Election Fever Part II: Brian Dooley interviews Lord Tordoff
LORD Tordoff sat back in his seat in the tea room at the House of Lords, smiled at the ceiling and said: "Anything can happen at the next election, but the Labour Party cannot form the next government. It's in such a state of decline that it has become the mirror image of the Liberal Party in the 1920s" Although Liberal Chief Whip in the Lords for the past three years, Geoffrey Tordoff is too young to recall the days of Lloyd-George. But the Liberal party has filled much of his 58 years. Before that he had been both President and Chairman of the Party and had served on its Campaigns and Election Committee.
In the coming election, he expects to be working at the Liberal Central Office, helping to run the national campaign.
A native of Manchester, Lord Tordoff contested the local constituencies of Northwich and Knutsford during the 1960s.
He spoke with sadness about the dereliction Manchester has suffered recently. He blames the lack of investment in the area as a major reason for the region's decline, and expressed his worry at the growing gap between rich and poor in the country.
"The price shouldn't be borne by the inner cities and industrial areas", he said. It wasn't strictly a North/South divide, he explained, because some parts of London were also povertystriken, but the problem was terribly serious and, he thought, things were getting worse.
This issue of the gulf between rich and poor was one where the churches should take a greater lead, he said, and he commended the various statements made by Anglican leaders on the plight of the inner cities and mentioned the joint church statement on the predicament of Liverpool City Council as a valuable pointer for those grappling with the issues.
Continuing on this theme of the Church's involvement in politics, he said that in some situations the religious viewpoint can bring a new dimension to the arguments, and
claimed that the problem of homelessness was one such case when, if bishops spoke out, it encouraged others to act, knowing that they have the moral backing of the church behind them.
He denied that there was any "Christian line" within the Lords, though, despite the presence of the Church of England Bishops. (Why doesn't Cardinal Hume have a seat here, or the Chief Rabbi and the other religious leaders? he wondered).
Lord Tordoff converted to Catholicism in 1952 and he recounted how, on at least one occasion, membership of the Church offered a distinct political advantage.
"It was back in 1964", he recalled, "and I'd just fought Northwich for the Liberals. I was approached by a senior Catholic Tory in Manchester who wanted a candidate for a constituency in Preston, which had a high Catholic population. He asked if I was interested. Of course I declined."
By his own account, he was a Liberal long before he was a Catholic, and has always seen a great compatibility between Liberal policy and Church philosophy in the area of industrial relations. He explained that Liberal programmes often seemed to be a translation of Church thinking on issues like workers rights and employee participation in a company.
However, he did not believe that his politics had ever been directly influenced by his Catholicism, but was grateful for hierachical statements on "conscience issues" but which, he said, should not be offered too often as they might lose their prestige.
As a Chief Whip in the Lords — which, incidently, houses twice as many Catholics as the Commons — he is familiar with the wishes of those who would impose a "party line" on an individual, but he claimed to always respect a member's conscience.
He also noted that in some cases, like the capital punishment issue, the individual consciences of those in the Lords are far more liberal than in the Commons.
"Capital punishment is a dead issue now, and it would have had tremendous difficulty in getting through the Lords anyway", he said.
On such issues, he said, people usually have thought out the arguments on their own, but stressed that sometimes a statement from religious leaders was very beneficial.
Lord Tordoff commended the ecumenical flavour of recent church statements, and said that they carried more weight than if those which came from just one section of the religious community.
At the age of 58, he is looking forward to his first Liberal government, a proposition which he thought looked increasingly likely.
"If you compare the 1923 election with the one in 1983, you will find that they are very similar. In '23 the Labour and Liberal Parties crossed over, and the same thing is happening now", he concluded.
Next: Patrick Duffy, Labour MP from Sheffield.