The Way I Was: When Kilroy was here: Robert Kilroy-Silk tells Nicholas Roe what he stood for in the 1970 election

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Indy Lifestyle Online
THIS IS the first picture taken of the family for my very first election address for the first general election I fought, which was June 1970. So that makes it, for me, significant and important: when I fought Ormskirk, and lost.

I was teaching political philosophy at Liverpool University at the time and my kids were quite young. Natasha is about nine months there, in Jan's arms, and Dominic is a couple of years.

I'd taken the decision to enter politics when I was 16. I chose my A-level subjects and my university place with that in mind, and I became a university lecturer as a stepping-stone towards politics. All of it was done with the intention of getting old enough to be selected as a candidate - I think I even told lies about my age, because I felt too young at 28.

I was finally selected for Ormskirk when boundary reforms had been proposed and it was due to become a safe Labour seat. But then Jim Callaghan, as Home Secretary, decided for the first time in history not to implement the Boundary Commission's recommendations, so I ended up fighting a seat I was doomed to lose. But we said, 'Let's go for it, let's fight this as if it's a marginal.'

As you can see, we were very informal, which in those days was unusual for an election photograph. Traditionally, everyone just stood in a line, the candidate in his suit and tie, the lady with her pearls, the kids in their school uniform. But we were looking for something more natural, and we ran the campaign in a similar style: informal, accessible.

In a way, the photograph epitomises the whole campaign. We were young, we didn't abide by any of the conventions. We had different ideas, we had all the arrogance of youth, sweeping away the fuddy-duddies.

We wore casual clothes, met people on the streets, went into supermarkets and factories - a lot of which just wasn't done then. They'd not run a carnival-atmosphere campaign through the streets and the shopping centres. We ran such a campaign that the Tories themselves actually believed we were going to win.

I remember the energy we brought to it, the motivation - we wanted to do something, we had a lot of guts and determination. I felt that this was the beginning of what I had always wanted to do: to be a Member of Parliament and change the world.

This was the beginning of real work, real life. I was a socialist and I wanted to create a more fair and equitable society through politics, through Parliament, through legislation: to eradicate poverty, increase pensions, provide decent schooling.

Politics is a vocation; I'm just earning my living now. It was a gruelling slog 24 hours a day, a joy intermittently, but relentless, going from one meeting to another to another, and no time to do anything else.

At the end I was fine. It was only after the count was finished that I collapsed. We counted the next morning because the constituency was so big and we knew by then that we'd lost because the election had been lost overall, we knew what the swing was. We turned up saying, 'Smile, grit your teeth, don't show you're disappointed.'

But afterwards it was like a balloon being pricked, like severe jetlag. Suddenly you are asking yourself what to do because you are no longer the candidate, you've spent years nursing this constituency, going to meetings several nights a week, doing lots of things at weekends and suddenly it's all over, finished, and what do you do?

There was a huge kind of void there. It must be terrible if you're actually an MP and you've lost your seat. That must be extraordinary. We slept most of the weekend. Then I just went back to university on Monday and gave my lectures.

Robert Kilroy-Silk was Labour MP for Ormskirk, 1974-83, and Knowsley North, 1983-86. He now hosts 'Kilroy' on BBC 1.

(Photograph omitted)

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