Armstrong, Hilary (1 of 2). The History of Parliament Oral History Project
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House of Lords, London
Armstrong, Hilary, 1945- (speaker, female)
Peplow, Emma (speaker, female)
Part 1: Born in Sunderland, end [2nd] World War. Lived with family, grandparents and brother. Parents schoolteachers, father Ernest [EA] on local council & Methodist lay preacher. EA first stood for parliament when young, not elected until 1964 – NW Durham. Family involvement politics/campaigning etc. Discussion mother – strong woman, not feminist but keep working. [03:10] Discussion looking after grandparents. School – father’s involvement in grammar school reforms. [04:50] Discussion of campaigns – anti-apartheid, CND. Guests in house from all around the world – different viewpoints. [08:00] Formation of political views – not pushed, but atmosphere of strong values. Football enthusiasm. [10:00] Remember father’s first election campaign and role of family/mother. [11:55] London for first degree 1964. Sociology. Father MP – visit Westminster often. [14:10] Discussion two years volunteering in Kenya as teacher. Had to “find out who you were”. Saw effect British restriction immigration – father keep updated on politics. [19:20] Assassination of Tom Mboya whilst there. Relationships with schoolgirls, knew wanted a political life. [23:40] Rejoined Labour, Birmingham for postgraduate degree, tutored by Bob Holman (now Easterhouse, Glasgow). [24:30] Impact of Methodism – just part of upbringing/values. Father circuit steward. [26:45] Why chose not to be teacher – family had been, those encouraging said good for women with children – not want to be labelled. Not rebellious youth (at all – no smoking, drinking, drugs etc) but independent. [28:10] Father thrilled she went to Kenya, mother more concerned. Father ill when she was away. Experience reinforced political views. [30:15] Post-grad (social work) in Birmingham, very ill during year but finished. Did family case work, moved back to North East. Story turning down job when father’s influence clear. Worked in Newcastle, more challenging (e.g. worked with [child killer] Mary Bell’s brother). Enjoyed, wanted to intervene earlier. [34:30] Worked running youth groups, moved to Sunderland, job as community worker. [36:30] Afterwards job lecturing at polytechnic. Again story refusal to exploit family contacts to get job. Proud of her family, but not want to use their influence. [38:20] Further discussion role of family – helped later to have examples of how avoided exploiting their contacts. Became community worker Southwick. Poor area but loved it. [42:00] Discussion work at polytechnic on a “non-traditional” course (“access” students, more democratically organised course). Learnt more from teaching “grown-ups” and knew about region because of it. [44:40] No direct ambitions MP this point but an option. Secretary Sunderland North Labour party. Friendships other Labour women – Joyce Quinn, Mo Mowlam [MM]. All applying for seats, region said “no women putting themselves forward”. Experiences of three trying to gain seats. Role of Militant tendency in NE, and infiltration left-wing groups. Stood in Sedgefield against Tony Blair. [49:00] Discussion Labour party in NE and role of women’s committee. Difficulties getting seat as a woman – cultural issues. [53:00] Discussion personal life – met Paul (now husband) at this time. Partners always knew politics essential to HA. Discussion finances: good job, EA had to guarantee mortgage. Not much expense involved in politics, just time. [56:05] Discussion of prospects in North East. [57:20] Relationship with EA when MP, his lifestyle (e.g. staying B&B London, informal constituency arrangements – no surgeries). [59:20] Story of HA getting her seat. Previous boundary changes, EA fought to get NW Durham. Description of constituency. When EA retired, HA ran, but EA stayed out of it. Support of partner. Split constituency. [1:07:05] Won by one vote, 2nd (Dave Clelland) in before her on by-election. [1:09:00] Discussion role of council – hated it, very sexist: “sobering”. Useful when local government minister. [1:10:35] Election campaign, comparison to EA’s campaigning. Mo Mowlam gaining seat. [1:13:50] Discussion Union contacts (ASTMS). Little involvement national party, base in North East. Issues: unemployment and social problems. Background helped. [1:18:00] Celebration when elected but realisation in opposition. Lived in EA’s old flat with MM. Lots of experience Westminster – felt “clubby” and expected to know how it worked, knew a little because of EA. Culture. Advice from EA. Discussion dual role: parliament and constituency. Wider interests, but first involvement education (Baker Act 1987-88). Then front bench as education, worked with Jack Straw. [1:27:00] Also interested international development, on NEC of party (nominated to women’s section by union). Development all-women’s shortlists. 1992: John Smith’s [JS] PPS. [1:29:10] Supported reorganisation of party but some reservations. In favour one member one vote and increased role for women. Union work with women. Discussion of union block vote. Frustration in North East – Labour not effect anything. JS more cautious. HA party loyalist (EA influence). [1:33:30] Discussion constituency organisation. Constituents more demanding than in EA’s time. More professional. [1:36:00] Discussion change in Parliament to more professionalization, plusses and minuses. Discussion House of Lords re: this. Discussion change working hours – MPs “never off duty”. Higher expectations now. [1:40:35] Westminster less sexist that Durham County Council (!) but some issues. [1:42:05] Discussion maiden speech, EA visited, HA doesn’t really remember. First time daughter followed father in same seat. [1:43:00] Discussion other family members – brother and mother. Mother: “you’re just like your father”. Mother very partisan. [1:46:30] JS PPS, learned a lot. Had to know party feeling, good at getting the gossip. Discussion of JS leadership in terms of one member, one vote. JS deal with GMB union (John Edmunds) helped get him elected, JS clear was independent. [1:49:30] JS get many people around him to decide policy. Scottish politics: Gordon [Brown?] and Robin [Smith?] – big-hitters and good ideas, but hated each other. JS compromises. Long discussion backroom negotiations for one member, one vote, particularly in Union meetings. Both reforms (one member, one vote and all-women shortlists) on same ballot. Union pro-women, anti-voting. Worked with Anne Gibson (women’s officer union) to convince union to abstain – knew if did motion would pass. Told JS result on platform before John Prescott’s speech – knew vote won before the speech. [1:55:00] Also role organising constituency parties for first time. Difficult to build relationships and accused of manipulation, but needed them. [1:57:00] Discussion of all-women shortlists. Previous efforts not worked. JS behind it and able to win over more traditional male members. A “House of Commons man”. Needed leader’s support to pass. Did change the Commons in 1997 – issues after with court cases against it. 2001 changed law so could do again. Not finished yet, still issues with constituency parties over it. NEC’s attitude.
Life story interview with Baroness Armstrong of Hill Top (1945-), former Labour Member of Parliament.