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My best abbeys, priories and monasteries

December 12, 2017

My last heritage blog was about my favourite castles. The surviving monastic buildings of medieval Britain and Ireland were largely built by the same people.  The king or his magnates built the castles to physically control and overawe the population.  They also founded monasteries and endowed chantries to shape the thought of the medieval world and to pray for their souls in the next world. Monasteries on our islands have existed since the coming of Christianity under Roman rule.  The Celtic Britons maintained the religion with small monastic cells and monasteries.  The most spectacular survival is at Skellig Michael, an island off the coast of county Kerry. Those in the east such as Lindisfarne were sacked by Scandinavian raiders.  Eventually the pagan Saxons, Danes and Vikings who ruled over fragments of what later became England converted to Christianity and turned from pillagers to monastic founders.

Most of the monasteries we can see today date from medieval times.  The Norman kings and magnates endowed daughter houses of their French foundations.  The Welsh and Scottish rulers followed suit.  A network of monastic franchises spread, with Benedictine, Cistercian, Augustinian and many other orders owing allegiance to continental mother houses.  They all controlled large tracts of land and were a major factor in the medieval economy.  They were also centres of learning, from scripture to medicine. Many monasteries became fabulously wealthy, with accumulated endowments from generations of departed souls for whom the monks were meant to pray.  Abbots were major local figures and also sat in the upper house of Parliament with the bishops and barons. For 500 years over 800 monasteries were at the centre of religious, economic and political life.

All of this was swept away during the sixteenth century.  Henry VIII approved the dissolution of the monasteries of England, Wales and Ireland in 1536. The agents of his chief minister, Thomas Cromwell, had already surveyed the monasteries, eying up the wealth as well as recording the lifestyles of the monks that were often far removed from the codes of their order.  Within a few years every monastery was closed.  What followed was the greatest act of cultural vandalism in British history.

The vast majority of monasteries passed into the ownership of the Tudor court favourites, creating a new class of country gentry.  The new owners stripped the lead off the roofs of the abbey churches and removed much or all of the stonework for the building of new mansions.  Libraries and artefacts were scattered.  Fortunately, some of the abbey churches in major towns and cities continued as places of worship either as cathedrals in Henry’s new Church of England or as parish churches.  Some monastic cloisters and domestic buildings were incorporated in new gentry homes or found civic use.  But most rural monasteries quickly became stone shells, relics of a former way of life.  By the 18th century many became appreciated as romantic ruins, the subject of poets and painters.  In the 21st century they are popular tourist attractions.

Here are my personal favourites. Which are yours?

1 The best Majestic Ruins

My favourite and most visited ruined abbey is Tintern.  Driving along the winding road that serves the Wye Valley you turn a bend and a huge roofless church fills the view. The former Cistercian abbey stands to its full original height and if you narrow your eyes and use your imagination you can picture the full splendour of this medieval masterpiece, with a lead roof on top of the shell of the building and stained glass filling the skeleton of the stone tracery of its windows.  It has stood as a stone jewel on the banks of the Wye, attracting visitors of the “picturesque” for the last 250 years.  It has been painted by Turner and its environs celebrated in verse by Wordsworth. Wander the site and curse the soul of Henry VIII.

The English rival for the scale and grandeur of Tintern is Fountains Abbey in Yorkshire.  A fellow Cistercian house, Fountains was the richest in the order.  But its status was insufficient to save it, being too remote from any large town to have a new life as a cathedral and far too big to be a parish church.  After suppression in 1539 its lead roof and the glass from its windows was stripped for buildings in nearby Ripon and also York. Some of its stone was used to build Fountains Hall, a fine example of a medium sized Elizabethan house.  By the 18th century the ruined abbey lay at the centre of a landscaped water park on the Studley Royal estate.  In the 19th century it was owned by the 2nd Marquis of Ripon, a close friend of Gladstone who served in all Liberal governments from Palmerston to Asquith. He commissioned William Burgess (see my blog on castles, Cardiff Castle and Castell Coch) to build St Mary’s church.  The interior decoration is a beautiful example of Victorian high gothic.  The whole ensemble of abbey, house, park and church is now a World Heritage Site.

My favourite Scottish grand ruin is at Melrose. Another Cistercian house, it was founded by David I in 1136 but what we see today is the rebuild from the end of the 14th century, in the Perpendicular style. The abbey became one of the burial places of Scottish kings, including reputedly the heart of Robert the Bruce. Dissolution came later in Scotland but the hand of Henry VIII was instrumental in the ruination of Melrose as his army attacked the abbey during the unsuccessful “rough wooing “of the Scottish royal family into a marriage alliance with Prince Edward.

Ireland is rather bereft of grand ruins, though is better endowed with cathedrals, both ruined and intact. I enjoyed visiting the scant remains of Mellifont, the principal Cistercian abbey in Ireland.

2 Small but pleasing

In between the west Somerset harbour towns of Watchet and Minehead lie the remains of Cleeve Abbey.  Here the interest is principally the well preserved domestic buildings of the monks, rather than the abbey church ruins.  The main gate house to the abbey precinct stands to its original height.  The most impressive building in the monastic enclosure is the monks’ refectory with a magnificent timber arched ceiling. The former Benedictine priory at Ewenny is a little known gem in the Vale of Glamorgan, which I first visited at about age 9 when I’d persuaded my father to drive me around the many local castles.  The priory church is largely intact, with the Norman nave functioning as the parish church.  Turner painted a watercolour of the choir and south transept in 1795. A 21st century glass screen now separates the nave from the east end, with its Romanesque niches and tomb of the founder William de Londres. To the south of the priory church is the best preserved fortified enclosure in Britain.  Walls stand to their full height, with two gatehouses.  They surround the manor house and farm buildings that now occupy the site of the priory’s domestic buildings. At nearby Margam the former Cistercian abbey church has also been preserved for parish use.  The real interest here is in the adjacent Cadw museum, housing a large collection of Celtic stone crosses from all over south Wales.   Llanthony Abbey nestles in the shadow of the Black Mountains, just inside the Welsh border.  The abbey church is quite ruined apart from the West end, long incorporated into a house that is now a pub.  This is the joy of Llanthony, sitting on the base of a pillar of the ruined nave, with a pint of beer in your hand, listening to the sheep baaaaing on the hill.  Magical.

3 Dissolution reprieves

We should be grateful for the fact that the dissolution did not sweep away every abbey.  The larger ones in the centre of the major towns of Tudor England found new life as cathedrals.  The abbeys of Bristol, Gloucester, St Albans and several others were saved in this way.  I will write a separate blog on my favourite cathedrals so here we are concerned with former abbeys now operating as rather grand parish churches.  Most are shorn of their cloisters and domestic ranges but the abbey churches live on.   My favourite is Tewkesbury, the grandest surviving abbey church apart from Westminster. A Benedictine house, it was founded in 1092 by Robert Fitzhamond, a close associate of William the Conqueror and his younger sons William II and Henry I. The fabric of the abbey church is still largely from the time of its founder, with a Norman arches in the nave and probably the finest Romanesque central tower in the country.  The west front is almost entirely filled by a Norman arch, framing a much later window.  The church has fine tombs of the leading aristocrats of the west of England and south Wales, including the de Clares, Despensers (see the Caerphilly entry in my castles blog) and Nevilles. Tewkesbury is a good place to go for anyone interested in the Wars of the Roses. After the battle of 1471 many of the dead Lancastrians and Yorkists were buried at the abbey.  These included Edward, Prince of Wales, and heir of the soon to be deposed for a second time Henry VI.  For balance, George Duke of Clarence, Edward IV’s estranged brother is also buried here.

Romsey in Hampshire is the grandest surviving nunnery church. It’s one of many buildings that I’ve visited during Parliamentary by elections, combining my twin interests of politics and heritage. The Liberal Democrat Sandra Gidley won the by-election in 2000, so it’s a good memory.  Like Tewkesbury, the architecture is largely Norman.  Bath and Sherborne are both reversals of the usual abbey survival story.  Originally cathedrals from Saxon times, they were both stripped of full cathedral status as the Norman and Plantagenet conquerors reordered the diocesan map.  Bath had to give way to Wells (though stays to this day at the head of the name of the diocese) and Sherborne to Old Sarum and eventually the new cathedral town of Salisbury.  The cathedrals became abbeys but survived dissolution as the principal churches of their locality.  Bath and Sherborne also share the architectural feature of exquisite fan vaulting in their naves.

As I have mentioned Bath it would be remiss of me not to feature Bristol. The abbey of St Augustine became the city’s cathedral in 1542.  The second city of medieval England was richly endowed with other monastic houses and a large number of churches.  Facing the cathedral across College Green is the chapel of the monastic St Mark’s Hospital, founded in 1230.  At the dissolution the chapel was bought by the city corporation.  It is now the country’s sole civic church, which I’ve had cause to attend on many occasions. The interior is packed full of tombs and monuments covering several centuries, all sheltered by a beautiful gilded oak ribbed nave roof and stone fan vaulting in the side chapels.  The vaulted cellars below became the storage place for the city’s eponymous “cream” sherry made by Harveys.  Upstairs on Remembrance Sunday I am grateful for the warm mulled wine at the end of the annual civic parade.   Bristol’s oldest building is the Priory of St James.  This building has a remarkable story, switching between denominations. It was founded in 1129 as a Benedictine daughter house of Tewkesbury by Robert Fitzroy, Earl of Gloucester.  He owed his surname and title to the fact that he was one of the many illegitimate children of Henry I, this one by the Welsh princess Nest. The church retains its Norman nave and west front, topped with a wheel window.  The church survived dissolution as a parish church, losing most of its out buildings except for the guest house, which is now the White Hart pub. It was the parish church of the most prolific hymn writer in English, Charles Wesley.  By the 1980s it was redundant and when I first came to Bristol was closed to visitors.  In the last couple of decades it has been reborn, returning to its catholic roots and with an attached mission of working with people with drink and drug addictions.

