Thursday, April 17, 2014

Austin Mitchell, Europe and Brian Clough

Austin Mitchell has announced that he will retire as MP for Great Grimsby at next year's general election.

The BBC describes him as a "veteran" MP, but I remember when he was first elected to parliament.

It was April 1977 and Margaret Thatcher's Conservatives were carrying all before them. On the same day, 28 April, they won a by-election in Ashfield, a seat which Labour had won with a majority of 22,915 at the previous election.

But Austin Mitchell managed to retain Grimsby for Labour, though the majority he was defending only 6,982.

One reason for this was the different reasons for the by-elections. Grimsby was called because of the death of Tony Crosland, who was the foreign secretary and a respected constituency MP. Ashfield was called because the sitting MP, David Marquand, had gone off to work for Roy Jenkins in Brussels.

Mitchell was also helped by his fame as a local television presenter, but the chief reason for his victory against the odds was the campaign he ran.

In a town that has been badly affected by the common fisheries policy, he ran an impassioned campaign against Britain's membership of the European Economic Community.

Not that this was less than two years after the British people had voted 2:1 to remain in the EEC in a national referendum.

It is a lesson to those who argue that a referendum would settle the question of Britain's membership of the European Union "once and for all". And it also supports the idea that UKIP's natural supporters today are Labour voters who have seen no benefit from globalisation.

Though his man of the people act was part of Mitchell's appeal in the by-election, he had spent eight years in New Zealand lecturing in History and Sociology.

In the late 1960s he joined Yorkshire Television were his finest hour was this confrontation between Don Revie and Brian Clough.

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