Politically Correct by Dr D A C McNeil

I have this theory – there are essentially three types of political animal. They are the Utopian, the Career, and the Slogger. The Utopian believes in a sort of Utopia, be it the ‘left wing’ one or the ‘right’. Sadly this Utopia is ideal for some, the anathema of others, and the rest of us would just have to put up with it or be ‘politically educated’. The Career has often always wanted to be in the thick of it. He or she loves the process, the power, the intrigue, the back-stabbing, but always toes the party line and if cornered does not really have any idea why he/she is there other than for the process, the…and so on. The Slogger has ideas, as often as not non-conformist, is there to do a job and does it as well as possible. There are of course intermediates, but those, as the saying goes, muddy the waters of this argument.

I myself am not much of a political animal. I have very few political stories worth recounting. Years ago, when I was the “official bird watcher” for Hampton Court and Home Park, I met Geoffrey Ripon at a reception for “Official Bird Observers of the Royal Parks”. As I left (down the back stairs, of course) he joked about being a miner and being a steeplejack – the stairs appeared that steep. Thereafter I was held up by a car containing Harold Wilson as I was walking along a pavement and he was coming out of a public meeting. At another meeting I was rambling along an aisle not looking where I was going and very nearly demolished Tony Benn. I personally would prefer it if my fame was not based on bumping off politicians.

So, when I first joined Charles Keene College as a lecturer in business computing all those years ago, my immediate boss – who, incidentally was the only Conservative in a section of far left politicians – had an incredible work timetable. If I remember correctly, all that first academic year I was there he tried to work all day Monday, all day Tuesday, all Wednesday and Wednesday night, all night Thursday and in the evenings of Friday.

It seems that one morning he set out as usual to catch his bus from south Leicester. He got as far as the bus-stop, and stayed there. Buses came, buses went. He was found just standing there. He had had a nervous break-down. That Wednesday he was due to arrange the evening classes and a happy band of part-time lecturers from County Hall were due to arrive. They had to be told that not only was the boss ill, also he had not to be approached on any outstanding matter which may have arisen in previous weeks. I was volunteered for the job. One of those lecturers was David Taylor, who was to become the M.P. for North-West Leicestershire.

This September a book is to be published under the title of ‘Clockwinder Who Would Not Say “No”’, about David and his life, by a fellow M.P., Paul Flynn. His main object is to record the achievements of David in the House of Commons. The early chapters detail his life in Heather and County Hall, but, as I found out, omitting any mention of his work at Charles Keene. For I wrote to the author: my contacts with David had been totally a-political at the beginning, and only after his course had been abolished in Mr Major’s recession did I really find out about his political leanings and how seriously he took them. I am now the proud owner of a free copy of that book.

It is always surprising to learn about the life of someone who you saw only through the blinkered eyes of a work colleague. He had an impoverished background; never went to university; and everything he achieved was through his own drive and dedication. He was married with four daughters. He was a churchwarden, with the responsibility of winding up the church clock. He was on the Council. He was an accountant. He entered Parliament rather reluctantly it seems, set up an office in Coalville and drove himself at all aspects of the job. Yet on the few times that I saw him at meetings he was always ready to come over and speak to me. I cannot say that I influenced government policy by this – we both had reservations about the invasion of Iraq. On Boxing Day, 2009, during a family walk around Calke Abbey, he collapsed with a heart attack and died. Clearly he was a ‘Slogger’.

I can but add one story to this; as a bird watcher I was doing a census of the bird population of Birstall cemetery where I spoke to the man who strimmed the gravestones, on the occasions when I saw him. One day he was rather down. He told me he was going to be replaced by a more up-to-date system which he was not qualified to drive. I mentioned this to David. Without any hesitation he said ‘get him to contact me’. Sadly the strimmer man was replaced, for I never saw him again. It could all have been different if only...

Maybe my summary of Mr Flynn’s book does not do him or his subject justice. Maybe there is much more to this story that neither of us know. Perhaps in the future a more complete record of his achievements and failing will be written.

In the meantime – he may not have been everyone’s cup of cha – but this is a tale of a man who strived and succeeded in what is known generally as ‘the American dream’.