Honourable mentions should go to Beverley and Selby, praised by many but I am yet to visit.

4 Remotely rural or coastal

Some of the greatest abbeys were located in rural settings, owning large country estates. Their earnings from sheep farming and agrarian products supplemented their endowments and donations. Market towns were not far away.   But a large number of abbeys were built in remote locations, perhaps on pilgrimage routes but in any event more than a day’s walk for a monk or nun from the nearest settlement.  Today they offer a long drive up a minor road, often through rolling hills and blind bends.  Visit for the journey as much as the destination. On a Lake District holiday you shouldn’t miss Shap Abbey.  The site is quite ruined apart from the west front tower but its small scale allows an easy impression of the typical layout of an abbey. Shap gives me an excuse to mention one of the smaller religious orders, the Premonstratensians. They were canons, not monks and so preached in nearby parishes rather than living a life of ordered contemplation at their abbey.   If in the vicinity of Aberystwyth do make a rural detour through the Ceredigion countryside to Strata Florida abbey.  A small Cistercian house largely endowed by the Deheubarth Prince Rhys ap Gruffudd, better known as the Lord Rhys, founder of the national eisteddfod. Apart from its beautiful setting, the main thing to see is the unique design of the west front doorway. The usual Romanesque round arched shape is set in a series of five receding roll mouldings, rather like stone pipes.

The coast also provided sufficient isolation for religious contemplation.  In the first few centuries of post Roman Christianity it meant that monasteries were exposed to heathens arriving by sea as the unfortunate Saxon followers of St Cuthbert at Lindisfarne discovered in 793 when the Vikings raided their Northumbrian monastery. The site was all but abandoned until the Normans refounded a monastery.  The remains we see today date from that period.  There’s a conventional west doorway to compare with Strata Florida.  Like Ewenny, there was a fortified enclosure, built to protect the site from the Scots. The historical significance of the site was not enough to save it from dissolution and in any event the cult of St Cuthbert had been centred on the cathedral at Durham for many years.

You can’t be more coastal than an island monastery and my selection here is Caldey Abbey, on an island off the coast from the splendid harbour town of Tenby.  The medieval Benedictine priory buildings are well preserved and are now cared for by their Cistercian successors who took over the site from the Anglican Benedictines who had refounded the monastery in 1901.  The modern buildings with whitewashed walls and red tiled high pitched roofs look like a transplant from Bavaria.  Apart from the island setting and interesting collection of buildings, another good reason to take the boat to Caldey is to sample the bars of chocolate made by the monks.

If you want to arrive by steam train rather than boat, I recommend Hailes Abbey, which has its own station on the Gloucestershire Warwickshire preserved line, reopened this summer. Little remains of the abbey above knee height but the on-site English Heritage museum is excellent.

5 Royal connections

I couldn’t write an article on our best abbeys without including Westminster, probably Britain’s most famous church.  The setting for all coronations of England’s monarchs since 1066 and the final resting place for many of them between Henry III (who rebuilt the abbey and was buried there in 1272) and George III in 1760.  I’ve wandered around the church and its precinct many times as a tourist and in an official capacity and it is impossible to take in the multitude of tombs and monuments to the many non-royals commemorated in every nook and cranny.  Eight Prime Ministers are buried there, including Gladstone and Attlee and there are monuments to numerous writers and scientists. There are works of art as well as monuments, including a view of the abbey by my favourite artist Canaletto.

The decapitated body of Mary, Queen of Scots was laid to rest in Westminster Abbey by her son James VI and I.  Her predecessor Scottish monarchs were mainly laid to rest at Iona (which I have not visited) until 1093 when Malcolm Canmore (Malcolm III) was the first to be buried at the abbey he founded with his Queen Margaret (later canonised as a saint) at Dunfermline. The abbey was rebuilt by their son David I in 1128 in the style of the Normans.  The nave survives with its thick round columns and round arches.  It is now the vestibule of the parish church built as an extension in the early 19th century. Robert the Bruce’s body lies here, separated from his heart which was initially sent on crusade and then interred at Melrose in a lead casket. Dunfermline is another of my successful by election visits. In January 2006, after a walk down the high street with Charles Kennedy, I escaped the freezing weather to visit the abbey in the snow.

Many of the abbeys in Wales were associated with the native princes of Gwynedd, Powys and Dyfed. They were small and poorly endowed compared to their counterparts founded in south and east Wales by Cambro-Norman lords.  Llywelyn the Great (Llywelyn ab Iorwerth) supported the building of a Cistercian cell of Strata Florida at Aberconwy in 1198.  Monastic life lasted for less than a century as Edward I decided that the mouth of the Conwy was a perfect site for a castle and new town (see my best castles blog) and the monks were evicted.  The abbey church became the parish church for the new English settlers within the walled town.  Llywelyn’s tomb was evicted with the monks, eventually finding a place of rest at the church in Llanwrst.  The headless body of his grandson Llywelyn ap Gruffudd was buried at Cwmhir Abbey after being killed by one of Edward’s mercenaries near Builth in 1282.  Despite this famous association with the last native Prince of Wales the abbey church was reduced to mere fragments after dissolution. The Tudors did not respect their Welsh origins. Five of the nave bays from the abbey were used for the nave of the parish church at the nearby market town of Llanidloes, my favoured lunchtime stopping point on journeys to north Wales.

6 Famous associations

Monasteries were usually founded and endowed by a monarch or magnate for spiritual reasons.  But the first Norman foundation in England could not have more secular origins.  In gratitude for his victory over the English in 1066 William the Conqueror founded an abbey at the site of the Battle of Hastings.  The battlefield site and village, near to Hastings, is now known as Battle.  Not much remains of the abbey and no one can be certain of the location of the tomb of the vanquished King Harold.  But the gatehouse is worth a look and if you’re going to visit a battlefield, there are none more famous in England.  Neath abbey was the last refuge of Edward II, on the run from his vengeful queen Isabella.  The king had fled west from the castle of his favourite Hugh Despencer (see my best castles blog) and was given sanctuary by the monks of Neath.  They quickly grew wary of the implications of hosting the doomed king and asked him to leave.  Edward was captured on the hill above Llantrisant, a spot that used to be marked by a plaque but it had disappeared when I went to look last year.   The abbey was dissolved and a mansion was built in the grounds by Sir Richard Williams, who later took the surname of his sponsor Thomas Cromwell and was the great-grandfather of Oliver. The mansion is now a ruin too. Glastonbury abbey was the richest and most visited in medieval times.  It must now be among the most visited ruins.  But today’s pilgrims are hippies drawn to the music festival town and its alternative shops, many with a whiff of incense or something stronger.  Hippies dance and busk in the town square, with ankle and wrist bells.  It’s a whole new meaning to the bells and smells associated with Catholicism or high Anglicanism.

7 Conversions to other uses

Tudor owners plundered dissolved abbeys for stone and lead for their new houses.  Sometimes they obliterated almost everything above ground. The Herberts, one of many Welsh families to prosper under the Tudors and do well out of dissolution, built their quadrangular Wilton House directly on top of the demolished Benedictine nunnery. Often the name of the abbey has been retained and the house is an adaptation of the monastic domestic buildings, for instance at the former convent of Lacock Abbey.  Monasteries all had large barns and the one at Lacock now houses the museum of photography, it was through a window at Lacock that Fox Talbot took one of the earliest photographs. At Francis Drake’s Buckland Abbey the house is built within the walls of the abbey church itself. In Bristol alternative civic use was found for the medieval halls of the Dominican Friary, in medieval times in the shadow of Bristol castle but now surrounded by a 21st century shopping centre. The two medieval halls were taken over by the trade guilds for bakers and cutlers and are still known by those names.  The building between the two became Bristol’s main Friends Meeting House, hence the religious oxymoronic name for the whole modern restaurant and function room complex, Quakers’ Friars.

8 Working monasteries

Four centuries after dissolution came a monastic resurrection.  The Victorians coupled strong religious observance with tolerance for denominations outside the established Church of England. This allowed for a reestablishment of catholic religious orders, often from communities that had long existed in exile elsewhere in Europe.  At Ampleforth (Yorkshire) and Downside (Somerset) new Benedictine monasteries were built, following the gothic revival architecture seen in hundreds of parish churches and cathedral restorations.  The new abbey church at Prinknash in Gloucestershire was built as recently as 1973. Its modernist design resembles a 1970s university laboratory rather than a church.  Modern monasteries have done more than put up new buildings for religious contemplation.  The resident monks have also revived many of the domestic crafts such as pottery, bee keeping for honey, brewing beer and making perfumes.

The star for me is Buckfast Abbey, on the southern edge of Dartmoor. I have visited at least 20 times and have stayed on retreat, though my contemplation has been more secular and political than religious.  The site has one of the most remarkable stories in English monasticism. Next year the current Benedictine community will celebrate the millennium of monastic life on the site.  The Saxon monastery founded in 1018 had fallen into decline by 1136 when King Stephen granted the site to the Savigniac order from his Norman abbey of Savigny. In 1147 the Savigniacs merged with the Cistercians and Buckfast was a house of the white monks until dissolution in 1539.  Over the next three centuries the abbey church disappeared above ground level and part of the cloisters and other buildings were incorporated into a mansion.  In 1882 Buckfast entered the fourth phase of its monastic history when the mansion was bought by a group of French Benedictines. They excavated the remains of the abbey church and began plans for a rebuild, with construction eventually starting in 1907.  Over the next 30 years a small number of lay brothers built with their own hands a new abbey church in a mainly Romanesque style.  In 1966 the Blessed Sacrament Chapel was built at the east end. The whole of the east wall is made of stained glass bricks, manufactured on site by one of the monks. They depict the figure of Christ holding aloft a golden chalice.  The best time to see it is early on a summer morning, with the rising sun shining through the colours.  Whatever your thoughts and beliefs, it is impossible not to be moved.


