This was originally published on Liberal Democrat Voice earlier today.
As reported earlier, former Liberal Democrat MP David Rendel has died aged 67.
David was born in 1949 in Athens, Greece. His father was a foreign correspondent for The Times, and he was a great-grandson of civil engineer Sir Alexander Meadows Rendel, and a great-great-nephew of Liberal MP Stuart Rendel, the first Baron Rendel, a benefactor of William Gladstone, as noted in Roy Jenkins’ book “Gladstone: A Biography”.
David was educated first at Horris Hill school, Newtown, Hampshire, and then as a scholar at Eton College. He spent 14 months as a volunteer teacher in Cameroon and Uganda with Voluntary Service Overseas. Afterwards he went to Magdalen College and St Cross College, Oxford where he gained a degree in Physics and Philosophy and rowed in the record-breaking Boat Race crew of 1974.
After leaving Oxford, David worked in the energy industry (Shell International, British Gas and Esso) as a manager in the computing and finance departments.
David fought and lost two elections in 1979 and 1983 at Fulham, before moving to Newbury in 1986, when his wife Dr Sue Rendel started work as a GP in the town, a role she continued in until 2013. He became a Newbury District Councillor from 1987 to 1995, and fought and lost the Newbury seat in the 1992 general election, gaining 37% of the vote.
Both at Fulham and in Newbury, David gained local recognition and affection by running an annual “Football Card” scheme, which tapped into a slice of the electorate not normally interested in politics. He was known for meticulous attention to detail and a super-human capacity for hard work. His “canvassing walk” between doors is particularly remembered for its huge speed and athleticism.
One of David’s noted early campaigns in Newbury was in opposition to a Tory plan to build a multi-storey car park on the historic wharf, accompanied by private leisure facilities. David’s campaign to fight this, and instead develop more suitable parking sites elsewhere in the town, garnered great popularity for the local Lib Dems and helped to win control of the council for us in 1991.
David was elected MP for Newbury in a by-election on 6 May 1993, with a majority of 22,055 – the largest Liberal or Liberal Democrat Westminster majority in history (See the front page of the Evening Standard the day after – right). This historic victory was won against a backdrop of the UK’s financial chaos, the enormous unpopularity of the Conservative government and the clumsiness of the Chancellor of the Exchequer. He was Norman Lamont. He declared at a press conference at the Conservative HQ in Newbury’s Cheap Street: “Je ne regrette rien” when asked whether he regretted most saying he saw “Green shoots of recovery” or that he was “singing in his bath” at the departure of the UK from the European Exchange Mechanism. This statement, needless to say, received a bad press, and was exploited mercilessly by Chris Rennard, who engineered the hugely successful campaign built on David Rendel’s great energy, inspiring leadership and very firm local base.
David won Newbury again in the 1997 and 2001 general elections. As Liberal Democrat spokesperson on Higher and Further Education, David led the campaign against university tuition fees and top-up fees.
David was a front-bench spokesperson for the Liberal Democrats on local government (1993-97) and social security (1997-99) and served on the influential Public Accounts Committee (1999-2003). As social security spokesperson, he led the largest rebellion of MPs of the Parliament, against Government plans to scrap single parent benefits. He also led opposition to benefit cuts for people with disabilities. He was the MP who first brought the SERPS fiasco to the attention of Ministers and asked the National Audit Office to investigate. As a result, the Government was forced to restore the pension entitlement of widows who were disadvantaged, at a cost of £12 billion.
As MP for Newbury, David was closely associated with successful campaigns for the Newbury By-Pass, the West Berkshire Community Hospital, a new cinema, the refurbishment of the Corn Exchange and the return of Greenham and Crookham Commons to public use. In 2004, he introduced the Cinemas (Rural Areas) Bill in Parliament, calling for more support for local cinemas in rural communities and small towns.
At the 1993 Newbury by-election, at a rally at St Bartholomew’s School, David was asked for his views on fox hunting. He stated very clearly that he was opposed to hunting with hounds, a clarity which was praised by party leader Paddy Ashdown, also at the rally. This caused much local Tory resentment for years, but David was able to vote for the Hunting Act 2004 in parliament. The Conservatives claimed that this stance led to David’s defeat as MP in 2005. However, David always maintained that for every vote he lost, he gained at least one more from voters who shared his belief that hunting (killing) with hounds was morally wrong.
