Political parties are like large extended families. And, like families, every member has their own way of looking at the world even as they join together in confronting it. This week I have lost two good political friends from the Liberal Democrat family; one by choice, the other by sudden death. My memories of both are connected through education. In the case of Richard Grayson, who has publicly made it known that he has allowed his Party membership to lapse, it was initially as the author of the first ever pamphlet produced by the Centre for Reform, produced soon after Richard became its founding director in the late 1990s. Discipline in Schools, which he authored, and to which I lent my name as the joint author, was a short pamphlet about an issue that has plagued schools throughout history. Richard went on to much greater heights within the Party, including helping to write the 2001 general election manifesto, and now holds a senior academic post at Goldsmiths in London. He taught me much about the art of politics.
I am sad to see Richard leave the Lib Dem Party, but I think I know why he has reached his decision, one that was not, I am sure, reached lightly. Andrew Bridgwater’s sudden death that I leant about last weekend has robbed the Party of one if its key champions for education in general, and special education in particular. Andrew was no happier with the current direction of the Lib Dems than Richard was, and made that fact clear on many different occasions during his period of office as Chair of the Liberal Democrat Education Association, an office that only ended as recently as this year’s spring conference. He was delighted to have joined me as a Vice President of the Association. Andrew was at one time a councillor in Hackney, and I first got to know him when I joined the small group that met Don Foster regularly in the late 1990s to discuss education policy when Don was the Party’s shadow spokesperson on Education.
In recent years Andrew would often ring me up for a conversation about the state of education policy, and I knew I was in for a long and thorough discussion. Andrew was a strong supporter of the motion Peter Downes and I put to the 2010 Liverpool Conference about academies and free schools. His most recent successes included work on the role of governing bodies and the wider need for the strong governance of schools to prevent the community being excluded from the decision-making process; a policy he was passionate about.
Despite his move a few years ago to Devon, Andrew still regularly made the long journey to Birmingham for the LDEA Executive meetings, and frequently to London for meetings of the parliamentary group. Andrew’s plain speaking was not to everyone’s liking, but that is the nature of families. He was also a strong supporter of the LDEA annual conference in Nottingham. Within the wider Party, he was recently the regional Vice-Chairman and fought the Totnes Division in this year’s county council elections, losing to the Green Candidate, and thus forming another bond, since I once lost a by-election in Oxford to a Green Party Candidate.
I will miss Andrew’s boundless energy and determined view of the direction Liberal Democrat education policy should take, and I am especially sorry I didn’t have the opportunity to say good-bye. Andrew, thank you for everything you did for Lib Dem politics: especially for your contribution to my own thinking, particularly in the area of special needs. I will miss you.
Ring out the grief that saps the mind,
For those that here we see no more;
Ring out the feud of rich and poor,
Ring in redress to all mankind.
Ring out a slowly dying cause,
And ancient forms of party strife;
Ring in the nobler modes of life,
With sweeter manners, purer laws.
From Tennyson’s In Memoriam