What makes a Political Legacy

I drove to a friend’s funeral in the Midlands yesterday. I have been to a lot of funerals in my life – this was my first to a Labour politician’s funeral. On the way I got a premonition of the size of Lord Bilston’s funeral when I saw the street signs on the dual carriageway to Bilston. The town where he was born, the constituency he represented and the name he carried in the House of Lords. Bilston.

LordBilstonDennis Turner aka Lord Bilston was a Labour Party trade unionist, councillor, MP and Peer who I met and worked with on the NO2AV referendum campaign. The word plotting is overused but he, Lord Bruce Grocott and George Howarth MP and I plotted, schemed and worked together for a solid month – the result being the extraordinary alliance between the Conservative and Labour Parties to defeat the Lib Dems and their proposed Alternative Vote. Without the input of these three men we would never have got Labour’s big beasts (John Prescott, John Reid, Margaret Becket, David Blunkett and Charlie Falconer) on board.

But,  intense and busy as it was, working with these tribal political opponents was great fun. Bruce told me yesterday that he had enjoyed that campaign more than any other and Dennis certainly took great delight in reminiscing about the campaign whenever we saw each other in Strangers Bar. Bruce, George and I were together again yesterday to bury a friend.

The church was packed and the service was long. 1 hour and 20 minutes long. There was standing room only at the back and people waiting patiently outside for the whole 80 minutes. Luckily the sun shone. These were not political people – not duty attendees. We estimated that there were 750-800 people there. It was, inevitably for a man with over 40 years of public service, a political funeral – with some political speeches, a number of Peers, former Cabinet Ministers and Labour MPs attending and therefore missing PMQs. The coffin bearers wore red ties. But – all the speeches were real and personal and I bet they were all written by the people giving them. They were raw – as funeral speeches should be. One of the best stories was how teenage chorister Dennis had led a strike of the choir – timed on a Saturday just before 3 weddings were due to take place.

Two of the speakers mentioned the fact that walking through Bilston with Dennis took ages. Both explained that he literally knew everyone, their names, their kids names and even their dogs names – a plus for a dog lover like me.  But the line that really got me yesterday was “Dennis was one of us”.

Much is made in both the Labour Party and the Conservative Party of candidates being “parachuted” into seats and how this doesn’t go down well with the voters. Research has shown that an ACTIVE candidate can negate an incumbent’s advantage if selected over 2 years before an election and I have candidates like that right now. Much is also made of how Barack Obama beat Mitt Romney 81-19 on the question “Does he understand/get people like me?” But what a great line that “Dennis was one of us” is. What an epitaph. What a summary.

Politics is important business and we need good and competent people in politics. They can’t all come from within their own communities. Or could they? Maybe if they did we would have more politicians getting over 700 local people, non-duty attendees, coming to their funeral. Funeral attendance is clearly not the only test of a political legacy or a sign of whether a politician made an impact on people, in legislation etc – but it is a human one. And politics is at its best when it’s about people.

Picture from www.parliament.uk

As this article makes clear – I wasn’t the only Conservative there. http://www.expressandstar.com/news/2014/03/12/hundreds-turn-out-for-lord-bilstons-funeral/

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