Friday, April 18, 2008

Dunwoody political memories 

The political life of Gwyneth Dunwoody shows how someone can make a mark on the world, and get a deserved memory, without actually climbing to the top of the proverbial greasy pole.

It is to the discredit of the House of Commons that she was not elected to the Speakership at the last contest for that post. Who can doubt that she would have been a much better protector of the rights of ordinary MPs ( and the courtesies due to them) than the present incumbent.

And as she said in 2005, Parliament is the last defender of the rights of all citizens. We really miss having a speaker with that instinctive feel for the constitution.

She and her then husband Dr. John Dunwoody (at one time touted as a future Labour leader) were both elected to Parliament in the 1966 Labour landslide, she for Exeter and he for Falmouth and Cambourne. And thereby hangs a long political tail. John Dunwoody was made a junior minister, partially to dampen his critical backbench activities, and as a consequence was unable to give proper attention to his marginal seat. He probably knew he would lose - at the 1970 general election he failed to attend an important public meeting, sending instead an aide with a tape recording to play to the assembled voters. This rather reduced his standing in Labour circles and the comments on this possibly influenced his decision to withdraw from parliamentary politics, turning down the opportunity to become candidate for Plymouth Devonport. Selected instead, and victorious for Labour in 1974, was another political doctor, one David Owen of diverse later fame.

Gwyneth Dunwoody also lost her West Country seat in 1970, setting up a favourite political pub quiz question on husband and wife MP pairings. She stuck to the political route and in 1974 became the member for Crewe and a long-term thorn in the side of slippery political operators of all persuasions..

My condolences to her family.

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