My recent postings on the Gravesend by election in 1955 and the announcement yesterday of the death of Lord Avebury reminded me about the Orpington by election . I wouldn’t say I was involved but I had a bit of a view from somewhere around the back row of the upstairs balcony.
It was 1962. In between running Gravesend Young Socialists and a job I had the odd bit of spare time. A couple of times John Cartwright took me over to the Labour Committee Rooms in Orpington and I sat typing Redding pads out in some suburban front room. I met our candidate – Alan Jinkinson – nice enough chap, but he wasn’t going to win. The Tory had been drafted in to win and go straight into the cabinet – and he was opposed by Lively Local Lubbock (aka Lord Avebury).
Lubbock was portrayed as an ordinary local man, a local councillor with “none of the advantages” of Tory Peter Goldman, who was “the embodiment of the glossy, public relations system”. What was not said of course was that Eric Lubbock was one of the banking family who were major landowners and locally a political force. His peerage was hereditary. Peter Goldman was a clever young man who had risen in the Tory Party offices to become Head of Research and a protégé of RAB Butler. I did not know then that he was Jewish – nor would I have understood that that was a reason why he might suffer discrimination.
Anyway the Liberals won dramatically – there are thousands of articles cheering them on. We didn’t like the Liberals but we did cheer that the Tories had lost.
So – fast forward 20 years. I had a new job and I was sitting talking to my new boss, Mrs.Goldman – who was doing her best to get as much personal information of me as she could while pretending to talk about office arrangments. She mentioned her husband because his chauffeur might call into the office – her husband’s name was Peter – and, I thought – ‘surely not?’
By then Peter Goldman was running the Consumers Association and leading a life which could only be described as retiring. I didn’t have much to do with him – largely telephone calls about domestic arrangements. I used to hear stories of past social occasions, famous names and the odd smoke filled room but Thatcher was by now in the ascendant and it was all in the past Later, after he had died, I faced a vast pile of books, destined for the Scout’s jumble sale. They were full of annotations, dedications, notes, signatures – RAB, Ian, Quintin – a whole world of Tory politicians who by then it was thought were best forgotten.
The by-election was mentioned only once. In 1987 our Greenwich MP, Guy Barnett, died and the resulting by-election was just as dramatic as Orpington. Our candidate, Dierdre Wood, was reviled in the press and the Social Democratic candidate was praised to the heavens. Just before the election Peter rang me – he asked me to give Dierdre his telephone number and to tell her that if she lost she must ring him – ‘because I know about it’, he said.
I don’t know if she did or not. But I do know that these big by elections are an evil juggernaut of deceit, ambition, suspicion, rumour and lies – and that they kill and crush what is inconvenient in their path.
So – that’s the view of Orpington from the back back back row.
– and – just a word on Mrs. Goldman – RIP Stella. really, really miss you.
quotes about the candidates from 1962 Guardian