Taking it on the chin- An insight into the life of a lord

Correspondent editor Tony Bugby spent two hours with Lord Pendry discussing the memoirs he has written as a record of an illustrious political career as the 84-year-old is still an active member of the House of Lords having been given a life peerage in 2001.

THE boxing analogies are perfect in the title of the memoirs of Lord Pendry, whose political career saw him serve for 31 years as MP for Stalybridge and Hyde.

Lord Pendry

The publication, self-written by Lord Pendry over a two-year period, is entitled ‘Taking it on the chin: memoirs of a parliamentary bruiser’.

It is accompanied by a cover shot of former world heavyweight boxing champion Lennox Lewis playfully landing a punch.

“It was Lennox who told me I had to take it on the chin after I was overlooked as sports minister when Labour came to power in 1997,” he explained.

Tom Pendry, as he was then known, was appointed to the post of Shadow Minister for Sport and Tourism by Labour leader John Smith, a position he held until 1997.

When Labour came to power in 1997, Tom was the only member of the Shadow Cabinet not to be appointed to a Government post.

Lord Moynihan, former chairman of the British Olympic Association, and MP Alan Johnson both describe Lord Pendry as the best sports minister we never had.

And still on the boxing theme, the book title is perfect as apart from being a political heavyweight, Lord Pendry was also a champion pugilist in his younger days.

He had been a promising footballer, playing for Kent schoolboys as well as non-league team Ramsgate Athletic.

When injury ended his playing days at an early age, the void was taken by boxing, which he had done at school and for a local club.

He became an Oxford Blue at boxing before fighting with distinction while serving in the Royal Air Force, becoming the middleweight champion of Hong Kong and claimed the title of Far East champion in Kuala Lumpur.

And it was a lifelong passion for sport that also featured prominently in Lord Pendry’s political life.

As Paul Williamson, director of ticketing for London 2012, explained in the book: “Perhaps Tom’s greatest legacy was managing to include just two key words in the Labour manifesto: Olympic bid.

“The rest in history and the millions who enjoyed London 2012 owe Tom a debt of gratitude.”

Lord Pendry explained: “Manchester made two abortive bids to stage the Olympic Games.

“I knew International Olympic Committee members and was aware their wives wanted the Games in a capital which is why it was always going to be a London bid that would be successful as opposed to Manchester.”

Though he was born in Broadstairs on the same street as former Conservative Prime Minister Ted Heath, Lord Pendry was never going to have a similar political persuasion.

And it was during his time spent in the North East as a war-time evacuee that helped sew his political seeds.

“My mother was a Geordie and as an 11-year-old I would sit at the feet of Durham miners in Blaydon and hear the wicked stories about the Tory Government,” he explained.

He returned to Kent where he illicitly joined the Labour Party aged 15, illegally attending the Labour League of Youth conference in Skegness when he was too young.

Lord Pendry’s mother Elizabeth was an active member of the Labour Party and Independent Labour Party before that.

She introduced her teenage son to legendary MP Bessie Braddock at the Labour Party conference.

Lord Pendry, who began his working life as an apprentice electrical engineer, always had ambitions to serve in trade unions and become an MP.

He was the Derbyshire representative for the National Union of Public Employees when he was selected to contest Stalybridge and Hyde in the 1970 General Election.

It was widely thought John Roper had it “sewn up” to be selected as Labour candidate with Lord Pendry standing just for the experience, though it was he who won over the selection panel to stand as potential successor to MP Fred Blackburn, who was standing down.

Lord Pendry was elected and held two posts in the Governments of Harold Wilson and Jim Callaghan between 1976/79, junior Lord Commissioner of the Treasury (assistant Government whip) and Parliamentary Under-Secretary for Northern Ireland.

Though Lord Pendry was overlooked for a Government post by Prime Minister Tony Blair, he says he never held a grudge.

And Lord Pendry revealed it was he who took Blair on his first-ever visit to the House of Commons before he was elected as an MP.

He explained: “Tony Blair rang me as a young barrister to say I knew his father-in-law Tony Booth who was married to Coronation Street actress Pat Phoenix – they lived in my constituency.

“The first time he entered the House of Commons was as my guest and he peppered me with questions.

“We have always been good friends and I never held it against him when he didn’t make me sports minister.

“He was the most misunderstood politician who will always be remembered for the Iraq war and not all the good he did as he was a first-class Prime Minister.”

Lord Pendry’s memoirs, which he says came about following requests from family and friends to record events in his “enjoyable life”, also contains detailed accounts about the Moors murders and Harold Shipman, Britain’s most prolific serial killer, with both in his constituency.

He came across Shipman long before his notoriety as he took up the constituency case of the local GP who was complaining about cuts in drugs funding.

Lord Pendry has been president of the Football Foundation since 2003 and is still also active in politics as a life peer, maintaining the experience of members of the House of Lords makes for a better standard of debates to the House of Commons.

The memoirs offer a remarkable journey and insight into a political career spanning more than 60 years and a who’s who of personalities from both politics and sport and makes a fascinating read.

• ‘Taking it on the chin’ is printed by Biteback Publishing and costs £20. It is available from Amazon and select bookshops.

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