In the fourth in our series of tributes to our Oral History Project interviewees who have sadly passed away during the current crisis, Emma Peplow looks back on the life of David Mudd, Conservative MP for Falmouth and Camborne, 1970-92.
David Mudd was a lifelong Conservative party member, but also – unusually – a member of the Cornish party Mebyon Kernow, an example of both his independence and his strong Cornish identity. Born and bred in Falmouth, his father was a pilot at the docks and both parents came from maritime families. As a child Mudd remembered being ‘constantly aware’ of the Labour Exchange a few streets from his home in the 1930s, and later sheltering from air raids as the busy port was a target for wartime German bombers: ‘I grew up with the war itself’. His commitment to Cornwall and the fear that Falmouth might return to the desperation of the 1930s, he told us, later shaped much of his political thinking and his increasing independence from the Conservative party under Margaret Thatcher.
He attended Truro Cathedral school, which led to his first entrance into a politics:
By the 1950 election Mudd was out campaigning for the Conservatives. After leaving school he worked, amongst other things, as a local journalist: at 19 he was the youngest editor of the Cornish Echo. Mudd later wrote for the Western Morning News, freelanced for ITV and the BBC and became a newsreader and political correspondent for Westward Diary. This he balanced with his political involvement, proudly telling our interviewer that he was only once accused of bias, and then towards the Labour party.
In 1959 he was elected to Tavistock Urban Council and throughout the 1960s continued to pursue a political career: ‘I felt that, really, what was the point in reporting endlessly about [local working conditions], if I couldn’t perhaps try to do something about them’. By 1970 he was elected for his home seat of Falmouth and Camborne. Previously considered a marginal seat, Mudd held it until 1992 with, at times, significant majorities.
In his early years Mudd’s views were on the right of the Conservative party, despite describing himself in his interview as a ‘one-nation Conservative’. He made some controversial statements on immigration before his election, and soon afterwards rebelled by voting against entry into the EEC, despite describing personally liking Ted Heath. He told us that his ambition was ‘to be the longest-serving MP the constituency had ever had.’ He served briefly as a PPS in the Department of Energy. Despite enjoying the job ‘immensely’, he remembered finding it too restricting on his independence; yet he chose to stay after his minister, Hamish Gray, told him ‘it’s worth having it because you can always resign on a key issue.’ Mudd went on to describe his resignation, two years later over the extension of fuel duty to diesel, as going out in ‘a blaze of glory’.
Despite his initial support for Thatcher he later became a fierce critic and was not afraid to say so publicly. In 1986 he led a rebellion of other Cornish MPs to try to save the collapsing Tin Industry, and later criticised the Poll Tax and even suggested it might be time the Conservatives chose a new leader:
Mudd stood down in 1992 ready to concentrate on his other interests; he published several books on Cornish history, and was a Methodist lay preacher throughout his time in Parliament. A brief return as an independent in 2005 saw him placed fifth but he described it as a ‘personal awakening’.
Married three times, he is survived by his wife Diana, his daughter Felicity Warner and son Saul. He will be remembered for his independence and as a proud Cornishman: