It's a dependable party game: who was the MP who sat from 1950 to 1987, emerged as a strong and early opponent of hanging and supported homosexual law reform; was fiercely anti-Nato, anti-American and opposed to Britain possessing nuclear weapons; pioneered the Clean Air Act, vociferously opposed subsidies to farmers, attacked the monopoly of the big drug firms as suppliers to the NHS and was the first person to take the anti-smoking cause to the Cabinet; became a vehement critic of Empire and hugely embarrassed a Tory government by a passionate condemnation of British treatment of Africans confined in the Hola Camp in Kenya? (The MP in question was so infuriated by the racist excuse that different standards applied in Africa that he/she actually cried with vexation at the end of the speech.) As Minister of Health the same politician earned an extremely progressive reputation by attacking the mental hospitals as oppressive Victorian institutions which ought to be closed to allow more humane care within the community - and by taking the Tube or walking home after working late so as not to make the ministerial driver wait up late. This MP was a radical critic of Tory incomes policy, was the first in any party to argue for a minimum income for the old and the unemployed, argued for the nationalisation of the universities and completely free education for all students, and refused both the offer of a life peerage and, when it was proposed to him, the editorship of Private Eye. In retirement he/she wrote a learned but scandalous book on the Gospels which tried to prove that the Crucifixion, the Resurrection and the Sermon on the Mount were all historical fictions.
LRB 23 January 1997 | PDF Download