The Brexit Lexicon

December 7, 2017

Politics has always added new words and acronyms to the English language, many of them pinched from other languages.  Dictator, boycott, left-wing, fascist, federalist, quisling, quango, think-tank, commentariat, chav, cabal and Watergate are all examples of words that crop up in books or in the news. Britain’s referendum on the European Union in June 2016 has spawned a new set of words and sayings that weren’t previously in use at all or are old words given new meanings.  In the last 18 months the word Brexit has become the most used political word in Britain and probably across the European Union itself.  Here’s my lexicon of Brexit, to which I’m sure there will be new additions in the months ahead. Maybe I could create one here – a Brexicon, which in fact could have a double meaning!

Brexit – derived from Grexit, coined to describe the risk of Greece crashing out of the Euro currency during the financial crisis from 2009 onwards.  Greece is still in the Euro and new countries have joined it since the word was first used.

Brexit means Brexit – first used by Theresa May in the aftermath of the referendum and David Cameron’s resignation, as she campaigned to replace him.  Now fading from use and the rider of “and we are going to make a success of it” was ditched after the 2017 general election setback for Mrs May.

DExEU – the Department for Exiting the EU, set up by May, who appointed David Davis as its Secretary of State.  He has since lost a couple of ministers, his special adviser and top civil servant.  The department is supposed to be preparing all the paperwork and analyses for Brexit – see also Impact Assessments.

Brexiteers – the cheery, heroic, buccaneering name Brexit campaigners give themselves.  Rude opponents say Brexshitters.  A more polite word would be Brexiter.

Global Britain – the bright new future Brexiters claim lies ahead for Britain, free of the EU and able to make its own trading agreements.  Deals that will be made from the much weaker position of being outside the world’s largest trade bloc.

Jam – an example given of the export opportunities that will be open to Britain outside the EU.  Sadly, it will take a lot of jars of marmalade and lemon curd to make up for lost jobs in the automotive and aviation industries.

Remoaner – name given by Brexiters to Remain supporters who continue to point out the flaws in the arguments put forward by Leave supporters. Also known as Remainiacs.

Regrexit – the name given by Remoaners to Leave voters who now regret their vote, who are having a feeling of Bregret. Perhaps a better one would be Brexitears, which could also be the general feeling of sorrow felt by all Remain supporters.

Snowflake – a word that has blown across the Atlantic, used by right wing politicians and commentators to describe over-sensitive liberals who disagree with them. But I don’t think the hot blast of their rhetoric causes liberal arguments to melt away.

Take Back Control – one of the killer phrases deployed by Vote Leave speakers during the referendum.  Gave the (false) impression that Britain was under the heel of Brussels and couldn’t do anything to stop hordes of Johnny Foreigner from coming here to live, steal our jobs and live off benefits while being health tourists.

Make our own laws – a variant of take back control, giving impression that a majority of British laws were made by the EU, which should have come as a surprise to Leave supporting MPs who must have been wondering what all those House of Commons votes were all about.  Also duped people into thinking Britain had no say in the small number of laws that were actually made in Brussels.

Single Market – a concept barely spoken of outside the Westminster Bubble pre referendum and still hardly understood or deliberately misrepresented (straight bananas, an invention of Boris Johnson) by most commentators.  Put simply, it’s the rules of the market, from component sizes to label descriptions of thousands of products.  The same sort of things you’ll find in any street market licence or for that matter in Magna Carta, so beloved of Brexiters who’ve never read it.

Four Pillars – the fundamental pillars of the Single Market are the four freedoms of movement for goods, services, capital and people. The free movement of people is anathema to Brexiters.

Customs Union – like Single Market, hardly heard of until the last year.  Goods move inside the Customs Union without any import taxes (tariffs) whereas goods from outside, say from the USA, China and Japan have import duties slapped on them.

Norway Model – much talked about in the referendum, when Leave supporters pointed to Norway, a prosperous country that is in the Single Market but not in the EU.  Now denied by Brexiters, who want to leave the Single Market as part of the Brexit means Brexit mantra.

Experts – a much derided group of people who gave warnings (dismissed as scaremongering) about the risks of Brexit.  Michael Gove, a minister once in charge of England’s schools, who fancies himself as an intellectual, famously said that the nation was tired of experts.

Tricky economicy words – used by Gove to describe difficulties put forward by ministers (or experts) trying to navigate the Brexit negotiations.  Seen by some as a pitch for the job of Chancellor, held by Phillip Hammond, a Remoaner.

Liberal Elite – experts and any well-educated people who disagree with Brexiters.  Mainly found in expensive houses in north London, Bristol and other university cities.

The Will of the People – cited by dictators through the ages to use the force of numbers to cow any of the elite who were not on their side. Used by Brexiters to imply that the 52%:48% win for Leave in the referendum was a crushing victory that should silence dissent forever.

Enemy of the People – another phrase beloved by dictators but used in November 2016 by the Daily Mail to describe British judges who ruled that Parliament should vote on the triggering of the Brexit negotiations. Similarly, campaigners against Brexit have been labelled traitors and saboteurs.

Soft Brexit – leaving the EU but staying in the Single Market and Customs Union.  Killed off by Theresa May in her Lancaster House speech when she confirmed her government would take Britain out of all vestiges of EU membership.  This position was formerly dubbed Hard Brexit.

Red, white and blue Brexit – used by the Conservative party to imply Brexit is patriotic. Not heard much these days.

Jobs first Brexit – an oxymoron used by the Labour party to pretend the position of their leadership is different to Theresa May.

Exit from Brexit – a campaign slogan of the Liberal Democrats, who want the public to have a referendum on the Brexit deal, a “first referendum on the facts”, definitely not a “second” referendum…

Ulster says NO! A favourite phrase of Democratic Unionist Party founder Ian Paisley.  Since June 2017 Theresa May has headed a minority government, propped up by the DUP.  The DUP are little different to UKIP (who’ve had new three leaders since the referendum) in terms of their hatred of the EU but inconveniently for them Northern Ireland voted Remain.

The Irish Border Question – last a serious issue in British politics in 1921, when Northern Ireland was created but with a common travel areas across all Irish and British islands.  This arrangement remained unaffected when the UK and the Republic of Ireland joined the EU together in 1973.  If Brexit happens, with Britain outside the Single Market and Customs Union, then the Irish Border will be the modern equivalent of the Schleswig Holstein Question, the intractable diplomatic problem of the 19th century.

Regulatory Divergence – the drifting apart of UK and EU trade laws and regulations.  The DUP oppose any special arrangement for keeping Northern Ireland close to EU rules as a solution to the Irish Border question.

Regulatory Alignment – a possible solution to the Irish border, if the UK agrees to hug close to current and future EU single market and customs union rules.  This would be similar to Switzerland, where they practice Autonomer Nachvollzug, the automatic translation of EU law into Swiss domestic law while pretending to be independent of the EU.  It certainly can’t translate as taking back control and would infuriate Brexiters.

Brexodus – in previous times of high taxes known as a brain drain.  Now it’s not higher taxes but reduced opportunities that are likely to lead to a talent flight to the EU.  The country is obviously going to lose EU regulatory authorities (eg in banking and pharmaceuticals) but professional advisers based in London are also setting up offices in other EU financial centres.  Also used to describe the denuding of the NHS, universities and hi-tec industries of the EU citizens who used their freedom of movement to work in the UK.

Brextino – someone who is officially a Brexit supporter but is trying to minimise the damage.  Describes most of May’s cabinet.  A variant of the US term Rino – used by the right wing Tea Party to describe moderates who are Republican in name only.

Twitter bots – thousands of Twitter accounts that were not operated by thousands of individuals.  Allegedly used by Leave campaigners and possibly by dark forces from Russia to move opinion.  Russian money is also believed to have financed pro Leave adverts on other social media platforms.

Impact Assessments – common practice for any legal change by government, I signed off several when a minister.  David Davis told Parliament a year ago that DExEU was working on 57 of them, with a high degree of detail.  He said a month ago MPs couldn’t see them as they would undermine negotiations.  Now he says they don’t exist and if they did their value would be “near zero”.  Brexit is therefore officially a leap in the dark. Davis has faced calls for his resignation for misleading Parliament, a Dexit for Davis?

Trade Deals – arrangements between countries to reduce taxes and harmonise rules so as to increase trade.  Since 1973 the EU has negotiated these on behalf of Britain. Member states cannot negotiate their own separate deals.  When we leave the EU we will have no trade agreements in place and will have to renegotiate all the agreements currently held as an EU member.  This is in addition to a new agreement we will need with the EU itself and any deals that the EU has not yet agreed, for instance with China or the USA. Leaving the EU without a trade deal with it would be falling over the cliff edge.

WTO rules – the default rules of the World Trade Organisation, used in the absence of negotiated deals.  If Britain crashes out of the EU on Brexit Day without at least a deal with the EU itself, then we will be reliant on WTO rules for all of our international trade until new deals are signed.  This will mean tariffs and so higher prices on all goods.

