Jonathan Fryer

Writer, Lecturer, Broadcaster and Liberal Democrat Politician

Posts Tagged ‘Orpington Man’

Remembering Eric Avebury

Posted by jonathanfryer on Sunday, 14th February, 2016

Eric AveburyLord 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.

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The Rebirth of Orpington Man?

Posted by jonathanfryer on Saturday, 17th April, 2010

The Orpington by-election of 1962 was a political milestone. Eric Lubbock over-turned a large Conservative majority, panicking the Conservative government of Harold Macmillan, and the Liberal Party (which had almost died out a decade before) was revitalised. The term ‘Orpington Man’ was coined by the media as they tried to explain what had happened: a new breed of commuting voter who had turned against the Tories, they argued. Actually, there was another equally important factor, namely that the local Conservative association parachuted in a candidate with no local connections, whereas Eric was the local man incarnate. The electors appreciated the difference. It is amazing, therefore, that nearly 40 years later, the Conservatives have done the same thing in Orpington, parachuting in Boris Johnson’s brother, Jo, even though quite a number of qualified local councillors applied for the seat after John Horam’s retirement, as well, I understand, as the rather talented and personable James Cleverly, GLA Member for Bromley and Bexley. More fool them. And good fortune for the Liberal Democrat candidate for Orpington, David McBride, at whose adoption meeting in Orpington Liberal Club Eric Lubbock (now Lord Avebury) and I both spoke this lunchtime.

David has been a local councillor for several years, and grew up in the seat. I was pleased to see he is using the same slogan I used when I fought it in 1987: Orpington Matters! He had had the fillip last night of seeing Orpington turn yellow on the BBC’s swingometre chart following opinion polls after Nick Clegg’s sterling performance on the Leaders’ Debate earlier this week. And he will presumably be even more bucked by the poll in tmorrow’s Mail on Sunday, which puts the LibDems out in front (just!) on 32% nationally, ahead of the Conservatives on 31% and Labour on 28%.

Link: http://davidmcbride.org.uk

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