In 1999, David did not take sides in the planning application by Vodafone to build a huge HQ on green fields north of Newbury. This stance was probably sensible, as the terms of the “deal” were changing right up to the last minute and therefore only councillors, privy to all the discussions, were able to make a sound judgment. In the event, the application was narrowly passed by West Berkshire Council but there was a very strict “green plan” which bought Vodafone into the provision of a bus service and parking restrictions for staff.
David lived in the heart of Newbury just yards from the A34 dual carriageway which snaked through the town. As such, he was able to see daily, at first hand, the devastation wreaked by heavy traffic painfully and slowly progressing through the town, with a particularly heavy array of large lorries travelling to and from the Southampton ferries. David was a consistent campaigner for a western by-pass for the town, over many years, and was instrumental in finally ensuring the construction of the road, while acknowledging the balanced environmental issues and bearing attacks from anti-by-pass elements with good grace and dignity.
David stood in the 1999 election for the leadership of the Liberal Democrats, but came fifth of five candidates, losing to Charles Kennedy. Despite that, David fought the campaign with typical dignity and vigour.
As an MP, while impeccably loyal in public, in parliamentary party circles, David quietly, but forcefully, stated his opposition to Paddy Ashdown’s “project” of closer union with Tony Blair’s Labour party.
He held on to his seat in 1997 and 2001 with reduced majorities, but at the 2005 election he was defeated by the Conservative candidate Richard Benyon.
It is a testament to David’s immense campaigning skills, dogged determination and local popularity that he held Newbury, a traditionally Tory seat, for twelve years. Before, after and during his stint as MP, David was well-known for his unfailing courtesy and his genuine and sincere acts of kindness to ordinary people. These included staying behind to help with the washing up at local gatherings, sending touching notes to people who were grieving, and, after meetings, offering lifts to the old and infirm, who he knew were likely to have to walk home.
After 2005, it was rumoured that he was offered elevation to various posts, but David chose, typically, to concentrate on local campaigning.
In May 2006, David was re-selected by local party members as the Liberal Democrat candidate for the Newbury seat for the 2010 election. At the general election in May 2010 he was defeated by the sitting Conservative MP, Richard Benyon, whose majority grew to 21%.
David was a directly elected member of the Liberal Democrats Federal Executive committee until 2014.
Following the 2010 election, David was the only member on the Liberal Democrats Federal Executive to vote against the recommendation that the party form a coalition government with the Conservative Party. He foresaw the impact it would have on the Party he loved. Again, he stated his opposition quietly and without rancour.
After our debacle at the European Elections in May 2014, David did not hold back privately in his critique of the party leadership’s performance.
After his period as MP, David continued to serve the people of West Berkshire as a councillor for Thatcham from 2007 until 2015. While working on his councillor’s papers one night at 1am, David felt an earth tremor at his home in Bucklebury, West Berkshire – as he related to the press at the time:
I was sitting at my desk downstairs when I heard quite a large noise and I thought there was a lorry or a train going by but I’m not near a railway line and my lane outside is very small for lorries.
There then seemed to be a shaking and then at this stage I realised it was an earthquake because it was going on so long. I got up and I felt giddy. It was very definite.
I went upstairs to see if my son was awake and what he thought and he was coming down to tell me he thought there had been an earthquake but perhaps it was not enough to wake people up.
In 2015, David stood as our parliamentary candidate in the Somerton and Frome constituency, fighting with his usual flair and determination, inspiring many to work hard with him.
David was, for a long period, President of his local regional Liberal Democrats.
David is remembered for his commitment to Liberal values, for his kindness, unfailing courtesy and for his phenomenal capacity for hard work.
David leaves his wife, Dr Sue Rendel, three sons, Mark, John and Andrew, who were all educated at local Newbury schools, and two grandchildren.
Shortly before his death, David was over-joyed to receive news of the spectacular Liberal Democrat by-election win in Newbury’s Victoria ward, part of his old “home patch”.
Photo: Some rights reserved by Martin Tod.