Brexit Day – 29th March 2019, the second anniversary of the start of the negotiations, the backstop date set in Article 50 of the Treaty of Lisbon.  I suspect various new words will be invented for this day.  No doubt Brexiters will refer to it as Independence Day.  As a Remoaner, I suggest Brexageddon, as it will be the end of a pointless conflict, leading to the end of the world as we know it.

Have the German FDP been smarter than the Liberal Democrats?

November 29, 2017

When I heard that the Free Democrats had pulled out of coalition talks with Angela Merkel my mind went back to events in Britain in 2010. What if the Liberal Democrats had decided not to enter into coalition with either David Cameron? Was a coalition with Labour ever a serious runner? Would the electoral carnage of 2015 been avoided if the party had stayed in opposition? As a casualty of that election, it’s a very personal conundrum, as well as an intriguing counter-factual.

I’ve kept a diary for most of the last 40 years and during the coalition negotiations in the second week of May 2010 I kept detailed contemporaneous notes. Now re-reading them for the first time in seven years the first memory that is jogged is just how tired, pressurised and rushed we felt. In the election on Thursday 6th May I’d won a stunning victory, with a 11,366 majority over Labour, despite a massive boundary change that favoured them. My result had been announced just before dawn on Friday. On Saturday I’d gone up to London on an early morning train, having barely slept since Tuesday. The Liberal Democrat shadow cabinet (I was the shadow BIS Secretary, covering higher education among other things…) met at 10.30am at Local Government House in Smith Square.

Nick Clegg told us that he’d had spoken with David Cameron and had “listened” to Gordon Brown on the Friday. He felt we had at most 3 days to put together a deal. After that we would probably lose public goodwill. At that stage he felt the problem with the Tories would be policy substance. The problem with Labour was the Commons numbers. I spoke in favour of making all effort to reach a deal with Labour, as long as Gordon Brown departed and we got agreement on electoral reform. Nick summed up by saying that if talks failed then there would be a short period of Tory government and then an early election.

There lies the biggest difference between the German and British situations. The German election was on 24th September. The FDP leader Christian Lindner pulled out of preliminary coalition talks on 19th November. He had the benefit of a rested and clear mind to consider the benefits to his party and his country of almost two months of discussions about the mere possibility of a coalition with the Christian Democrats and the Green Party. The German constitution (written largely by the British in 1949) allowed plenty of time and the German media and public were used to long coalition negotiations. The shock in Germany is that this is the first time that negotiations have been de-railed. In Britain in 2010 there was no constitutional breathing space and a “hung” parliament was a rarity. The media were demanding a swift conclusion.

The German President, rather like the Queen, has a largely ceremonial role. But he has a key role enshrined in the constitution to facilitate the formation of a stable government. Frank-Walter Steinmeier is now urging the SPD to reconsider their opposition to continuing a grand coalition with the CDU/CSU. He could insist on negotiations taking place for another couple of months at least before contemplating a dissolution of the Bundestag. The Queen has no such powers. We knew that it was Gordon Brown who would control the timetable. He could resign at any time and at that point the Queen would have to invite Cameron to form a government. Our negotiation leverage was effectively in the hands of one of our negotiation partners.

The second difference between Britain in 2010 and Germany in 2017 is the parliamentary numbers. Inside my diary is my candidate’s ticket from the Bristol West election count. I had taken it out of my pocket on the train to London and scribbled out some numbers on the back. Taking account of the non-voting Speaker, his deputies and the Sinn Fein MPs meant that for a bare majority a coalition would need the backing of 322 MPs. Assuming that the then small number of SNP MPs would be too tricky to be reliable we could possibly scrape a majority with almost everyone else, other than the DUP. I made a column of Labour, Liberal Democrats, Plaid Cymru, SDLP and NI Alliance: 258+57+3+3+1= 322. Throw in the Ulster independent Lady Sylvia Herman but take away two Labour MPs who would need to be Deputy Speakers and we were short by one.

Such a government would have teetered on the edge of disaster every day, soldiering on in the hope that the mutinous ways of numerous left wing Labour MPs would be curtailed. I doubt if the likes of Jeremy Corbyn and Diane Abbott would have been more loyal to a multi-party coalition than they had been to the single party Labour governments of Blair and Brown. The British “rainbow coalition” was much more elusive than Germany’s “Jamaica” of the CDU, FDP and Green Party, which could command a comfortable majority in the 2017 Bundestag.

But over the next three days in Westminster in May 2010 it wasn’t just the numbers that pushed the outcome towards what to me had been the unthinkable and unpalatable outcome of a Conservative-Lib Dem coalition. It was the policies that could be agreed and the attitude of the two larger parties. At the first of two full meetings of the Lib Dem Parliamentary party (“PPM”) on the Monday Nick Clegg told us that the Tories had proposed a full blown coalition, agreeing to many of our top policy demands on taxes, schools and the green economy. On constitutional reform they agreed to a fixed term parliament, a 95% elected House of Lords and a free vote on a referendum on PR, with the Tory leadership promising to vote for the legislation.

Later in the afternoon there was a dramatic shift in the dynamics as the news broke that Gordon Brown had undertaken to step aside as Prime Minister at some point later in the year, if a coalition of the progressive parties could be put together. I wrote in my diary that I had jumped around my office with joy. I clung to the hope that a coalition with the Tories could be avoided.

The second PPM of the Monday started at 10.40pm, again in the Grand Committee Room off Westminster Hall. It became clear that any hopes of a deal with Labour were fast fading away. Nick had spoken to both Cameron and Brown about PR. The most they were both prepared to offer was legislation on a referendum for AV. But Brown’s negotiation team was being much more difficult. While the peers, Peter Mandelson and Andrew Adonis, were being constructive, the MPs – Harriet Harman, Ed Balls and Ed Miliband were being obstructive on policy. Our top demand for a rise in the income tax threshold was not possible, nuclear power had to be expanded and renewables couldn’t grow, the Heathrow 3rd runway had to go ahead, ID cards had to stay, no enthusiasm for political reform and on tuition fees they were not prepared to agree a cap. On AV, Brown’s offer was undermined by Balls admitting that there was no way they would get it past the PLP. One of our negotiation team, David Laws, added that the overall attitude towards us was “sneering”.

I spoke at a quarter past midnight, saying that despite the Tories being more amenable on policy, they were still our long standing enemy. They had opposed most advances for ordinary people. I reminded colleagues that during the election Chris Grayling had defended the right of hotel owners to refuse a double bed to gay people like me. We should go back to Labour, so I would be able to look my constituents and a lot of my personal friends in the face and tell them that we had tried as hard as we could to reach a progressive party deal.

Tuesday 11th May (election plus 5 days) was a frustrating day of waiting to be summoned to another PPM for an update on the negotiations. It had been agreed that we would meet at LGA House. My flat was just round the corner so in the early evening a few colleagues joined me there to wait and watch the rolling BBC news coverage. Ed Davey fell asleep on the floor. Jo Swinson, Lynne Featherstone and Sarah Teather complained that I didn’t keep any alcohol in the flat. So we decided to go downstairs to Pizza Express Millbank and as we left the BBC reported that Brown had resigned as Prime Minister and Cameron was on his way to Buckingham Palace. I texted Chris Huhne (one of our four negotiators) to ask what the hell was going on? He replied “relax, it’s fine” and I tried to enjoy my pizza.

We gathered in LGA House at 9.30pm and did not emerge till about 1am. Nick reported that Labour were “in a muddle” and while Gordon Brown was keen to do a deal his team were not. There had been no further negotiations with Labour after the morning but significant progress had been made with the Tories. A document was circulated titled “Conservative Liberal Democrat coalition negotiations Agreements reached 11 May 2010. Over six and a half pages of A4 I could read what looked remarkably close to a summary of the Lib Dem manifesto on many issues. Nick described it as “an astonishing opportunity for us” and recommended acceptance. Fifty MPs, myself included, voted in favour and none voted against. All the Peers present and all bar one of the party’s federal executive members voted in favour too. To some extent our votes were just a formality as Cameron was already in Number Ten and Nick was lined up as his deputy.

At the time I was pleasantly surprised by the policy outcome but still uncomfortable with the politics. But I thought if the deal was actually implemented then enough voters, perhaps a different mix to our previous supporters, would back us in the general election that we now knew was five long years away, thanks to the agreement for fixed parliamentary terms legislation. In any event, we had done the only deal that was possible, given the attitude of Labour and the undesirability of a Tory minority government and another election in the autumn of 2010.

The policies in that agreement were largely implemented but the Liberal Democrats suffered electoral near annihilation in 2015. Two years earlier we had felt the pain of our German sister party as the FDP crashed out of the Bundestag altogether, falling just below the 5% threshold needed for MPs. Ironically, their PR system had always given them greater representation than us, despite being far less popular. They had gone from 93 MPs to zero. In 2010 we had won 23% of the vote but had just 57 MPs, under 9% of the membership of the House of Commons. A German voting system would have given us 150 MPs and the Tories about 230. It would have given quite a different impression of the government to the Tory dominated vision that the public saw for five years.

In the end, it wasn’t the policies that undid the Liberal Democrats. It was our inability to make it clear just how much we had achieved or indeed how much we had blocked…such as a referendum on EU membership. The coalition negotiations had concentrated on the policy deal, which was the right thing to do in the 3 active days of discussion. But little or no thought was given to how the government would operate in terms of the distribution of ministers, advisers and other support. I will write about this in another blog.

Looking back, the Liberal Democrats got a great policy deal in 2010 but were unable to convince the public that we played a positive role in government. It looked, unfairly, that we had been bit part players in a Tory government. By the end of the 2010 Parliament we felt that we knew how to operate as a junior coalition partner and would strike a harder implementation bargain in any negotiations in 2015. Against almost everyone’s expectations, the chance never arose. The FDP have got their second chance and are safeguarding their position. As Christian Linder has said, for them “it is better not to govern at all than to govern wrongly.”

