Lord “Bill” Elliott
A true champion of the north-east
I was saddened to read recently of the death of Lord Elliott of Morpeth, or Bill Elliott as he wished to remind us, he passed away four days ago at the grand age of 90 and for 25 years was the Member of Parliament for Newcastle North, a reminder that we DO NOT necessarily always elect Labour MPs in this part of the world.
Even though during those years between 1957 and 1983 Labour still held the majority of seats up here, Conservatives were returned in Tynemouth, Newcastle North, Berwick, Hexham, and Stockton and their members included the likes of Harold MacMillan, Geoffrey Ripon, Bill Elliott, Dame Irene Ward, and Neville Trotter who were all seen as indefatigable champions for this corner of England. No matter what their background they stood their ground against a line of Prime Ministers or civil servants whenever they saw a threat to the livelihood of thier constituents and this region.
Lord Elliott was essentially a farmer before becoming involved in Conservative Party politics and first tested the waters with two election defeats in Morpeth, his home territory before winning Newcastle North in 1957, I remember that he was quite a regular visitor to South Shields and was generally an affable and fun bloke to be around. As President of the Northern Area Conservative Party he tirelessly worked to improve the condition of local Conservative Associations throughout the north of England, and as a great friend of South Shields GP John McKie often attended meetings and fund raising events for the party here.
I have a particular memory of his work promoting politics amongst younger people when he held a fund raising event at his family home just off the A1 at Seaton Burn in 1978 as the party geared itself up for Margaret Thatcher’s first election victory. Having advertised a “barbecue and disco” throughout the branches of the Young Conservatives he extended it by selling tickets to anyone between the ages of 18 and 35 who were interested in attending, security considerations were not high on the agenda in those days. He had Newcastle and Sunderland decorated with posters promoting the event and bought advertising space on Radio Metro, it promised to be quite an evening! A few of us in South Shields bought tickets and our non drinking drivers headed north through the Tyne Tunnel to join about 500 guests who partied into the night with calypso music from a steel band and a disco presented by Metro Radio’s Bill Steele, we also found Bill Elliott flipping his home made burgers on the barbecue and helping out behind the bar, he was in his element! He had this easy going manner which made conversation a pleasure and an ability to communicate at any level, he was certainly just like most Geordies who loved a chinwag, and this was his way of raising much needed cash to be shared around constituencies like South Shields and Jarrow who found fund raising a little tougher than others.
Having already spent twenty years as one of Newcastle’s MPs he had a wide circle of friends throughout the north-east and hardly ever turned down an invitation to visit a constituency associaton to lend his organisational support. Nor did he restrict his activities to his own constituency, early in his political career he found success in helping a young lad from Jarrow:
Elliott reached the Commons in March 1957 at a further by-election, caused by the elevation of Gwilym Lloyd George, the former Home Secretary, to the peerage as Lord Tenby. The contest at Newcastle North was trickier than it looked because the Conservative association had split in 1950 over the choice of Lloyd George, and a former lord mayor threatened to stand as a Liberal. In the event, Elliott took the seat in a straight fight with Labour.
Almost at once, Macmillan handed Elliott a chance to score some runs. A 17-year-old man, Derek Wiscombe, from Jarrow, had applied for a licence to carry furniture and building materials, planning to trade in his pony and cart for a lorry once he passed his driving test. Local hauliers, and the state-owned Pickfords, objected and the application was rejected.
Macmillan read the story in the papers, sounded off about “tyrannical bureaucracy” and suggested that Elliott, who had experience of haulage as a farmer, set up a fund to get Wiscombe a lorry and teach him to drive. Elliott helped with his next application, and Wiscombe was granted a licence to carry furniture, on a lorry with L plates; a rival handed over some business as a “free gift”. Macmillan closed the file with the single word: “Good.”
Unfortunately, and despite the great results for the Conservatives in the 70s, 80s, and 90s, those constituencies which were not already Conservative seats or marginals failed to build upon the frameworks put in place by Bill Elliott and developed by the professional agents in Newcastle and their organisational strength is as bad now as it was then.
Bill Elliott was a force for good in the north east, he had pride in our region and sought to prevent it becoming a backwater passed over by Westminster and Whitehall, he carried our standard in Parliament and abroad as promoted our region and our workforce, even during the hardships endured as our heavy industries declined, even though his majority continued to fall as the boundaries of Newcastle North were constantly changed, and in 1983 it was to disappear from the map completely, he turned down the offer of a safer seat.
He will be sadly missed.
Full obituary in the Daily Telegraph.