Taverne, Dick (1 of 1). The History of Parliament Oral History Project
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Interviewee's home, London
Taverne, Dick, 1928- (speaker, male)
Lower, James, 1988- (speaker, male)
Part 1: Lord (Dick) Taverne [DT], born in jungle in Sumatra, 1928. Father a Dutch oil man. Family moved to London in 1939 for father to maintain Anglo-Dutch connection.[00:01:08] Got a scholarship to Charterhouse School. Family eventually moved back to London. [00:01:30] Parents conservative. DT had Labour sympathies while at school, one of only three boys he knew to welcome Labour victory in 1945. [00:02:00] No household religion. [00:02:15] DT talks of role school had in encouraging political thought. [00:02:55] Made Head of School. [00:03:04] Went straight to university, Balliol College, Oxford. [00:03:10] Talks of not undertaking National Service. [00:03:33] Joined all the political clubs, including Labour. [00:03:45] Comments on his flirtation with Marxism before becoming a social democrat. [00:04:20] Became chair of the Oxford Labour club. [00:04:58] Met his wife canvassing for Dr Edith Summerskill in the 1950 election. Canvassed with Bill Rodgers [BR] and Gerald Kaufman. [00:05:40] Shirley Williams, then Catlin, succeeded him as chair of the Labour club. [00:06:50] Talks of influences on his political thought, including Tony Crosland. [00:06:50] Called to the Bar in 1954 upon which he suspended his political ambitions to focus on developing his practice. [00:07:08] Description of meeting with BR in 1958 when DT was persuaded to run for parliament in Putney and his subsequent selection over Anne Clark, later Kerr. [00:08:45] Remarks on question given to candidates regarding Britain’s attitude to the Common Market, and his response that Britain should be part of it. [00:09:50] Comments on post-mortem of 1959 election, including Hugh Gaitskell’s [HG] belief that Clause IV was the problem and HG’s proposal to abandon it at the Labour conference. DT only person to stand up at conference to support Clause IV abolition. [00:11:00] Describes the by-election in Lincoln in 1961. [00:11:20] Only political activity in which DT involved in the interim was as treasurer of the Campaign for Democratic Socialism and in the battle for unilateral disarmament. [00:12:00] HG recommends DT to stand for by-election in Lincoln. [00:12:50] Elected as Member of Parliament for Lincoln in the 1962 by-election. Describes campaign, managed by Leo Beckett. [00:14:55] Describes first impressions of the House of Commons and anecdote of his first vote. [00:16:40] Describes Prime Minister’s Question Time. Anecdote about Harold MacMillan [HM] and the televising of parliament. [00:18:07] Refers to death of HG in 1963. [00:18:56] Discusses who impressed DT in parliament when he first joined. [00:20:25] Describes differences between parliament then and subsequently. [00:21:24] Mentions Roy Jenkins [RJ] as the dominating figure in parliament, as well as Enoch Powell. [00:22:33] Comments on his maiden speech and story about how DT had represented Tony Benn before the Committee of Privileges [TB] when he wanted to disclaim his peerage. [00:24:56] Description of the House’s facilities, services and staff, particularly the library. [00:28:20] Became Private Parliamentary Secretary to Denis Healey, then Secretary of State for Defence, when Labour came to power in 1964. [00:28:50] Describes pursuing his different campaigns and balancing this with being a barrister. [00:31:10] Describes working for his constituency. [00:33:20] Describes his relationship with the media, both local and national. [00:35:00] Describes the effect of being a member of parliament on his family. [00:37:33] Explains how he was a Crosland follower before he entered Parliament, and identified himself as a social democrat. [00:38:35] Mentions becoming a junior minister to RJ as Home Secretary. [00:39:00] Moves with RJ to the Treasury. [00:39:38] Describes the split with the left over reform of trade union legislation, particularly in his local party, and how this led to him becoming Independent, including DT’s views on threatened strike in Lincoln and his support for the Common Market. [00:42:00] Split with local party that followed, including Granada World in Action programme in which he confronted Leo Beckett and others in the party. [00:46:13] Describes attitude of the Labour party towards him in the 1973 by-election. John Harris was DT’s campaign manager; Bill Rodgers’ wife came and campaigned for him. Tony Crosland spoke against him which was a let-down. RJ’s delight on his victory; support from young people in university Labour clubs. Describes attitude of Labour party after he returned to the House: was regarded as a traitor, as were people who supported him, including Andrew Faulds. But continued to meet friends, including through the 1963 club of social democrats. [00:47:40] Describes his book, Future of the Left: Lincoln and After, and his prediction that the social democrats would split and form an alliance with the Liberals. [00:49:00] Was approached by various Liberals, including Christopher Mayhew. Discusses his objections to Liberal policy. [00:52:14] Describes friendships with other parties, including Humphrey Berkeley, Julian Critchley and DT’s pair, John Biffen. [00:53:24] Describes the increase in importance of parliamentary committees. [00:54:58] Details his involvement with inter-parliamentary bodies and the launches of the Institute for Fiscal Studies and Sense About Science. [00:57:10] Elaborates on his appointment to a ministerial role, as junior minister to RJ, including an anecdote about Harold Wilson thinking DT untrustworthy. [1:00:14] Anecdote about Roy Hattersley [RH] being known as King Rat. [01:03:24] Details his attitude towards becoming a minister. [01:07:00] Describes speaking in the House on behalf of the Government. [01:07:39] Describes the role of civil servants in helping him prepare. [01:11:10] Did not look for another seat after being voted out, but stood as a Social Democratic Party candidate in Peckham and Dulwich not expecting to win. [01:12:00] Talks about life after the House of Commons, including his role as a non-executive director. [01:13:48] Describes joining the House of Lords in 1996 after RJ lobbying for DT to be appointed. Geoffrey Howe and John Wakeham spoke strongly in DT’s favour to John Major. Compares and contrasts the House of Lords with the Commons, including anecdotes on committees in both. [01:20:27] Discussion of anecdotes about parliamentary wit.
Life story interview with Lord Dick Taverne (1928-), former Labour Member of Parliament.