The Liberal Democrats did well to achieve a credible policy deal in 2010. But over the next five years they were out manoeuvred by their much larger coalition partners (and their friends in the media) and denounced by Labour, the party that had ran away from government. William Hague is reputed to have boasted in 2010 that the coalition deal would “kill the Liberal Democrats”. His view was similar to a former Lib Dem leader. At the end of the first full meeting of our parliamentary party on the Saturday after the election Charles Kennedy had said “the Tories will play with us like a cat plays with a mouse before killing it.” In 2015 Britain’s liberal mouse was left twitching. In 2017 British politics is hard to predict from this side of our departure from the European Union. It remains to be seen whether the mouse will get the chance to roar again.

My best castles of Britain and Ireland

October 31, 2017

I’ve been visiting castles for as long as I can remember. Growing up in Wales, there were plenty on my doorstep or to visit on holidays. Wales must have one of the highest concentrations of castles in Europe. I’ve visited all of them and over the years I’ve also visited most of the major castles across the British Isles.

Visiting castles deepens your understanding of how a disparate series of kingdoms and lordships gradually merged together to form a nation state that would be a European and eventually world power. They are also a great way to view our coast and countryside and for a vantage point over towns and cities.

The child in me still loves skipping down a spiral staircase, walking along battlements, sitting on top of a tower and peering through arrowslits. What follows is a personal list of what I think are the best castles to visit across Britain and Ireland. What are yours?

1 Best overall experience

As much as it pains me to say so, my choice of best castle for the overall visitor experience goes to an England one, Dover. The castle does have everything, across the ages. It has a dramatic cliff top setting, giving views across the Channel. It has buildings from Roman times to the nuclear age. A visit gives an insight into our island’s history as it succumbed or saw off invasions from 2000 years ago to the 1940s. Anyone who has enjoyed this year’s cinematic depiction of Dunkirk should visit Dover to see the recreated rooms where Operation Dynamo was planned in 1940. You need to spend at least half a day taking in the Roman lighthouse, Saxon church, Norman keep and 19th and 20th century military buildings. English Heritage have done a superb job of recreating a medieval interior inside the keep. The rooms are furnished and decorated with wall paintings and tapestries as they may have looked during the reign of Henry II. I wish EH, Cadw and the other custodians of our built heritage would do this more often. There is a place for the picturesque ruin but some of the more complete sites could be brought to life, rather than being a series of empty rooms with just pigeons and weeds being the only life on show.

Runners up are Warwick and Mont Orgueil. Warwick is a complete example of a great medieval fortress, with plenty of towers and wall walks. The halls have suits of armour, swords and shields and the rooms are not only furnished from different periods but as the castle is now owned by Madame Tussauds, there are mannequins in costume to bring the castle to life. Mont Orgueil overlooks the town of Gorey, on the east coast of Jersey. The castle is pleasing enough, with plenty of dark passageways and stairwells. But the Jersey Heritage Trust have installed a series of modern sculptures and artworks across the site, giving plenty of photo opportunities. There’s a an amazing hologram of the Queen, called Equanimity, marking 800 years of links to the crown via the Duchy of Normandy.

2 Best castle and town combination

The easy winner here is Conwy in North Wales. The huge fortress is dramatic enough, one of Edward I’s castles built to overawe the Welsh. Edward also constructed new towns, colonial plantations with English residents. To protect them from the Welsh the new towns were walled. Conwy is far and away the best preserved medieval town in Britain. You can walk almost the entire circuit of the walls, with views over the town, coast, railway and of course the castle itself. Within the walls is Plas Mawr, one of Britain’s best preserved Tudor town houses. The castle itself stands to its original height but is largely roofless and could do with some Dover like reinterpretation. The whole ensemble is a World Heritage Site, up there with the Colosseum and the Pyramids!

Runners up are Lincoln and Rochester. At Lincoln the castle and cathedral square off against each other, on a plateau above the town. Inside the castle there are displays on Magna Carta (Lincoln has one of the original copies) and Victorian prisons, the function that preserved many county town castles. Rochester is another splendid castle and cathedral combination. The castle has one of the best Norman “square” keeps. Honourable mentions should go to Richmond (Yorkshire) and Totnes, where a visit to the castle tops off a wander round an interesting town.

3 Best coastal site

Many of my childhood holidays were to Butlins at Pwllheli. Day trips from there introduced me to the great castles of Gwynedd. The nearest is Cricieth. Originally a castle of the Welsh princes, it was strengthened by Edward I after the conquest. It’s a small site but sits on top of a tump overlooking the town and the coast. On a clear day you can see across to Harlech, one of the best concentric castles, with a double circuit of walls. You can catch a train between the two towns.

While Cricieth is in easy reach of road and rail, you have to walk over a mile from the car park to Dunstanburgh Castle on the Northumbrian coast. The gatehouse and other towers stand to about half their original height but enough is left to give an impression of how it once looked. A visit to Dunstanburgh is more about the setting than the site. Orford in Suffolk has an unusually shaped keep, cylindrical at the core but with squared off projections. The view from the top is across Orford Ness, a nature reserve with some puzzling concrete screen structures. During the Second World War they picked up the sound of approaching German planes. My favourite seaside clifftop ruined castle is Scarborough and in Northern Ireland the castle at Dunluce backs right onto the cliff edge, looking as though it could fall in to the sea at any moment.

4 Royal connections

The obvious winner is Windsor. The whole site, including the spectacular St George’s Chapel, is the largest British castle and the one with the longest continued habitation. As a castle I don’t find it that pleasing. There is a keep on top of a motte but like everything else at Windsor it has been much embellished. The interior is utterly dull but the tiring walk to the top gives a good view over the whole site. The poor guide has a hard job telling everyone to avert their gaze (and their smart phone cameras) from the view over to the Queen’s private apartments. The real point of a visit to Windsor is to see the world class collection of art in the state apartments.

Medieval monarchs and their courts travelled all over their kingdom so their heirs were often conceived and born outside London. Edward I’s heir was born at his new spectacular fortress town of Caernarfon. In 1301 Edward junior was proclaimed as the first English Prince of Wales. Caernarfon, like nearby Conwy, is one of Europe’s best preserved castles and town walls. Unlike Conwy, for some reason that I’ve never understood, you aren’t allowed to walk the circuit of walls. But the castle is of a unique design, modelled it is though on the Roman walls at Constantinople.

To some extent we Welsh got our revenge in 1485 when Henry Tudor invaded from France and took the crown from Richard III at Bosworth. Henry’s paternal line was Welsh and he was born at Pembroke Castle. The castle is well preserved, with the country’s best example of a Norman round keep. After climbing through several storeys of the collapsed interior I felt slightly uneasy sitting on top of the stone dome that caps the tower.
The best castles for the royal rulers of independent Wales and Scotland are the remote and largely ruined Dolwyddelan in Snowdonia and Stirling, much more interesting than Edinburgh!

5 Best mock, modern and folly

Medieval castles were built by the king and his magnates. From the 15th century the wealthy preferred to vacate their draughty castles for manor houses and no new castles (excluding artillery forts and barracks called castles) were built. Until that is the 19th and 20th centuries when the rich rediscovered an interest in castles and other medieval ruins. They sponsored artists and poets to paint and write about the castles on their estates. The really rich went one step further and commissioned architects to build them new baronial piles, complete with the amenities of the age such as bathrooms (in contrast to medieval garderobes, toilet shafts down the outside walls with your bodily functions plopping into the moat) and electricity.
My favourite has to be what I regard as my “home” castle, Castell Coch, on the north side of Cardiff. The outside is South Wales’s fairy tale image of a castle, complete with conical roofs. It has been a familiar site all my life, on trips from Abercynon to Cardiff, poking above the trees and seen from both the road and railway line. While the outside is a passable attempt at a medieval castle, the interiors are a riot of the imagination. The banqueting hall, drawing room and bedrooms are a mock gothic extravaganza, the creation of architect William Burgess and his patron, the 3rd Marquess of Bute. Bute was the wealthiest man in the country, based on his land holdings in the south Wales coalfield and the port of Cardiff. Fortunately for us, he was a keen medievalist and splurged a considerable proportion of his wealth on building or restoring castles. The walls and ceilings of Castell Coch (“Red Castle”) are decorated with pictures of animals and mythical creatures, including scenes from Aesop’s Fables. The structure was completed in 1879 so when I first visited as a child it was less than a century old. I never tire of visiting, both on my own and with successive friends (and quite a few poor parliamentary staff) from Bristol. I must have been at least 40 times and it’s a must for anyone touring South Wales or living just over the border.

The wealth from coal and port dues built Castell Coch and it was slate that built North Wales’s mock Norman Penrhyn Castle, just outside Bangor. The immensely wealthy Pennant family (who also had slaves on West Indies plantations) commissioned Thomas Hopper to build a Norman keep with attached mansion in 1820. The keep looks much like Rochester would have appeared. But the interior is a Victorian mansion, complete with a bed made of slate. Wealth from the ‘Home and Colonial’ stores enabled Julius Drewe to commission Edwin Lutyens to build for him a modern castle on the edge of Dartmoor. Castle Drogo is an amazing place, with the facades part castle and part 1920s municipal building. The interior rooms are of the inter war years, connected by soaring stone passageways and stairwells. Building had started just before the First World War. The Drewe’s eldest son Adrian was killed at Ypres in 1917 and a room at the castle has a moving display dedicated to his memory.

