‘Honoured that you are writing my father’s biography’ the late Tony Benn, ‘...wonderfully written’ Hilary Benn

‘Sparkles with fascinating detail…a remarkable story of Liberal and Labour politics in the first half of the twentieth century.’ Michael Crick, Political Correspondent, Channel 4 News

‘Casts much light both on the evolution of British radicalism, and on the legacy which he bequeathed to his son, Tony. Professor Vernon Bogdanor, King's College, London

‘Brilliant biography…wonderful reading about the father and...discovering more about the son.’ Steve Richards of The Independent

‘Well-written and carefully researched, this fascinating biography brings to life a major figure in British political history…an excellent job of weaving together the strands of a complex life…as well as filling in the background of the Benn family’ Richard Doherty, military historian

Saturday, 14 September 2013

A Liberal Defector who came back to the Party

On this day in 1894 George Garro-Jones was born. He was one of only five new Liberal MPs to be elected in the 1924 general election, and the only one to have fought as a Lloyd George supporting National Liberal candidate in 1922. Garro-Jones served a single term as the Liberal MP for Hackney South from 1924 to 1929, during which time he displayed a confident and combative approach, speaking on a wide range of issues and being willing to challenge the Speaker’s authority. Despite his earlier loyalty to Lloyd George, Garro-Jones decided to abandon the Parliamentary Liberal Party, even though it was now under the sole control of his former mentor. He did not stand again in 1929; he would almost certainly have lost, had he done so, as Herbert Morrison won the seat for Labour with a majority of over 7,000 against Conservative, Communist and Liberal candidates; the latter coming third. In early November 1929, Garro-Jones left the Liberal Party to join Labour, writing to MacDonald that in his opinion ‘all virile progressive opinion…must identify itself with the Labour movement.’ However, his political association with MacDonald was to be brief. Garro-Jones remained within the Labour Party after the 1931 split, but he did not contest that year’s election. 
He did stand again for Parliament in 1935, and was successful as the Labour candidate in Aberdeen North – the seat which William Wedgwood Benn had held for Labour from 1928 until his defeat in 1931. Garro-Jones’ election in 1935 gave him a ten-year lease on his parliamentary seat, during which time he was appointed to the newly-created war-time post of parliamentary secretary to the Ministry of Production. He stood down from the Commons at the 1945 election and was created Lord Trefgarne in 1947. 
 However, his allegiance to the Labour Party eroded and in 1952 he decided to become a cross-bencher, explaining that he had been concerned to see the tendency to swing ‘from one extreme to another, which is bound to be very damaging to certain industries…I have always been a believer in compromise as being the essence of politics’.  
 In 1958, disillusioned with his isolated position in the Lords, he re-joined the Liberal Party, by then under the leadership of Jo Grimond.  Garro-Jones was a bold and talented individual, with a successful track record in the armed forces, a qualified barrister, a combative politician and later chairman of the Television Advisory Committee. He was driven more by achievement than by party considerations and was never firmly attached to any political grouping. He was a ‘disillusioned progressive’ at many stages of his career, and not just when he decided to defect from the Liberal Party.
His son, the second Baron Trefgarne was a minister in Margaret Thatcher’s Conservative government and still sits in the House of Lords as one of the elected hereditary peers.

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