Lord Randall of St Budeaux: MP who put his industrial experience to good use

 

When Stuart Randall spoke on matters relating to industrial affairs, he really knew what he was talking about. It was Randall's misfortune that his 14 years in the House of Commons coincided with the Tories in power and Labour in opposition. He had a constructive outlook and would have thrived in ministerial office; alas, he was never to get the opportunity. Over many years, we would sit on the second row of the Labour Benches above the gangway. He would whisper out of the side of his mouth to me, "Cant", "Rubbish", "Posturing", or "Bloody nonsense" – the speakers, to whom he referred, might have been one of our own esteemed Labour colleagues as easily as a Tory opposite. But his most disdainful asides were reserved for the speeches of Mrs Thatcher and her industry minister, Sir Keith Joseph.

Stuart Randall was born into a naval family. At 10 he was struck down by peritonitis, which meant that he spent a year in hospital and lost the chance of getting a place at grammar school. His experience in secondary moderns resulted in his becoming a passionate supporter of the comprehensive system – like his devoted wife, Gillian Michael, a grammar school girl who became a teacher.

A five-year apprentice electrical fitter in Devonport dockyard, he went to night school to gain "A" levels in maths, physics and chemistry. Starting at 7am in the dockyard then achieving success in his night-school challenges appealed to the discriminating and vigorous electrical engineering faculty of the University of Cardiff. It was in the university rowing club that he was to meet Gillian, who was to be his wife in a most happy marriage for 49 years and nursing him at home for the last eight years, as he suffered increasingly from a form of Alzheimer's Disease.

Graduating with a BSc in electrical engineering, Randall joined English Electric Computers. Soon, he and his wife found work in Philadelphia with the Radio Corporation of America. Gillian Randall told me, "Although I came from a staunchly Labour family in south Wales, Stuart was not really 'into politics'. But in Philadelphia, he was shocked by the discrepancies between wealth and poverty. And on our return to England, he saw that it was not very different here, so he joined the Labour Party."

He put together a solid industrial career as a project leader at Marconi Automation (1966-68); consultant to the InterBank Research Organisation (1968-71); a manager in the British Steel Corporation (1971-76); a manager with British Leyland (1976-80); a manager/consultant with Nexos Office Systems (1980-82); and a manager with Plessey Communication Systems (1982-83).

In October 1974 he stood for Labour in South Worcestershire, gaining 10,838 votes to Michael Spicer's 26,790 votes, and the Liberals' 17,738. Spicer, later chairman of the 1922 Committee. recalled to me that Randall was a highly competent candidate who fought a totally clean campaign and became a friend of his in the House of Commons.

Any socialist revolution was not going to start in the Vale of Evesham. Randall did learn a great deal about agriculture and horticulture, which stood him in good stead in 1985, when Neil Kinnock made him a junior opposition spokesman on agriculture and food. On the strength of his cheerful performance in South Worcestershire, he was asked to stand in the elections to the European parliament in 1979, covering eight Labour-held House of Commons constituencies. That he lost by 1,000 votes he regarded as a blessing in dfisguise, though it continued to anger him that several of the constituency Labour parties allowed his literature to go undistributed, languishing in corners of their offices, since they disapproved of the European Comnmunity.

A chance meeting in Birmingham with a party member led to his being selected with the support of the EETPU electricians' trade union for Hull West. His successor, Alan Johnson, the former Home Secretary, told me: "He was very hard-working and his dedication to the disadvantaged made him one of those MPs who earned the genuine respect of those he represented." Though Johnson liked him, Randall did not get on with many of those who were running the Labour Party, though in 1992 the swing to Labour over the Conservatives in Hull West was 3.5 per cent, indicating that Johnson's approval was justified.

The then Deputy Leader of the Labour Party, Roy Hattersley, chose Randall as his PPS in 1984 and told me: "Stuart was a member of the Opposition Treasury team for about four years. He was always willing, always well-informed and always willing to take the fight to his opponents. Just as important in difficult days, he was always cheerful."

In 1987 Randall became a junior opposition spokesman at the Home Office, dealing with the Immigration Bill. Anne Widdecombe, who took an active interest in every session of the Bill, and later became a Home Office minister, told me: "Getting to know him over the long hours of the Immigration Bill, I found Stuart a very kind man, a very humorous man, and considerate of other peoples' opinions. Asd you go through political life, you meet people on the other side whom you admire – and Stuart Randall was one of them."

I also recall a true story which created much mirth at the time. Widdecombe rang up Randall in relation to the Bill. He explained that it was difficult to give her the information she was asking for, since he was under a neighbours' kitchen sink fixing the waste pipe. This tells us that Randall was ever a practical fellow, and never forgot the skills that he learnt as a fitter.

Stuart Jeffrey Randall, electrical engineer and politician: born Plymouth 22 June 1938; MP for Hull West 1983-97, Opposition Spokesman on Agriculture 1985-87, Home Affairs 1987-92; cr. 1997 Lord Randall of St Budeaux; married 1963 Gillian Michael (three daughters); died Woking 10 August 2012.

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