I have not yet visited Eilean Donan Castle, on an island guarding sea lochs opposite the Isle of Skye. But it must be among the most familiar of castle images, on the cover of many of my books about castles. Like Castell Coch, it is a recreation on the site of an actual medieval castle. Completed in 1932 it has featured in the Bond film Goldeneye and its image adorns many a Scottish shortbread tin.

American money also took an interest in Britain’s built heritage. Panelling was stripped from walls, joining artworks to be shipped across the Atlantic. Fortunately newspaper magnate Randolph Hearst (Citizen Kane in the Orson Welles film) wanted an authentic site, instructing his agent to find him a castle in England. But it was St Donat’s on the Glamorgan coast that he bought by telegram for £130,000 in 1925. Over the next five years Hearst’s agents bought up parts of medieval buildings from all over the country and, to the outrage of conservationists at the time, knocked about both them and the fabric of St Donat’s to create a fortress (with 32 modern ensuite rooms) where Hearst could entertain the rich and famous of the 1930s when he was in Europe. Visitors included Lloyd George, Churchill, Charlie Chaplin, Errol Flynn, Cardiff born song writer Ivor Novello and the future President Kennedy. It’s now home to the Atlantic College but can be visited.

6 Capital Castles

It’s hard not to give first place to the Tower of London. The Norman keep, the White Tower, was built by William the Conqueror, the first castle to overawe the defeated English. The exterior is little changed today. The surrounding buildings are of limited interest but it’s the famous associations that make the site a must visit. It’s the home of the Crown Jewels, guarded by the Yeoman of the Guard (or Beefeaters) in their red Tudor uniforms. Several kings and queens, rivals and traitors have been imprisoned within the walls, arriving by Thames barge at Traitor’s Gate.

Among the other castles in our island capitals, the next most interesting is Cardiff. Like Dover, Cardiff has something from every period. The square site in the city centre is founded on the walls of a Roman fort. Within the walls in one corner the Normans erected an earth motte and put on top the best shell keep in the country. By Tudor times a mansion had been constructed alongside the curtain walls of the castle. In the 19th century the Marquess of Bute remodelled the interiors and built a clock tower. This was his first collaboration with Burgess, before he turned his attention to Castell Coch. No expense was spared, allowing Burgess’s imagination to run riot with wood carvings, wall murals and gilded details. In the twentieth century the Marquess’s son rebuilt to their full height the Roman walls, with a reconstructed gatehouse onto Bute Park.

Scotland’s capital castle is special solely for its setting on top of crag. The famous silhouette from below is largely a Victorian barracks. But if you’re in Edinburgh, how could you not visit? I’ve done so three times, despite not liking it very much! Very little is left of medieval Dublin Castle, with most of the walls and towers being demolished in the early 18th century to make way for new buildings forming the core of the government of Ireland by the English Lord Lieutenant. The castle became a hated symbol of English rule. The state apartments, with their Georgian interiors, are worth a visit.

Our smaller self-governing islands have some interesting castles. Castletown used to be the capital of the Isle of Man and Castle Rushen is one of my favourites anywhere in the British and Irish Isles. It was originally the seat of the Norse kings of Man until over lordship passed briefly to the Scots and then the English crown. The castle is almost perfectly preserved and is great fun to wander around. Jersey’s capital of St Helier is guarded by Elizabeth Castle, more of an offshore fort than a castle. It’s possible to walk across to the castle at low tide but it’s much more fun to arrive at high tide on a boat, on one of my visits by Second World War DUKW “duck” wheeled boat. I’ve not been to Guernsey but Castle Cornet is definitely high on my list of significant castles to visit.

7 Continuously occupied

Many castles have been continuously occupied either by successive noble families or by the state. But lots of them have been adapted and rebuilt so much that they no longer resemble much of a classic castle appearance. But there are several exceptions. The first castle I visited outside Wales was Berkeley. It was a coach trip combined with Slimbridge Wildfowl Centre. I’ve never returned to see the birds but have been back to the castle many times. Berkeley, through various genealogical twists and turns is still in the hands of the eponymous family who built it in Norman times. The shell keep was “slighted” after the civil war and fortunately the gap in the defences was enough for Cromwell to allow the rest of the castle to remain. If only the same had been true of Raglan, the greatest of losses to Cromwell’s desire to deny any future rebels a secure base. The interiors are modest compared to most occupied castles and many of the features, like St Donat’s, are a hotch potch of architectural salvage from all over England, Wales and France in the early 20th century refurbishment. Berkeley has given its name to a multi-cusped arch (best seen at St Mary Redcliffe church in Bristol) and a US university, spelt correctly but pronounced burke as opposed to clerk. The family provided generations of Gloucestershire MPs, including Freddie Berkeley, Bristol’s longest serving MP from 1835 to 1870. The castle is probably most famous for being the scene of the murder of Edward II in 1327, though the red hot poker story is unproven.

Alnwick in Northumberland has been the home of the Percy family for 700 years. They were the leading noble family of the north of England and Alnwick is a sort of Windsor for the north. It looks much more like a castle than Windsor from the outside but like Windsor has interiors housing a spectacular art collection. The present Duchess of Northumberland has overseen the creation of some spectacular gardens. Horticulture is one of the main reasons to visit Powis Castle, in Montgomeryshire. Four grand terraces hang from the castle, leading you down to the Severn valley. The castle has been the home of the Herbert and Clive families since 1587 and is still occupied by them today though the castle is in the care of the National Trust. The building exterior is very clearly a castle, slighted in the best possible way by the walls being punctured by large windows.

8 Remoteness

Most castles dominate major towns and centres of governance, guard the coast or strategic river crossings. But some are far away from any major settlement, sitting in lonely isolation on top of hill or at the head of a valley. I have visited several castles like this and had them all to myself, or to me and my travelling companions. This is occasionally an eerie experience. A long drive along a deserted road leads you to Hermitage, in the Scottish Borders. An ugly, high walled single structure fort, I was visiting in the early evening as the light faded on a dull day. It felt like the perfect place for a murder and the castle indeed has a grisly history. Brough castle in Cumbria is built on a Roman site, on the road to Carlisle. The site is quite ruined but is a pleasing way to end a day in the Lake District. Carreg Cennen sits on top of a crag in Carmarthenshire and can be seen from miles around. It’s a huge site and one has to wonder at the labours involved in carting the stone to the top of the hill. You approach the castle from the farm below, passing sheep giving you a disapproving look. The views across many other hillside sheep farms are spectacular. At the far side of the stone courtyard the curtain wall hugs the edge of a cliff, with a hair raising drop as you peer through a window to admire the view, buffeted by the wind.

9 Spectacular

Second only to Windsor in size, Caerphilly Castle in Glamorgan is Britain’s most spectacular medieval secular monument. It is Britain’s first concentric castle, set in a huge man-made lake rather than surrounded by a moat. It’s all the more extraordinary as it was built not by a king but by a Marcher Lord, Gilbert de Clare. Built in 1267 it predates the great castles of Edward I and was built for defensive purposes, rather than subjugation. It was designed to safeguard the lowlands of Glamorgan (and the route to Ireland) from the independent Welsh kingdoms further north and west. This purpose was soon redundant but the castle had an eventful history under the conqueror’s hapless son. The castle had passed to the Despenser family and in the 1320s Hugh le Despenser the younger was the latest of Edward II’s male favourites. It was to Caerphilly that Edward fled with much of the royal treasury in 1326, chased by his vengeful wife queen Isabella. Despenser was eventually captured and was hung, drawn and quartered at Hereford. Edward was captured near Llantrisant castle and in the following year met his grisly death at Berkeley. Caerphilly became a forgotten ruin, its walls plundered for stone and its lake drained and silted. As with Castell Coch nearby, the marquesses of Bute saw an opportunity for restoration. It was the 4th marquess in the 1920s who actually funded the rebuilding, employing many local men during some hard years for the local coal industry. The great hall was re-roofed, with the beams resting on the walls above the original corbels with carved heads thought to represent Edward and Hugh. The lakes were restored by the state in the 1950s. Cadw continues to enhance the site, with replica medieval siege engines occasionally firing projectiles, safely into the lake. Taking a leaf out of Mont Orgueil they’ve also recently installed sculptures of medieval figures into several of the rooms. I’m not so keen on the dragon that greets you as you leave the ticket office to enter the outer ward but I’m sure children love it.

Caerphilly may have been part inspired by the lake setting of Kenilworth Castle, one of the great fortresses of the Midlands. But Kenilworth has had no Bute like benefactor and you have to combine your imagination with English Heritage reconstruction drawings to see the castle as it may have looked in its heyday. Kenilworth had a longer active life than Caerphilly, with its lake staging a water pageant to entertain Elizabeth. The 19 day pageant laid on by Robert Dudley did not impress the queen sufficiently to succumb to Dudley’s charms. She remained a virgin and he was bankrupted.

Another of England’s great fortresses was fortunate enough to be saved and restored by a wealthy family. Bamburgh stands on a rocky promontory on the Northumberland coast and can be seen for miles around. The exterior looks like a perfectly preserved Norman castle, with curtain walls surrounding a square keep. In the 1890s the Armstrong family used their wealth appropriately sourced from armaments to restore the walls and construct interiors, stuffed with suits of armour as well as family furniture. The family continue their occupation today. The walk along the beach gives one of the best views of any British castle.

