Tonge, Jenny (2 of 2). The History of Parliament Oral History Project
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Interviewee's home, Kew, London, England, UK
Tonge, Jenny, 1941- (speaker, female)
Sutcliffe-Braithwaite, Florence, 1986- (speaker, female)
Part 2: [Session two: 11 January 2017] Starts mid-discussion of PA’s stepping down as Liberal Democrat [LD] leader in 1999. JT suggests younger male LD MPs saw PA as too close to Tony Blair [TB]. Talks of delight at 1997 result because she was to the left of LDs. Went off TB after Iraq war and other foreign policy decisions, but sees that Labour Government in a positive light. Mention of Gordon Brown [GB] as the “instigator” of a lot of Labour policy. [02:22] Discussion of work with other women MPs. Mention of co-chairing all-party group on breast cancer and work to ensure contraceptive pill available over counter. Describes a divide, with women going into politics to work on issues, rather than for philosophical reasons. [04:14] Discomfort at being made international development spokesperson, given healthcare background. “The men got all the plum posts.” Only three LD women MPs: JT, Jackie Ballard and Ray Michie. Charles Kennedy [CK] put Dr Evan Harris in charge of health. Anecdote about ladies’ cloakroom in House of Lords. Description of office accommodation. [10:19] Discussion of JT’s work as international development spokesperson; Clare Short was Secretary of State. Led to JT’s interest in middle east and Palestine. Sat on International Development Committee and travelled a lot. Focused on women’s health. Description of controversy following volcanic eruptions in Montserrat. [15:25] Mention of aid to Rwanda post-genocide, and President Paul Kagame. JT critical friend of Labour on international development, but totally opposed on foreign policy. [17:20] Description of opposition to Iraq war. Mention of Hans Blix. SW argued against supporting war, and CK decided that the party would not do so. JT felt party resented her early opposition. Took similar position on Afghanistan. Discussion of her opposition to war. Mention of success in Sierra Leone and, to a lesser degree, Kosovo, which made TB think he was “king of the world”. Short discussion of “humanitarian interventionism”, Syria, Mosul and ISIS. [23:51] Discussion of atmosphere in Parliament when Iraq war started in 2003. Mention of report by Peter Price, then Bishop of Kingston, and other bishops, on Iraq sanctions. Foreign policy considered a man’s job. Men in the party called JT “Mother Theresa”. Anecdote about getting into trouble with PA for opposing bombing of Afghanistan. [28:34] Talks of support for positive discrimination to get women into House of Commons. LD party not women friendly. Sarah Olney only woman MP at time of interview [won Richmond Park by-election in December 2016]. JT states that women do well in Conservative party, but its men do not change. [29:34] Talks about funding elections and political parties, and about lobbying. Mention of Israeli embassy. Discussion of championing Palestinian cause. Mention of biased reporting from Israel lobby. Feels complaints about anti-Semitism were made to LD leadership rather than to her. Resigned from party in November 2016 after being suspended following comments made by others at a meeting JT chaired. [34:54] Says Desmond Tutu described the situation for Palestinians as worse than apartheid. JT recalls visiting West Bank and Gaza with Oona King in 2003. [36:00] Discussion of work on women’s reproductive health in developing countries. Comments on role as co-chair of all-party group on population, development and reproductive health. Mentions work on female genital mutilation, maternal mortality and availability of family planning. [38:39] Mention of Select Committee trips abroad to Rwanda, Uganda and Kenya. Description of Kigali, Rwanda, in 1998, not long after genocide. Returned to a transformed Rwanda four or five years later with IPU [Inter-Parliamentary Union]. [41:46] Next trip to India and Bangladesh. [42:32] Trips with non-governmental organisations were different. Remembers trip with Christian Aid to South Sudan, sleeping in tents. Saw extreme poverty and hunger. Comments on Nuer and the Dinka still fighting in South Sudan. [49:23] Recalls trips to Gaza and the resourcefulness of the people there. [51.54] Describes official parliamentary trips, including with Commonwealth Parliamentary Association and IPU, and hosting parliamentarians at Westminster. [53:17] Discussion of Select Committee itineraries. Further mention of trips to Kenya, Uganda and Rwanda. [55.50] Discussion of campaigning, which JT found difficult. Recalls first standing [in Richmond and Barnes] in 1992 and losing. Humorous anecdote involving incumbent Conservative MP, Jeremy Hanley [JH], whom JT was to defeat in 1997. [59:39] Recalls story of PA’s affair breaking during in 1992 general election campaign and “It’s Paddy Pantsdown” headline in ‘The Sun’. Anecdote about canvassing that evening. [01:03:45] General discussion of 1997 and subsequent general election campaigns. Mention of Chris Rennard as LD campaigns supremo. Locally, LD leader of Richmond council, Sir David Williams, was important for JT’s campaigns, as was Councillor David Blomfield [DB]. Mention of Zac Goldsmith paying companies to deliver leaflets between elections. [1:13:48] Discussion of how interview process has made JT think about her time in Parliament. Did not register discrimination against women at the time. [01:16:07] Describes deciding to stand for Parliament: previous candidate for Richmond and Barnes, Alan Watson, had lost twice to JH and once to Anthony Royle, and did not wish to stand again; JT in the right place as chair of local LD party. Opposed at selection by Mark Oaten, later MP for Winchester; Christopher Fox, now LD peer; and Neil Sherlock, husband of LD peer [Baroness Parminter]. [01:19:36] Moved to Kew in 1974 and became involved with local Liberal party through DB and his wife. Stood for council in 1978 and lost; won by-election in 1981. Stood down as MP in 2005, as daughter Mary [Wherry] had died in 2004. [01:22:00] Comments on Donald Trump, along with Donald Rumsfeld and Dick Cheney. [1:22:16] Final comments on enjoyment of media work, including appearing with Labour MP Stephen Pound on ‘Around Westminster’, presented by Shaun Ley. Comments on taking BBC camera to Sudan to make film. [1:25:37]
Life story interview with Jenny Tonge (1941-), former Liberal Democrat Member of Parliament.