010 election, Willie and Celia’s son Benjie wrote a hilarious, thoughtful and poignant article for the Guardian in which he described growing up with not one but two politically involved parents.

Some campaigns were more fun than others – particularly the ones where the family was all together, such as the European election when Mum stood for Northamptonshire. We tooled around the county standing in the back of a pick-up truck waving at bemused cows while Dad pleaded with the electorate through the megaphone: “Send my wife to Europe.” During that campaign, I dropped the back panel of the pick-up on my mum’s foot, breaking her toe. She fought the rest of the election in agony.

Dad fought the Kensington byelection in 1988. It was extraordinary seeing him in the national spotlight. There were 15 candidates, including Cynthia Payne and Screaming Lord Sutch, both of whom, I can proudly relate, were vanquished by Dad. Class War ran a campaign of violent ferocity, culminating in a multi-candidate debate where they threw condoms filled with excrement at the Conservative. Dad was bundled out of the door by his minder. “We went to a nearby pub to have a drink and recover, and suddenly several members of Class War turned up and we had really rather an amiable discussion.” Dad came third in the byelection, but it did have 15 candidates. If it had been a horse race, he’d have paid out on an each way bet.

Despite the work, disruption and the teasing from friends, he writes with huge pride and affection.

So what did it all mean to us, as kids? We share an almost indescribable pride in Mum and Dad: their tireless efforts to make the country a better place; their indefatigability in the face of unwinnable seats; and their humour throughout the bitterest defeats. And their ability to do it all, and have jobs, and maintain a loving, functional family.

We learned from their example. “I think it conveys something about perseverance, about not being derailed by your desired plan not coming off,” says Frances. “Each of them carried on to have impressive and successful careers.” Mum went on to be a headmistress and Dad became the Lib Dems’ shadow Lord Chancellor.

Ultimately, what gives me the most pride of all is their politics. I have loved being able to ask my parents questions on almost any ethical issue, from ID cards to the age of gay consent, human rights to redistributive taxation, and know that I will take pride in their thoughtful, intelligent answers.

Go and read the whole thing. You will be glad y0u took five minutes out of your day to do so.

I was aware of Willie Goodhart right from the time I joined the SDP back in 1983. Friends who knew him talked of a kind and funny man with a passion for human rights.  He’ll be sadly missed.



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

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  • Chris Rennard 11th Jan '17 - 9:25pm

    Nice tributes. Willie and Celia were great figures in the SDP, the Alliance and the Liberal Democrats. I only got to to know them well in the Kensington parliamentary by-election in 1988. Many of the candidates I worked with professionally in parliamentary by-elections (over 60 of them, and which 13 of them won) were very kind to their campaign teams but the Goodharts were exceptional. We often spent many weeks and months away from ‘home’ living on takeaways at the desk etc. But the Goodharts regularly invited us to their own home, cooked for us and provided nice wine even when we said that we couldn’t leave the office until after 11 pm. When I told them I couldn’t come to dinner because I was writing his election address and I would be working until about 4 am they insisted on getting up in time to see my draft. I became much closer to Willy when I joined him in the House of Lords in 1999, He coached me there as I led for the Lib Dems on the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act of 2000 and tried to insist on a cap on donations to parties of £50k pa from any individual or organisation. My respect from him was greatest when we worked on opposing the ‘New Labour’ proposals to condemn people on the suspicion of the Government that they were ‘dangerous’ as opposed to respecting due process as overseen by an independent judiciary. He was a champion of all that Liberal Democrats stand for.

  • He was a top bloke.

  • Duncan Brack 11th Jan '17 - 10:37pm

    Willie was also the first chair of the Federal Conference Committee, and did much to ensure the harmonious blending of the SDP and Liberal styles which created the first Liberal Democrat conferences. He also played a full part in the Federal Policy Committee, as an elected member, and for several years hosted occasional all-day meetings at his spectacularly nice house in Boar’s Hill, outside Oxford – which included, for those of us staying the night before, being treated to a very good dinner and excellent political conversation. He was gentle, funny, fiercely intelligent and utterly committed – I’m privileged to have worked with him.

