Remembering Eric Avebury
Posted by jonathanfryer on Sunday, 14th February, 2016
Lord Avebury, who died earlier today at the age of 87, was better known to many in politics by the name he had before inheriting a peerage: Eric Lubbock. In 1962, Eric won for the Liberal Party one of the most famous by-elections of modern times in the suburban seat of Orpington, just down the road from that of the Conservative Prime Minister Harold Macmillan, hastening Macmillan’s political demise. By chance, Orpington was a favourite dormitory town for Fleet Street journalists as well as printers, because of the excellent commuter train service, and they really went to town by identifying a new breed of voter: Orpington man. People tend to forget that Eric hung on to the seat at the next two general elections before succumbing to the Tory tide that swept in Ted Heath in 1970. This defeat was given sweet recompense by the timely inheritance of his peerage (which would have forced him to resign from the House of Commons, had it happened earlier — or else try to imitate Tony Benn in trying to renounce it). Though the Lubbock family was well-known in north-west Kent, Eric was not a natural member of the still rather fusty House of Lords, but both he and the Liberal Party realised that he could use new position as a platform to promote Liberal causes. Over the years, he would increasingly focus on human rights internationally. He and I often found ourselves at the same events not just because I stood for Orpington in the 1987 general election but also because increasingly our human rights issues were the same. We took a perverse delight in the fact that both of us had been banned from Bahrain because we highlighted some of the excessive actions of the Sunni monarchy against predominantly Shia dissidents. Eric’s own religious beliefs were essentially Buddhist and he provoked a degree of derision in the tabloid Press when he suggested he should leave his body to be recycled as animal food. In several ways he was ascetic, and in the timeworn phrase of obituarists, he did not suffer fools gladly. But he was a man of immense humanity, driven by a thirst for justice, and he will be much missed.