Popular Liverpool MP
Wednesday 15 November 2006
Frank Marsden, politician: born Liverpool 15 October 1923; MP (Labour) for Liverpool Scotland 1971-74; married 1943 Muriel Lightfoot (three sons); died Liverpool 5 November 2006.
Unusual though it was, Walter Alldritt, the very capable MP for the Scotland division of Liverpool, opted in early 1971 to resign his seat to transfer to what he thought was the better job of regional secretary of the National Union of General and Municipal Workers.
This was partly because of the furious internecine politics of the Labour Party at the time. Alldritt had had a majority of 11,074 over his Conservative opponent, who received 3,140 votes in the general election of 1970. But Labour was faced with what we thought was a difficult by-election in a rundown inner-city seat. The party persuaded - I think that is the right word - a good local councillor, Frank Marsden, to be the standard-bearer who would garner votes from a sullen electorate, disappointed in what Harold Wilson's government had, in their opinion, failed to do for his own city of Liverpool.
It was April Fools' Day. I remember it as a dismal by-election. To start with, my friend the former Labour MP for Preston Peter Mahon was standing as an Anti-Abortion Labour candidate. In the event Labour's face was saved by the personal popularity of Marsden, who had many friends and scraped a winning 6,795 votes to the 1,751 accorded to the Conservative candidate, Barry Porter. (Mahon managed 981.) Marsden remained cheerful in the face of many jibes and gained the admiration of the visiting speakers and canvassers who had come to his aid when most of the Liverpool party were sitting on their hands in protest against politicians in general.
Frank Marsden was scouse born and bred and went to Abbotsford Road Secondary Modern School. He was to be an ardent supporter of Tony Crosland's then controversial policy of introducing comprehensive schools. To the end he was proud of being an old-fashioned socialist.
Volunteering for the RAF as an 18-year-old, he served in the Second World War mostly in 115 Squadron, rising to warrant officer. With a chuckle, he told us that, when he was involved as a Liverpool councillor with arrangements for twinning with a German city, the burgomaster asked him: "Herr Marsden, have you ever been to Germany before?" Marsden regurgitated his reply: "Ja, Herr Bürgermeister, I have indeed been to Germany before."
"Where," asked the burgomaster, "and when?"
"Well actually," replied Marsden, "it was as a tail gunner keeping a watchful eye for any planes from the Luftwaffe likely to attack my Wellington bomber - which was dropping its load on Schweinfurt, your ball-bearings factory."
Marsden reflected that in no way did this hinder the development of good twinning relations, not least because the burgomaster confessed that as a young lad he had been involved in the "Baedeker bombing" of Exeter. As one who had known war and its real dangers Marsden showed a real interest in the Services.
On demobilisation he worked for Fitzpatricks, the wholesale Liverpool flower merchants, then as a crane driver in the docks and finally as a telephonist for the GPO (a job to which he returned after Parliament). He became a local councillor for the Liverpool St Domingo ward in 1964. Losing his seat in the 1967 local elections that were disastrous for Labour, he was re-elected for Liverpool Vauxhall, where he served as a councillor from 1969 until he was chosen as parliamentary candidate. One of his most fulfilling roles was as chairman of the Liverpool Markets between 1965 and 1967.
In February 1974 his inner-city, almost pocket, borough seat was changed by the Boundary Commission and Bob Parry, one of a powerful Liverpool tribe, was elected for the new seat of Liverpool Scotland Exchange, gaining 15,295 votes. In 1983 I was the guest of that constituency party and Marsden came, partly out of loyalty to me as one of his old friends. He confided that he took less interest in politics and was not unhappy that his parliamentary career ended as it did.
His contemporaries in the House of Commons will remember him less for his speeches than for his great knowledge of jazz and good companionship. My abiding memory of Marsden and his wife is that they used to bring into the Palace of Westminster an enormous "Dulux dog", an Old English Sheepdog - a fearsome beast, but absolutely obedient to them.
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