  • Willie and Celia were awesome founder members of the SDP. They were formidably intelligent, tireless in their efforts and taught raw beginners like me a huge amount. Their home was open and welcoming and always inviting, whenever we had meetings there.
    He will be sadly missed. My deepest condolences to Celia and the family.

  • Lesley Abdela 11th Jan '17 - 11:39pm

    Can you send me an e mail or postal address for Celia. I want to send her a condolence letter. Many thanks. Lesley Abdela

  • Benjie Goodhart 12th Jan '17 - 12:39am

    Thank you to Caron for the lovely tribute to dad, and to those of you posting below the line. I can’t tell you how much your kind words mean in these sad and emotional days. Dad was a colossally bright, dedicated and good man, and my pride for him knows no bounds. But I’m also so pleased you’ve all recognised that he was one part of an extraordinary partnership. Lesley, and indeed anyone else, please contact me on [email protected] for addresses or anything else. BTW, I’m not logged on here as a LD member, but I most assuredly am. And now more than ever! Thanks all.

  • Chris Rennard 12th Jan '17 - 12:41am

    This was sent to Lib Dem peers:

    Colleagues will be very saddened to learn that Willie Goodhart passed away this morning. Although he had been ill for some time, and retired from the Lords in May 2015, colleagues will remember a man with a brilliant mind and a gentle soul, committed to the principles of social justice and human rights.

    Celia Goodhart can be reached at: 11 Clarence Terrace, London, NW1 4RD. We will update colleagues about any funeral or memorial plans that we are made aware of in due course.

    Meantime, here is a link to a lovely article that appeared in the Guardian in April 2010, in which Willie’s son, Benjie, talks about his parents –

    Many thanks.

    Liberal Democrat Whips’ Office
    House of Lords

  • Chris Rennard 12th Jan '17 - 12:42am

    Celia Goodhart can be reached at: 11 Clarence Terrace, London, NW1 4RD. We will update colleagues about any funeral or memorial plans that we are made aware of in due course.

    Meantime, here is a link to a lovely article that appeared in the Guardian in April 2010, in which Willie’s son, Benjie, talks about his parents –

    Many thanks.

    Liberal Democrat Whips’ Office
    House of Lords

  • John Howson 12th Jan '17 - 8:31am

    Willie played an important part in the life of Oxford West & Abingdon Constituency for nearly a quarter of a century. He gave generously of his time, his house and his resources, including standing as the parliamentary candidate in the early 1990s. He should have won, but we weren’t quite able to make the final push in the week of polling day and the Tories did just that. However, he laid a firm foundation for the constituency that Evan went on to win in 1997. Willie was helped by Celia, a politician in her own right and my thoughts go out to her and the family at this sad time. But, there are many good and even great memories.

  • Tony Greaves 12th Jan '17 - 3:54pm

    Very sad. In the Lords Willie was known for making his speeches from an open A4 ring binder which he held in front of him, in the words of one government minister responding to one of Willie’s amendments, “like a musical score”.

    In the merger negotiations Willie was the SDP lawyer/drafter, whose job (working with his Liberal counterpart Philip Goldenberg) was to turn the hundreds of “merger papers” marshalled by Andrew Ellis and Dick Newby into a concise constitutional format.

  • Christine Headley 12th Jan '17 - 10:37pm

    ….. and he was the SDP-side Vice-Chair of the 1992 Constitutional Review, chaired by Charles Kennedy. His Liberal equivalent was Gordon Lishman. I thoroughly enjoyed working with him (and all of them).

  • Truly one of the nicest people in politics. I enjoyed immensely working alongside him whilst in the Lords Whips’ Office. He combined warmth, seriousness and generosity in a beautiful way. Benjie’s piece in the Guardian is a must read.

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