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Anonymous dedication to David Howarth

November 9th, 2009 Posted in UK Politics by

Liberal Vision has received an anonymous dedication to David Howarth MP, who is standing down at the next General Election. We’re more than happy to publish it here:

dhphpMost aptly called ‘Rumpolian’ by Quentin Letts, David Howarth, to the dismay of many, announced on Thursday that he will not be seeking re-election, in order to concentrate on his other life as an academic.

In the week that saw the dismissal of a government advisor on drug use by a Home Secretary more wedded to spin than science, David Howarth’s words have never been truer:

“Liberals still believe in what is fashionably called the ‘Enlightenment Project’. Not only should everyone be capable of participating in political discussion, but also, reason and knowledge, especially scientific knowledge, should form the basis of that discussion. Liberals instinctively reject the reliance on traditional authority and the cynical manipulation of myth and superstition which are fundamental to conservatism, including its modern ‘communitarian’ forms. Critics say that the Enlightenment Project has led to arrogant and ultimately disastrous attempts such as Marxism, to claim to apply scientific methods to politics. But Liberals have never claimed, as socialists did, that they possess knowledge that authorises them to reconstruct society. They claim instead that a society is rational to the extent that its members debate the future in a rational way” *

Rationality, absent in the current policy-making era, is a Howarth trademark. He uses it to great rhetorical effect when an opponent is making a simply absurd statement or policy, and it informs the stance he takes on almost every issue. It doubtless will inform the lectures and legal insights David makes in this other life.

Much has been said about David’s achievements as a stalwart defender of civil liberties, the right to protest, on the environment, and many of his successful campaigns, but he was and is also quite simply an excellent MP on the ground. A man from a working class background in Walsall, David went to Cambridge and Yale. He is a tall poppy even in the intellectual hothouse of Cambridge, yet because of his background, or his affable manner, or his earnest desire to make things better, he transcends class and is able to engage on any level in a way that is friendly and unceremonious but dignified and proper. He understands the importance of local democracy and localism.

In a year that the expenses saga engulfed parliament, he is someone with probity and integrity. Although entitled to go by First Class he travels Economy and his ad hoc surgeries start the minute a constituent recognizes him boarding the Cambridge train and continues, as other people join in, all the way to Kings Cross; more like a one-stop MP shop. Few people have wisdom, the dignity, and the good sense to walk away from a desired career at the height of their powers (although intellectual heights last a long time). If David suffers from anything it is being a polymath, in an era where democratic politics seem to require people who are full time professional politicians with, apparently, few other interests or capabilities.

One of David’s legacies on the ground is a buoyant local party which had an injection of new blood in the years since he left local government with continuing success at local level. A highly professional team of councillors runs the City Council and there was a good showing in the County Council elections too. More seats were contested and won by the Lib Dems than ever before in Cambridge elections in one go and they were jubilant at the count. The next stage will be to spread out into Cambridgeshire where the County Tories, seemingly lacking intelligent life form, are perplexed by the more cerebral but down-to-earth Lib Dems.

Selections can be dangerous territory though. Witness the Tory debacle in Bedford where, without taking detracting from Dave Hodgson’s great victory (Lib Dems majority of over 2,000 votes) their ‘open primary’ left the Tories with a candidate who could not garner full support, and a local party that felt patronised by High Command. Witness also the current Tory comedy of errors about Ms Truss as the hapless ‘no-one in Norfolk knows how to Google’ locals try to explain their distress to the dismissive aristocrats of Notting Hill.

A held seat is an attractive option for most would-be candidates. What is important for the local party now is to make sure that those short-listed next month work flat out to lay new foundations, for the City of Cambridge, to again be the winner by having another Lib Dem MP. Whoever follows will be different but the biggest tribute to H’s leadership in Cambridge is the legacy of continuing strength in local government and the large number of excellent potential MPs for what will doubtless be a hard fought, intellectually rigorous but good natured selection process – classic Cambridge.

* full text available here:

2 Responses to “Anonymous dedication to David Howarth”

  1. Niklas Smith Says:

    A fantastic dedication; the anonymous author manages to write down what we all feel about David but can’t quite express. David has been a truly great MP and I wish him the very best for his academic career.

    Just a small point: the full text of David’s excellent article “Why I am a Liberal Democrat” (quoted in the dedication) is actually here, on the website of our members’ newsletter:

  2. Top of the Blogs: The Golden Dozen #143 Says:

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