Last week we made the trip down to the wonderful Devon Heritage Centre for the official launch of our new oral history project, ‘From the Grassroots’. You will probably know by now that we have been fortunate enough to receive a HLF grant to run an oral history project on local politics in Devon after WWII. If you don’t, you can read all about it here or you can visit the brand-new From the Grassroots webpage, here: www.historyofparliamentonline.org/from-the-grassroots.
We had a great afternoon planned for our launch and a good turnout – those who came were both interested in Devon’s political history and some had been participants themselves. Simon Timms, Chair of the South West HLF committee, set things off by discussing the HLF’s support and outlining the main purpose of the event: to encourage people to get involved in From the Grassroots and share their stories. We are still looking for both volunteers to work with us and for people who have been involved in local politics in Devon at any level, from envelope stuffer to MP, to share their experiences (if you’re interested, see here for more details).
Our main speaker of the day was Professor Kevin Jefferys from Plymouth University. He gave a fascinating lecture on the 1945 election in Devon. One of the most surprising and debated elections of the 20th century, Professor Jefferys gave an overview of the national situation in 1945 and the historical controversies surrounding the election before turning to Devon. The key question still asked by historians is why, given that Churchill was the ‘man who won the war’, did the British public overwhelmingly reject a Conservative government at the polls? Factors such as Churchill’s perceived contempt for the Beveridge Plan, or a dislike of the snap timing of the election have been suggested as reasons for the size of the Labour victory. In Devon, Professor Jefferys suggested that the key issue was reconstruction – especially in blitz-hit Plymouth. Hopefully we will find some people through ‘From the Grassroots’ who have memories of this key election who can shed more light on the local issues.
In the second part of the afternoon, Dr Kayleigh Milden (project co-ordinator for From the Grassroots) and myself outlined the aims and goals of the project, and played some audio and video clips (from our national oral history project and thanks to the South West Film and TV Archive). These clips helped to highlight some of the major issues and events we want to explore in From the Grassroots. These included the importance of personalities (such as the Liberal leader Jeremy Thorpe); Devon’s political independence (demonstrated by the continued support for Liberalism in Devon, and one North Devon constituent’s reference to his community as ‘North Devon Savages’!); the role of women in local politics, and the increased politicisation of local councils. National issues of course will play a part, such as the Labour party split in the 1980s, but these also have a local dimension, such as the rivalry between David Owen and Michael Foot in Plymouth.
As the project continues, we hope to explore these events and issues in more detail. You can keep track of the project via its new facebook page or via the new webpage, which will grow as we begin to collect material.
You can follow From the Grassroots here: www.historyofparliamentonline.org/from-the-grassroots
There’s more on the launch event in the Exeter Express and Echo.
For more on our national oral history project, see: www.historyofparliamentonline.org/research/oral-history