Wednesday, 26 September 2007

First political memory meme

I've been tagged by Peter Black. Should I be pleased? I haven't got the hang of all this blogging etiquette yet.

Peter has tagged me to talk about my first political memory. I'm old enough to be able to remember the days when the Barnett formula was just a glint in the eye of a Labour MP.

I can vaguely recall the 1970 general election when Ted Heath surprised almost everyone to defeat Harold Wilson.

My 1970 memory is rather more local than that. I must have been six and remember being in the playground at Sully Primary School and a car passing with a loudspeaker blaring out asking people to vote for the local Tory MP Raymond Gower.

This next bit is a bit scary - I was 10 or 11 at the time - but in 1974 (not sure whether it was February or October) I persuaded my father to take me to a public election meeting at the old school in Sully to hear Gower speak.

Sadly, I can't recall whether the meeting - there were around a dozen people there - was dominated by great issues of state or the future of the tennis courts on Sully Rec.

Sir Raymond was a super-assiduous constituency MP fuelling various tales, some of them apocryphal, about his dedication to all local matters. It was said he only put a pound's worth of fuel in his car each time so he could cultivate voters at each filling station.

Election leaflets featured the numbers of parliamentary questions asked and speeches made (these were the days before computers so I suspect someone in the House of Commons library had to count them).

No hospitalisation was too routine to be unrewarded with a sympathetic letter (these were the days before word processers), no achievement too trivial to be ignored - any appearance in the local paper would be followed by a congratulatory personal (if standard) letter.

He was an MP for 38 years for Barry (later Vale of Glamorgan) a typical Conservative backbencher of his generation, never rising above the rank of parliamentary private secretary but being knighted for his services.

The next time I met Sir Raymond, as he then was, was when I started work as a lobby correspondent for the Western Mail in late 1988.

Less than six months later I was covering the by-election caused by his death - a contest won by John Smith who is still the Vale MP despite a five-year break when Walter Sweeney regained the seat for the Conservatives.

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