10 Finally – castles pleasing for a variety of reasons

There is nothing trim about Trim Castle. It is the largest and most impressive in Ireland and has a full height square keep at its centre. Restormel in Cornwall has one of the best shell keeps atop a motte. Conisbrough in south Yorkshire has a full height round keep buttressed by six three-sided towers. Kidwelly in Carmarthenshire is roofless but otherwise intact and wandering around this unusual D shaped castle is a delight. Caerlaverock in Dumfrieshire is a moated triangle. Chepstow must be mentioned as Britain’s longest surviving castle built from the outset in stone. Perched on a cliff above the Welsh side of the river Wye, the castle could be supplied by boat when under siege. When the Severn Bridge tolls are scrapped in 2018 it will surely see a surge in visitors from Bristol and the rest of England. As former politician it’s possible that my kissing of the stone at Blarney Castle improved my speeches! Finally, though it pains me to exclude so many castles, there is Bodium, a square castle looking like every child’s toy fort, rising straight from a moat.

I hope the above inspires you to visit a nearby castle or to seek one out on your next holiday.

Our weak Prime Minister and her disloyal cabinet

September 30, 2017

Theresa May was a strong Home Secretary but is a very weak Prime Minister. Having presided for six years over a department that has wrecked many careers she looked likely to be a safe pair of hands at Number Ten. She inherited a working (if not comfortable) Commons majority from David Cameron. She faced a Labour leader who lacked the confidence of most of his MPs. This position of parliamentary strength should have enabled her to lead the country through Brexit, the most difficult period since 1945. She threw away both advantages by calling an unnecessary early election. She has lost much of her authority and appears to be sinking. Her cabinet colleagues freelance rather than act together. “Strong and Stable” now looks like an entry in a book of political jokes.

Political mischief is a feature of the party conference season. Throw together a few thousand political activists, a few hundred journalists and add in copious quantities of alcohol and severe sleep deprivation and you get a combustible mix. Malicious gossip, rows and scandals abound. MPs, front benchers (and wannabes for both) have careers to advance, rivals to be undermined or maybe just books to promote. Unhelpful newspaper headlines and social media trends are guaranteed.

A strong party leader can ignore all this froth percolating beneath them. No doubt there were plenty of shenanigans at Bournemouth (I wasn’t there to witness) and Brighton. But the Liberal Democrats were united in welcoming their new leader. They are “strong and Cable” against Brexit. The Labour conference looked like a gathering of a left wing cult, called together to adore Saint Jeremy, who can do no wrong. He may have cost us the Remain majority in the referendum, been just as keen on triggering Article 50 as the Tories and muddle headed in his support of the human rights suppressing and economy wrecking socialist government of Venezuela. But his Momentum cadres stifled any dissenting voices.

Theresa May is unlikely to get a rapturous reception from the Tory faithful gathering in Manchester. Among them will be plenty of ex MPs, defeated candidates and others whose careers and hopes were dashed by her early election. Bad enough but she will be facing thousands of disgruntled activists without the support of her cabinet. Boris Johnson may have been humiliated in the aborted leadership election that saw May elevated without a vote. But Old Etonians aren’t known for abandoning the path to their place at the top. Johnson smells the decay around May and is positioning himself as the Brexit true believer.

The Foreign Secretary is the country’s chief diplomat. Tact is required, providing reassurance to our closest allies. On domestic policy, rather like the chief whip, the Foreign Secretary usually stays mum. Boris Johnson has breached both protocols. He’s cast doubt on the government’s Brexit negotiating stance and has freelanced all over fiscal policy. In order to bolster his own ambitions he’s undermined the national interest. Powerless to sack him, the authority of the Prime Minister is deflated.

Successful governments of the last century have had strong Prime Ministers, from Lloyd George through to Thatcher and Blair. Some have led strong cabinets, such as Attlee or Wilson. Theresa May is a weak Prime Minister presiding over a disunited cabinet. When leading members should be united on Brexit they instead appear to be united only in the intention to promote their self-interest. After just a year a Prime Minister, Theresa May’s authority has evaporated. John Major’s government creaked at the seams over Europe. But Major won an election as was liked and by his colleagues. I can’t recall any former ministerial colleagues describing him as a “dead man walking” or anything similar.

I’ve heard many people say that history will be kind to the Coalition. After just two years, even among the people who disagreed with the policies of that government, it’s clear that the government presided over by Cameron and Clegg was well led. Well led but also bringing back collective cabinet government after 13 years of president Blair and his sulky successor.

Theresa May’s government is rudderless, jettisoning key manifesto pledges and failing to agree a Brexit destination. Collective responsibility has broken down on the biggest national issue. Each member of the Brexit triumvirate appointed by May is pursuing their own agenda. David Davies is not making progress in Brussels, perhaps because of a lack of direction from May. Liam Fox is behaving as if it’s all over already, globetrotting to talk free trade but with no power to act. Always more comfortable with American neo-cons, even he must now be starting to worry about Trump’s “America First.” The slapping of US tariffs on British made Bombardier aircraft shows us what life will be like more often when we are outside the world’s most powerful trade bloc. Johnson is just playing his usual games of self-advancement.

Whatever your view about the pros and cons of Brexit, this is a time when the country needs strong leadership and united government. Instead we have a weak Prime Minister, with a minority government at the mercy of the homophobic, climate change denying, Europhobic DUP. May is in power for as long as her fractious cabinet fail to find a credible alternative. She avoids the total collapse of her Brexit policy partly because the largest opposition party is on virtually the same ground.

The Brexit clock is ticking ever more loudly. Not a single major decision has been negotiated. Mrs May can’t be sure she that will still be there at the end of the timetable. Tories gathering in Manchester will I’m sure be glad to be in power. But they must surely wonder where on earth we are heading as a country and whether the leader they will dutifully grant a standing ovation will still be there for next year’s conference season.

Exit via the gift shop

August 31, 2017

Aside from politics my main long term interests have been art, architecture and history. So since my electoral double whammy in May and June I’ve been on a tour of castles, houses and churches in Wales and England. My staycation has been a mix of therapy and displacement activity. Doing something that I’ve enjoyed since being a child has taken my mind off politics. It’s also postponed my search for a new future. The lack of paying work has necessitated cheap recreation. But I also believe that Britain is jammed with interesting things to see and even after 40 years plus of visits I’m nowhere near ticking everything off my list.

Since I was a child I have enjoyed visiting castles. Coming from Wales, that is hardly surprising. My home nation probably has the highest number of fortifications per head in Europe. Nationalists say they are symbols of English oppression. I think they show that the English (and their many mercenaries) found it hard to suppress Welsh freedom. They now offer visitors to Wales one of the greatest ensembles of medieval monuments in the world. Castell Coch and Caerphilly are the nearest to where I grew up and have visited both of them at least 30 times. I have also visited every other Welsh castle with substantial stone remains (there are many more earthworks) and have done most of the ones in the south and west of England. I’ve done many in Ireland but only a handful in Scotland and the north of England. But I’ve read about all of them and in another blog I’ll say which I think are the ones most worth visiting.

My first cathedral visit was not a Welsh one. It was a primary school trip to Cheddar Caves and Wells Cathedral when I was nine. I was probably the only one in class who was more impressed by the cathedral columns than the stalagmites and stalactites. Since then I’ve ticked off all 48 Anglican cathedrals in England and Wales. When I was Communities Minister in the Coalition inter-faith relations and community cohesion were among my responsibilities. So I was able to visit the remaining cathedrals that were not on the usual tourist circuit such as Blackburn and Wakefield. Indeed my last visit as a minister and my 48th cathedral was to Chelmsford in March 2015.

As well as castles and cathedrals I’ve visited over my lifetime hundreds of parish churches, some while indulging one of my other main hobbies, genealogy. Most of the country’s major art galleries and city museums have been visited too. One of the few things I miss about not having a base in London is the ability to visit some of the world’s greatest museums and temporary “blockbuster” art exhibitions.

Over the years I’ve done my day trips and staycations cheaply by being a member of all the major heritage organisations. I was an early member of Cadw, which gives me free access to all English, Scottish and Manx sites. My graduation present to myself (as well as my Economist subscription) was National Trust membership. Given that I’ve now been a member for 29 years I wish I’ been able to afford life membership at the time. A few years ago I joined the Historic Houses Association, giving free access to the stately homes and manor houses that are still in private ownership. These are actually my favourite properties, retaining their family character and escaping the often sterile hand of National Trust stewardship. I think it would be better if many of the council or local trust owned castles (such as Cardiff, Pembroke and Oystermouth) or houses (such as Bristol’s Red Lodge and Georgian House) joined one of the national schemes. Visitor numbers would surely increase and the guidebooks would improve.

All of these organisations get more than their membership fees out of me as I spend a fortune in gift shops. As a result my house is stuffed with guide books, exhibition catalogues and posters. And of course, most visits are rounded off with cake in the tea room while I flick through the guidebook!

What are your favourite places to visit in Britain? How could we improve our heritage tourism offer?

Liberal Democrats 111 MPs so far but where next?

July 31, 2017

The Liberal Democrats started the 2017 general election campaign with high hopes of winning back many of the seats lost in 2015. Surely 2015 was rock bottom and there would be some new faces? Some people even thought that there might be new MPs in some Remain voting seats that had not previously elected a Lib Dem.

In the end there were just four new faces. Three were in seats lost in 2015, one regained a seat lost in 2010. They were cancelled out by four losses of seats that had been held in 2015, which turned out not to be rock bottom after all. The headline grabbing defeat was in Sheffield Hallam, where Labour succeeded in ousting Nick Clegg. The expected backlash against Brexit didn’t even save the man who appeared to have been rehabilitated as the most articulate speaker for disappointed Remainers. Nick was a fellow member of the “555 Club” of MPs first elected on 5th May 2005. That club came within 777 votes of having no remaining members as even party leader Tim Farron almost lost his seat. The narrow defeat of Mark Williams in Ceredigion leaves the party with no MPs in Wales for the first time in its history. But Scotland was a better story with three seats regained in constituencies where the party was the obvious alternative to the SNP. One of them was Jo Swinson, topping up the 555 Club.

