Sutton 40 Years On
Posted by jonathanfryer on Sunday, 9th December, 2012
Sutton is rightly hailed as London Liberal Democrats’ flagship council but of course the borough was put on the map politically some years before the (then) Liberal-SDP Alliance actually won control (on the Mayor’s casting vote). Indeed, 40 years ago the parliamentary constituency of Sutton and Cheam hit the headlines when young Graham Tope — at that time characterised by his cruel glasses and wicked sideburns — seized the seat from the Tories in a by-election on at 32.6% swing. I was in my final year at university at the time but remember the subsequent Liberal euphoria well. As was rightly recognised at a 40th anniversary buffet dinner at the Sutton Life Centre last evening, the Sutton & Cheam by-election was the first time Trevor Jones from Liverpool put into practice his concept of community politics — which meant pounding the streets to identify local issues and then trumpeting them in regular Focus leaflets — including the scary example illustrated here. Focuses are such old hat these days that it’s hard to imagine the huge impact this technique had. The Conservatives didn’t know what had hit them and Graham became not just a local celebrity but a national one too. Alas he was unable to hold the seat in the February 1974 general election, but he went on to become Leader of Sutton Council, a Member of theHouse of Lords, a London Assembly member and one of the Liberal Democrat representatives on the EU’s Committee of the Regions, at one time simultaneously. Apparently he can, like Margaret Thatcher, get by on very little sleep — though there the similarities end. Anyway, it was a splendid occasion last night, free of pomp but full of good humour and enlivened with tributes to Graham from a variety of people who have served with him in various guises, including Lynne Featherstone MP, (Baroness) Sally Hamwee, (Baroness) Sarah Ludford MEP and former Sutton Council leader Sean Brennan. There was even some audio-visual entertainment, including a replay of the 1974 election night TV coverage, which included a nice potted portrait of the man.