Tuesday, March 06, 2012

On Norman St John Stevas and Chelmsford

Norman St John Stevas, who died on Friday, represented Chelmsford in parliament, a constituency that for much of the 1970s and 80s was a top Liberal target seat. The Liberal candidate there was Stuart Mole, speechwriter to David Steel and one of the party's rising stars.

However much one wished for a Liberal victory there, I remember thinking it a pity that, of all the Tory MPs we might be glad to see the back of, we were trying to oust one of the few who seemed quite a good egg. When St John Stevas announced his retirement at the 1987 general election I assumed that his semi-celebrity status had helped the Tories retain the seat in the past and it would now fall into our hands.

Then someone who knew the constituency told me that whatever St John Stevas's positive qualities he was a less-than-assiduous constituency MP and that much of the Liberal momentum in the seat had come from pointing this out. Such a view seemed confirmed by the Conservative majority increasing in 1987 from three figures to more than 8,000.

Thereafter the Lib Dem challenge in Chelmsford faded, although one hopes that our improved result there in 2010 means that we may yet one day take the seat.

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