The History of Parliament Trust is delighted to announce that we have been awarded Heritage Lottery Funding for a new oral history project. This project: ‘From the Grassroots: An Oral History of Community Politics in Devon’ will focus on political activism in Devon. It will be based at the Devon Heritage Centre, and also has the support of the Houses of Parliament’s Public Engagement and Learning team, Devon County Council’s Heritage Service, Plymouth University and Plymouth City Council’s Arts and Heritage Service.
As previously discussed on this blog, our current oral history project interviews former MPs on their careers and political experiences. Thanks to the support of the British Library, Dod’s, and of course our team of wonderful volunteers, we have now completed over 60 interviews of MPs from all over the country. You can hear clips from some of these on our website, and others are available at the British Library.
We want to build on this work in our new, Devon-based project. The History of Parliament has always researched local as well as national politics (for more, see some of the thousands of constituency articles we have online!) and we want to replicate this approach in our oral history. This extract from our interview with David, now Lord, Owen, Plymouth MP from 1974-1992, can help demonstrate why:
In the 1983 election, a week before polling day, Michael Foot came down to Plymouth … bounced up by internal mass rallies and really believing he’s going to win the election; he steps off North Road, waves his stick and says ‘right, let’s go out to Southway and all these new council estates’, which he’s known, after all he was born in Plymouth the same as me, and they said, ‘Michael no, no, no, we’ve got you coming to Frankfort Gate’, which is like Hyde Park… a place where political rallies are held and every body expects a sort of Speakers’ Corner. ‘Oh no no’, he said, ‘I’ve got to go out there’, and out he goes. Of course they know, what he didn’t know, that practically every council house has got a Vote for Owen poster, and apparently he went through various shades of green and from that point he must have known that he’d lost and in his heart of hearts he must have known that he’d lost his own people.
This quotation (which you can hear on our website) is a very important memory of a dramatic time in British politics. However, it also asks many questions about political activism, and ordinary people’s participation in politics and elections. Why were there so many more posters for David Owen’s Social Democrat party than there were for Michael Foot and the Labour party? Why were these people involved in politics and displaying posters in the first place? In ‘From the Grassroots’, we will explore questions like these.
Devon has a rich political history and a long tradition of support for all major parties, as well as a healthy number of independents over the years! We’ll be offering volunteers training in oral history and other heritage skills, and with their help, and that of our partners, we’ll trace political events in Devon from a local angle and chart the changes in post-1945 politics. We will record the memories of not only the MPs but also those involved at the grassroots, from envelope-stuffers to today’s bloggers, to discover their impact they had on the democratic process. You’ll be able to see the results online and in local events and exhibitions.
We’re very excited about this latest project, and hope this will be the first step in recording memories of political activism across the country! Keep following us for more news.
If you want to get involved, please get in touch!