Selective family memories
I suppose we all do it. That is, choose which members of our family to highlight and which to ignore if we have a chance to talk about our backgrounds. But I was sad to see that in Lisa Nandy’s profile in the House Magazine recently, she omitted to say who her grandfather was. He was a Liberal – Lord Byers, OBE, my first boss in the Lords.
Lisa is the Labour MP for Wigan, and is considered to be a rising star in the party. As soon as she was elected in May three years ago, I asked her to tea in the Lords. We had a happy time talking about her life since I last met her when she was three and a half at the Opening of Parliament after the General Election of 1983. Her grandfather was Leader of the Liberal Peers, having been Liberal MP for North Dorset from 1945 – 50. Frank Byers had joined Gray’s Inn, following a degree in PPE at Christ Church, Oxford, where he had chaired the University Liberal Club and the Union of Liberal Students. He curtailed his studies when war broke out to enlist in the Royal Artillery, rising to the rank of Lt.Colonel. For a time he served on Montgomery’s staff, was mentioned in despatches three times and was created Chevalier of the Legion d’Honneur and awarded the Croix de Guerre with palms. In the 1945 General Election he stood as the Liberal candidate for North Dorset, which he won with a majority of nearly 2,000 (in the absence of a Labour candidate), one of just 12 Liberal MPs. The following year he became the Party’s Chief Whip. He narrowly lost the seat in 1950 when the presence of a Labour candidate ensured a Conservative victory. Fourteen years later he was made a Life Peer, becoming Leader of the Group in 1967, and in 1972 he was made a Privy Councillor.
In the years before that, he did much to reorganise the Liberal Party, holding the offices of President and Chairman and director of election campaigns in the fifties and sixties. Frank Byers was a frequent and effective broadcaster, putting the Party’s case fluently and persuasively. He was also a businessman, being a Director of RTZ and a part-time consultant to Marks and Spencers. It should not be forgotten by the Liberal Democrats how much they owe to those like Frank Byers who kept the Liberal party going through the lean years of the post war era.
What I remember most clearly about three and a half year old Lisa Nandy in her grandfather’s room in 1983 was that she wasn’t a bit interested in the jingling horses outside, and made her feelings quite clear, much to the chagrin of her mother who had made a difficult journey from Manchester that morning. There is no doubt that her grandfather would be tremendously proud of his granddaughter, even if she is of a different party from his own. I just hope that it isn’t political correctness in the Labour Party not to talk about your Liberal grandfather, and, yes, she did talk about her Marxist father, but I wasn’t going to go there….