Tribute to Lord Tyler

Yesterday my long standing ‘noble friend’ Paul Tyler made his final speech in the House of Lords. I was pleased to follow him in the debate, thank him and wish him and Nicky well for the future. “It is of course always a great pleasure for me to follow my noble friend, Lord Tyler, and it is with some sadness that I now do so for the last time.

Fifty-eight Years in Politics

It was in 1964, fifty-eight years ago, when my noble friend was first elected to the Devon County Council and became the youngest Councillor in the country. In February 1974, he was elected as the Liberal MP for the Bodmin constituency. He won by just nine votes. But then narrowly lost in October by just six hundred and sixty-five votes. Many people might have given up politics at that point, but not Lord Tyler! He fought the Beaconsfield parliamentary by-election in 1982. He came a strong second, easily consigning to third place the new young Labour candidate – one Tony Blair.

1983 – 1987

In this time he organised the general election campaign tours for David Steel. He became Chair of the Liberal Party, whilst I was one of its Campaign Officers, and we had high hopes for the then Liberal SDP Alliance. But at the end of that decade my party hit the rocks in the European elections of 1989. Sensing the national disaster ahead, I decided to abandon what was happening at my party HQ. I then began making the first of my many campaign visits to Cornwall to support his campaign there to become the MEP.

Again, he didn’t win. But after a campaign in which I worked closely with his election agent, Dame Annette Penhaligon, he was the only Liberal Democrat candidate in the country to achieve second place, polling over 30% of the vote compared to just 6% for my party nationally. Our campaign, including the distribution of over 250,000 newspapers in his support, set in motion the process which eventually resulted in every seat in Cornwall being held by a Lib Dem MP.

Farewell Lord Tyler!

In 1992, I helped him to win the North Cornwall constituency, which now included the town of Bodmin. He later became the Chief Whip in the Commons for my party, whilst I was its Director of Campaigns & Elections. We worked closely together with the late and much missed Lord Ashdown of Norton-sub-Hamdon. Becoming colleagues here when he retired from the other place in 2005.

We worked together on many aspects of reform to your Lordships House, seeking to go much further than we were able. Working together to establish the principle of fairness in the funding of elections nationally, and to defend the principle of there being a level playing field in constituency campaigns. And we have worked to try and reduce the number of people unable to vote because they are not registered, to prevent government changing the rules of elections in favour of their own party, and to protect the independence and role of the Electoral Commission.

Lord Tyler’s debate today is very timely. Never before has a government sought to gain control of the independent Electoral Commission, change spending rules to enable marginal seats to be bought, and blatantly increase the power that comes with millions of pounds rather than with millions of votes. We will greatly miss my noble friend in the debates ahead, we thank him for all his many contributions, and we are most grateful to Lady Tyler for everything that she has done in support of him, his constituents, and the cause of democracy.

You can watch Lord Tyler’s final appearance in the House of Lords here.