The death of Jack Ashley marks the end of an era. Ashley was representative of a period when, in my opinion, when there were many great characters in the House of Commons. Parliament could draw from both sides of the House men- there were only a few women- who had experience of both sides of industry. Men who had dirt under their fingernails unlike the situation today where 24% of the new intake of MPs in 2010 were special advisers. Many MPs in the 20th century also had military experience- six Prime Ministers from Churchill to Callaghan saw war service. The impact of the war was especially marked on “One Nation” Tories such as Harold Macmillan and Edward Heath whose period in office were marked by social legislation in an attempt to bridge the social divide.
One type of Tory MP largely vanished from the political scene was the knight of the shires. Men with portentous names like John Langford Holt, Harry Legge Bourke and Hugh Munro Lucas Tooth. There was Walter Bromley Davenport MP for Knutsford, Chief Whip during the 50s who on seeing an unfamiliar MP leaving early for home was so enraged that he booted the man up the backside. Unfortunately it turned out to be the Belgian Ambassador and the Cheshire MP had to resign. There was Reginald Manningham Buller later Lord Dilhorne whose over bearing manner led him being called “ bullying manners”. He once delivered a dressing down to Margaret Thatcher- respect. High Peak’s Spencer Le Marchant probably not the most cerebral of members. The joke was that he went home on a train with a placard round his neck saying, 'please put this MP out at Buxton.
Derbyshire seems to have produced a number of singular MPs. One who visited Leek during the 1959 General Election campaign was George Brown MP for Belper. George later Deputy leader of the Labour Party was at a reception in Latin America. He went up to an elegant figure in red to ask for a dance. The figure refused for three reasons “ Firstly you are drunk, secondly the tune that is being played is not a waltz, but the Peruvian National Anthem and thirdly I’m the Cardinal Archbishop of Lima”