TAVERNE, Dick (b.1928).



8 March 1962 - 15 October 1972
1 March 1973 - 10 October 1974


Dick Taverne was born in Sumatra, on 18 October 1928. He married Janice Hennessey in 1955. He was educated at Charterhouse School and Balliol College, Oxford, called to the Bar in 1954 and became QC in 1965.

Taverne first stood for Labour in Putney in 1959. He was elected in 1962, in a by-election in Lincoln. In Harold Wilson’s government he served in the Home Office and the Treasury. He took a strong pro-European line, and opposing nationalisation and too close a relationship between the party and the Trade Union movement, he left the Labour party and resigned his seat in 1972 after his stance on the European Common Market upset his local party. Becoming an independent Social Democrat, he won the subsequent by-election in 1973 but was defeated in 1974 general election. He subsequently became the first director of the Institute for Fiscal Studies.

Taverne joined the Social Democratic Party (SDP) and stood on behalf of the party twice, but was defeated both times. He later became a member of the Liberal Democrats and in 1996 was made a life peer as Baron Taverne of Pimlico.

Transcript of clip

“Then came the vote over the Common Market. … Wilson by then turned right round and said ‘we oppose entry’, swallowing every word he’d previously uttered in favour of joining. The question was what would the pro-European Labour MPs do? And led by Roy Jenkins we all said ‘No we are not going to change our minds’. And my local party was absolutely clear about it and they said: ‘If you vote for entry against the three line whip we will withdraw support’. So I did. And they did. A big battle ensued, in fact it became a national battle, because there was a Granada World in Action programme which televised a debate in which I confronted the leader of my local party, Leo Beckett, and some of his followers. In which they said ‘Didn’t we support you? Weren’t we on the door step with you?’ and I said ‘Yes you were and of course I take note of your opinions but I am not a puppet. I don’t vote as I am instructed by my party masters and I am going to vote for entry’. It was absolutely riveting. Lots of people said that this was really politics in the raw. They thought I’d gone mad to agree to this confrontation on television but I thought that at some stage I was going to have to fight my local party, I’d made up my mind I was going to stand as an independent, because I couldn’t live with them anymore. Sometimes my followers would just manage to be on top, sometimes the other way, but they were much more persistent. So I knew at some stage I would have to break and I thought I would make the debate public and lay the grounds for my successful challenge of standing as an independent social democrat against the local party, and against the Conservatives as well.”

Summary of interview

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Track 1 [1:24:23] Lord (Dick) Taverne [DT], born in jungle in Sumatra, 1928. Father a Dutch oil man. Family moved to London in 1939 for father to maintain Anglo-Dutch connection.[00:01:08] Got a scholarship to Charterhouse School. Family eventually moved back to London. [00:01:30] Parents conservative. DT had Labour sympathies while at school, one of only three boys he knew to welcome Labour victory in 1945. [00:02:00] No household religion. [00:02:15] DT talks of role school had in encouraging political thought. [00:02:55] Made Head of School. [00:03:04] Went straight to university, Balliol College, Oxford. [00:03:10] Talks of not undertaking National Service. [00:03:33] Joined all the political clubs, including Labour. [00:03:45] Comments on his flirtation with Marxism before becoming a so