Last month we were sad to hear the news of campaigning backbencher Sir Teddy Taylor’s death. In this blog we look back on his life with extracts from our oral history project interview with him in January 2012…
Sir Teddy Taylor was one of the first former MPs to be interviewed for our oral history project. Following his death last month, obituaries remembered him as a staunch and committed Eurosceptic, whose views kept him firmly on the back benches. His list of rebellions and resignations is long: he resigned from a junior post in Ted Heath’s government in 1971, then rebelled in 1985, 1986, 1990, all over Europe, before becoming one of the leading Maastricht rebels who had the party whip taken away during John Major’s premiership. This aspect of his political life was certainly a feature of our interview with him; but the interivew also revealed a courteous and authentic politician.
Born in Glasgow in 1937 to Minnie and Edward, a stockbroker’s clerk, the young Taylor was a grammar school boy from a happy working class home. It was shattered when Edward tried to rescue his failing firm and went bankrupt himself. Forced to sell the family home, Edward died of a heart attack soon after, leaving Minnie to return to work to support the family. Taylor remembered his mother ‘worked like a slave’ and how he contributed to a new home with wages from his first job.
Political convictions appeared early in Taylor’s childhood, as he remembered: “I felt strongly about things, I always did.” Despite his working class background he was drawn to the Conservative party and had little time for socialism. At Glasgow University these views, and a desire to defend Gustavus Adolphus of Sweden from a Marxist interpretation of his actions, led to him switching from a degree in history to one in politics:
Taylor’s first seat was in the working class area of Cathcart, Glasgow, a marginal seat he fought hard to win in 1964. He entered the Commons as the baby of the House aged just 27. He was firmly on the right of the Conservatives, a member of the Monday club, pro-capital and corporal punishment, against abortion and liberalisation of laws on homosexuality. Despite his backing many failing causes, few doubted the strength of his convictions. In our interview he described his ‘tough’ battle to win in Cathcart. He insisted on canvassing the entire constituency, not just the more Conservative areas, against the wishes of his local party. He described the campaign as a ‘crusade’ to change the Conservatives from a class-based party to one with policies for everyone. His strong support for grammar schools and Margaret Thatcher’s ‘right to buy’ policies typified his views.
He briefly served in Thatcher’s shadow cabinet as shadow Secretary of State for Scotland. His party’s stance on devolution cost him his seat in Cathcart in 1979, and with it the dream that he would enter the cabinet. He returned to Parliament in 1980 following a by-election in Southend, and remained in the seat until 2005, but he had lost his place in cabinet. In this clip he reveals his support for Thatcher, but shows he was well aware why he never again joined her cabinet:
On his return to the backbenches he continued his campaign against EU membership, admitting to our interviewer that he was ‘very angry’ when he left Parliament at most of his colleagues’ views. A diligent constituency MP, whose local party strongly supported him during his rebellions, his work for many of his constituents left him, he told us, with mixed feelings:
Of course, this was all before the 2016 Referendum. Taylor, in the end, won this battle.
Throughout his interview he emerged as a charming but intensely committed politician, who, although he did not admit to having any doubts himself, engagingly conceded: “It’s also possible that I might be mad, you’ve got to appreciate this and please don’t leave this out of your considerations. All the views I have on things that I feel so strongly about – I could be mad.”
You can now listen to the whole of our interview with Sir Teddy Taylor on the British Library website.