Jo was one of four MPs regaining the seats they had lost in 2015, including the now party leader Vince Cable. Several other former MPs attempting a comeback were defeated by even bigger margins than in 2015, myself included. In any seat where Labour was even just a modest contender, they swept past the Lib Dems. They won seats never held by them before, Portsmouth South joining Sheffield Hallam. They won vote shares of over 60% in many of the “urban intelligentsia” seats won by the Lib Dems in 2005.

On the basis of the 2017 results the party has few decent prospects in any city or Labour facing seat. There are few obvious targets in Conservative seats. But that assumes that the gains in a 2022 general election (if the Tory-DUP deal lasts that long…) depend on past results. The 2015 and 2017 general elections show that extraordinary gains and losses are possible. So far the Lib Dems have experienced only the losses but that could change. By the next election Brexit will have happened (or gone belly up, hopefully) and nobody can predict sensibly how politics will look beyond that event.

The Liberal Democrats will need to stick to their anti-Brexit guns and also find some new eye catching policies. The party will also need some new campaign tactics. A strong ground game and a well known candidate was not enough in 2015 or 2017. People say they like good constituency MPs but now cast their votes more in line with the national picture.

In 2013 I wrote a blog ( ) to mark the Liberal Democrats’ 25th anniversary as a new party. At that time it had elected 106 MPs, in 84 constituencies. The strong ground game and popular incumbent was already failing as a model for success. I’ve now updated the list for the gains and (mainly) losses of the last four years. I hope people find it interesting and will think about where the party will venture to find the next generation of new faces.

Here’s the full One Hundred and Eleven individuals elected as Liberal Democrats, in date order from our first victory:

David Bellotti – Eastbourne by election. Defeated GE 1992.


Mike Carr – Ribble Valley by election. Defeated GE 1992.
Nicol Stephen – Kincardine and Deeside by election. Defeated GE 1992.

1992 General Election

Russell Johnson – Inverness. First elected 1964. Retired GE 1997 and constituency lost.
David Steel – Tweedale, Ettrick & Lauderdale. First elected 1965 by election. Retired GE 1997.
Robert MacLennan – Caithness and Sutherland. First elected 1966 for Labour, then 1983 SDP. Retired GE 2001.
Alan Beith – Berwick Upon Tweed. First elected 1973. Retired 2015 and constituency lost.
David Alton – Liverpool Mossley Hill. First elected 1979 by election. Retired GE 1997 & constituency abolished.
Simon Hughes – Southwark and Bermondsey. First elected 1983 by election. Defeated 2015.
Paddy Ashdown – Yeovil. First elected 1983. Retired GE 2001
Alex Carlile – Montgomery. First elected 1983. Retired GE 1997.
Charles Kennedy – Ross, Cromarty and Skye. First elected for SDP 1983. Defeated 2015.
Archie Kirkwood – Roxburgh and Berwickshire. First elected 1983. Retired GE 2005.
Malcolm Bruce – Gordon First elected 1983. Retired 2015 and constituency lost.
Jim Wallace – Orkney & Shetland – First elected 1983. Retired 2001.
Matthew Taylor – Truro & St Austell (1987 by election – retired GE 2010)
Menzies Campbell – Fife North East. First elected 1987. Retired 2015 and constituency lost.
Ray Michie – Argyll & Bute First elected 1987. Retired 2001.
Don Foster – Bath. Retired 2015 and constituency lost.
Nick Harvey – North Devon. Defeated 2015.
Nigel Jones – Cheltenham. Retired 2005
Liz Lynne – Rochdale. Defeated 1997
Paul Tyler – North Cornwall. Retired 2005 (Also Liberal MP for Bodmin Feb – Oct 1974)


David Rendel – Newbury by election. Defeated 2005
Diana Maddock – Christchurch by election. Defeated 1997

David Chidgey – Eastleigh by election. Retired 2005

Chris Davies – Littleborough & Saddleworth by election. Defeated GE 1997

General Election 1997:

Mike Hancock – Portsmouth South (previously SDP 1984 – 1987) Defeated (as Independent) 2015.
Richard Livsey – Brecon and Radnor (previously Lib 1985 by election – defeated 1992) Retired 2001.
Ronnie Fearn – Southport (previously Lib 1987 – defeated 1992) Retired 2001.
Andrew George – St Ives. Defeated 2015.
Colin Breed – Cornwall South East. Retired 2010 and constituency lost.
John Burnett – Devon West & Torridge. Retired 2005 and constituency lost.
Adrian Sanders – Torbay. Defeated 2015.
Jackie Ballard – Taunton. Defeated 2001.
David Heath – Somerton & Frome. Retired 2015 and constituency lost.
Brian Cotter – Weston Super Mare. Defeated 2005.
Steve Webb – Northavon. Defeated 2015.
Dr Peter Brand – Isle of Wight. Defeated 2001.
Mark Oaten – Winchester. Retired 2010 and constituency lost.
Norman Baker – Lewes. Defeated 2015.
Vince Cable – Twickenham. Defeated 2015. Regained seat in 2017
Dr Jenny Tonge – Richmond Park. Retired 2005
Edward Davey – Kingston & Surbiton. Defeated 2015. Regained seat in 2017
Tom Brake – Carshalton & Wallington
Paul Burstow – Sutton & Cheam. Defeated 2015.
Bob Russell – Colchester. Defeated 2015.
Dr Evan Harris – Oxford West & Abingdon. Defeated 2010
Paul Keetch – Hereford. Retired 2010 and constituency lost.
Andrew Stunell – Hazel Grove. Retired 2015 and constituency lost.
Phil Willis – Harrogate & Knaresborough. Retired 2010 and constituency lost
Richard Allen – Sheffield Hallam. Retired 2005
Donald Gorrie – Edinburgh West. Retired 2001
Sir Robert Smith – West Aberdeenshire. Defeated 2015.
Lembit Opik – Montgomery. Defeated 2010
Michael Moore – Tweedale, Ettrick & Lauderdale (Roxburgh and Berwickshire since 2005) Defeated 2015.


Sandra Gidley – Romsey by election. Defeated GE 2010

2001 General Election

Richard Younger-Ross – Teignbridge. Defeated (at Newton Abbot) 2010
Annette Brooke – Mid Dorset and North Poole. Retired 2015 and constituency lost.
Sue Doughty – Guildford. Defeated 2005
Norman Lamb – North Norfolk
Matthew Green – Ludlow. Defeated 2005
Patsy Calton – Cheadle. Died 2005
Paul Holmes – Chesterfield. Defeated 2010
David Laws – Yeovil. Defeated 2015.
Dr John Pugh – Southport. Retired 2017 and constituency lost.
Roger Williams – Brecon & Radnor. Defeated 2015.
Alistair Carmichael – Orkney & Shetland
John Thurso – Caithness & Sutherland. Defeated 2015.
Alan Reid – Argyll & Bute. Defeated 2015.
John Barrett – Edinburgh West. Retired 2010


Sarah Teather – Brent East by election. Seat abolished GE 2010. Elected Brent Central. Retired 2015 and constituency lost.


Parmjit Singh Gill – Leicester South by election. Defeated GE 2005.

2005 General Election

Lorely Burt – Solihull. Defeated 2015.
Tim Farron – Westmoreland & Lonsdale
Julia Goldsworthy – Falmouth & Camborne. Defeated (at Camborne and Redruth) 2010
Jeremy Browne – Taunton. Retired 2015 and constituency lost.
Stephen Williams – Bristol West. Defeated, 2015.
Lynne Featherstone – Hornsey & Wood Green. Defeated 2015.
John Hemming – Birmingham Yardley. Defeated 2015.
David Howarth – Cambridge. Retired 2010
Greg Mulholland – Leeds North West. Defeated 2017.
John Leech – Manchester Withington. Defeated 2015.
Paul Rowen – Rochdale. Defeated 2010
Jenny Willott – Cardiff Central. Defeated 2015.
Jo Swinson – East Dumbartonshire. Defeated 2015. Regained seat in 2017
Danny Alexander – Inverness, Badenoch & Strathspey. Defeated 2015.
Mark Williams – Ceredigion. Defeated 2017.
Dan Rogerson – Cornwall North. Defeated 2015.
Martin Horwood – Cheltenham. Defeated 2015.
Chris Huhne – Eastleigh. Resigned 2013. Seat held in by election.
Susan Kramer – Richmond Park. Defeated 2010.
Nick Clegg – Sheffield Hallam. Defeated 2017.

Mark Hunter – Cheadle by election. Defeated 2015.


Willie Rennie – Dunfermline & West Fife by election. Defeated GE 2010

2010 General Election

Stephen Gilbert – St Austell & Newquay. Defeated 2015.
Duncan Hames – Chippenham. Defeated 2015.
Tessa Munt – Wells. Defeated 2015.
Stephen Lloyd – Eastbourne. Defeated 2015. Regained seat in 2017
Simon Wright – Norwich South. Defeated 2015.
David Ward – Bradford East. Defeated 2015.
Gordon Birtwhistle – Burnley. Defeated 2015.
Ian Swales – Redcar. Retired 2015 and constituency lost.
Julian Huppert – Cambridge. Defeated 2015.
Mike Crockart – Edinburgh West. Defeated 2015.


Mike Thornton – Eastleigh by election. Defeated GE 2015.

2015 General Election

No new MPs

Sarah Olney – Richmond Park by election. Defeated GE 2017.

2017 General Election

Wera Hobhouse – Bath
Layla Moran – Oxford West and Abingdon
Christine Jardine – Edinburgh West
Jamie Stone – Caithness and Sutherland