25 Years on and Cornwall’s Liberal Democrats should still remember David Penhaligon today

Truro and St Austell’s MP from 1974-1986 remembered today

People often ask whether you can remember where you were when JFK died. I don’t I was too young. But, for those of us who can remember David Penhaligon the feeling, I suspect, is similar to those people felt when John Kennedy was shot. A feeling of deep loss having very little personal knowledge of the man personally.

As an MP from a peripheral party at the time he was possibly a surprising national political figure who had garnered a great deal of national publicity and was almost certainly the shoo in as the next leader of the party, ahead of the eventual winner – Paddy Ashdown.

I was sitting in my front room with several school friends when I heard the news, being only 16 he had had a surprisingly big impression on me. Although I joined the SDP I had briefly met David Penhaligon once and also seen him speak once. The former was on polling day in the Knowsley North By-election, caused by the resignation of Robert Kilroy-Silk as a Labour MP. I, and fellow campaigners, had been out delivering leaflets in the pouring Merseyside weather and returned to the Alliance HQ, where we discovered David Penhaligon and other party luminaries with their sleeves rolled up delving into the inner workings of a printing machine. It was a surprising if apparently usual event.

This was an image I will never forget, and it has rather shaped my view of what MPs and party figures should be like since. He was deep down an activist and keen to helping in a by-election, however unlikely the party’s chances of winning. The other time I saw him was when he spoke at Methodist Central Hall at a pre-election rally in December 1986. His was an inspiring speech which set the tone for an exciting day at a party rally.

However, as any Liberal Democrat in Cornwall will tell you, his influence remains an important aspect of the party’s resonance and influence in Cornwall. I can remember campaigning in several general elections in Cornwall and still getting support for the party, twenty years on, because of the work he did for Cornwall, especially in Truro and St. Austell.

Liberal Democrats, especially in Cornwall, owe an awful lot to David Penhaligon and today we remember all that he did for us, the party and for Cornwall.


The Guide for Canvassers – Lesson 1 – The Basics


The Elgin Marbles - it would surprise you the issues that voters will bring up on the doorstep!

Following the Agents Training that was published last week, I was reminded, by a few friends, of a number of canvassing incidents that might benefit from publication.

I have been campaigning for Liberal Democrats, and the SDP/Liberal Alliance before that, for almost 25 years now, and still one of the most memorable canvassing moments was from my first General Election campaign in 1987.

Previous to this I had campaigned on a by-election in Knowsley North, for the now Labour MP, Rosie Cooper, caused by the resignation of Robert Kilroy-Silk to become a TV personality.

This gave me a sound grounding in campaigning, meeting such great Liberal campaigners as David Penhaligon and Paddy Ashdown whom were both churning out leaflets at the HQ when my mum and I arrived to help campaign.

So, having had all this training in Huyton and Knowsley to prepare me, I was ready for the streets of Warrington in the 1987 election, campaigning for Ian Marks. I went to my first door, with canvass leaflets and posters under my arm, to be met by an apparently normal woman who eyed me with general suspicion.

I said I was there on behalf of Ian Marks, the Liberal/SDP Alliance candidate, and wondered if she was likely to support Ian in the election.

She gave it a moment of consideration and said; ‘Well, you’ve definitely got my vote, because you want to send all the blacks back, that Enoch Powell had it right.  But, my husband is another matter!’

As you can probably imagine, this being my first door, and having a relatively good grasp of party policy, I was not under the impression that this was indeed our policy, but before I could reply she called for her husband, who came bundling to the door. I feel certain that I raised an eyebrow.

‘What’s your policy on the Elgin Marbles?’ came the question.

For a moment I was lost for words, neither knowing what they were, or whether the party even had a policy, but, after a moment’s consideration, I responded: ‘what do you think?’

After 5 minutes he had explained what we should do, which was to keep them, and then having taken a poster to display I tripped happily back down the path.

When asked by the candidate who they voted for, to mark the canvass card I replied, ‘two votes for you and they took a poster!’

I didn’t think it was sensible to tell him how broad the church was that allowed them to support him.