Obituary: Lord Granville of Eye

LORD GRANVILLE of Eye was the oldest member of the House of Lords and one of the last surviving members of the 1929 parliamentary intake. Although the reference books had recorded his birthday as 12 February 1899 it became clear recently that he was in fact born the previous year, and he died two days after celebrating his 100th birthday.

Edgar Granville was born in Reading. He was subsequently educated in High Wycombe and Melbourne, Australia; he joined the Australian Light Horse at the outbreak of the First World War, serving in Gallipoli where he was wounded, and then in Egypt and France. After the war he set up his own manufacturing business before acquiring directorships in the pharmaceutical and armaments industries.

In 1929, he fought and won the rural constituency of Eye in Suffolk for the Liberals. Before the war Eye had been a safe Liberal seat. This was partly because of the strength of nonconformist feeling in the constituency but also due to the relative weakness of the Conservative landed interest. However Eye had last returned a Liberal in 1922 and at the time of the party's decline Granville's victory was an achievement. He was to remain associated with the seat for the next 30 years (and MP for 22), fighting his last election there as a Labour candidate in 1959.

Granville's hold on the area was based on assiduous personal contact. He employed two secretaries whose jobs included writing to all those who married in the constituency to offer them their MP's best wishes. The local Liberal organisation was very weak and Granville relied heavily on his network of friends to fight elections.

As an MP he had a relatively undistinguished career. He was Honorary Secretary of the Liberal Agricultural Group from 1929 to 1931. Subsequently he became the Parliamentary Private Secretary to Sir Herbert Samuel, then Home Secretary, in 1931 and afterwards to Sir John Simon, the Foreign Secretary, from 1931 to 1936. However he never achieved ministerial office.

Of more interest was his shifting allegiance from the 1930s to the 1950s. Originally elected on the coat tails of Lloyd George's slogan "We can conquer unemployment", he sided with Sir John Simon when the Liberal Party split over free trade in 1931 and stayed a supporter of Ramsay MacDonald's National Government when the Liberal cabinet ministers resigned the following year. This may have been because of constituency pressure. As a cereal farming area, Eye was strongly in favour of the agricultural subsidies and tariffs that the Government were beginning to introduce.

Granville remained a supporter of the Liberal Nationals as Sir John Simon's supporters were known until the Second World War. After briefly serving with the Royal Artillery he resigned his commission in August 1940. By February 1942, along with several other Liberal National MPs, he was disillusioned both with their party and with the conduct of the war. Four of them including Granville resigned the whip to sit as Independents. With an election approaching, Granville rejoined the official Liberal Party in April 1945 and was narrowly re-elected in the 1945 election.

During the 1945-51 Attlee government Granville, Emrys Roberts and Megan Lloyd George became increasingly at odds with the Liberal leadership as Clement Davies, the party's leader, steadily moved the party towards a more anti- socialist position. After the 1950 election, when Labour's majority was reduced to six, he often voted in the government lobbies to avoid a government defeat by the Conservatives. On one occasion, Granville, Roberts and Lloyd George even voted against a Liberal Party amendment on the cost of living to which all three had actually put their names. Asked to justify his action afterwards, Granville argued that the Liberal motion was simply being used as a catspaw by the Conservatives to bring down the Labour government.

In the 1951 election, the nadir of Liberal fortunes, Granville was defeated in a three-cornered contest (of the six successful Liberal candidates only one was elected in a three-way fight). Without a seat in the Commons he quickly moved to join Labour in January 1952, much to the chagrin of Megan Lloyd George, who was not consulted before his defection. He subsequently fought Eye for Labour in 1955 and 1959 without success although the collapse of the Liberal vote in 1955 showed the extent to which it had been a personal vote for him.

In 1967 he was raised to the Lords by Harold Wilson, and initially sat as a Labour peer before becoming a cross-bencher during the 1970s. Although his recreations were listed as football, cricket and ski-ing, Granville was also the author of two political thrillers, Storm English (1972) and The Domino Plan (1975).

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There is a civilised custom whereby peers who have once been members of the House of Commons can wander into the members' cafeteria at will, writes Tam Dalyell. Almost daily, the first to be served was usually a squat man whom no MP could remember as a parliamentary colleague. This was hardly surprising, since Edgar Granville had lost his seat in 1951.

Our friendship began in 1968 when Harold Wilson, who remembered Granville as a loyal colleague supporting the Attlee government, sent him to the Lords. Granville sat down next to me and the first words he spoke were: "I stayed with your mum and dad in Bahrain in 1934 when I was Sir John Simon's parliamentary private secretary. Your dad was a stickler for imperial protocol, but your Arabic-speaking mum, with her cine-camera and friendships with Bahraini women fascinated us." Granville was a man with a sense of curiosity which led to shrewd and accurate judgements.

What really brought us together was Gallipoli, where my maternal grandfather had been severely wounded and many killed in his regiment, the King's Own Scottish Borderers. Granville described the circumstances of Anzac Cove, and the ludicrous night charge in which so many Australians, New Zealanders and British perished. His one source of pride was his presidency of the Gallipoli Association. He was almost a professor of Gallipoli studies and took a deep interest in any Gallipoli veterans who approached him.

I think Granville may have been the originator of the phrase "Death by friendly fire"; certainly he used it before anyone else I know. He compiled instances of death at the hands of our own troops through confusion at Gallipoli.

A natural horseman, he was a scout with the Australian Light Horse. The Turks, as he put it, were a secondary consideration; the first task he had to undertake was to find fresh water sources. One evening, dismounted by a pool, he was hit in the leg by a sniper. Managing to scramble on to his horse, which was also slightly wounded, he escaped, only to succumb to dysentery and yellow fever. "After Gallipoli anything was a bonus. I lived on borrowed time" - which accounted for his sunny and equable disposition.

Edgar Louis Granville, politician: born Reading, Berkshire 12 February 1898; MP (Liberal) for Eye 1929-51; Parliamentary Private Secretary to Sir Herbert Samuel 1931, to Sir John Simon 1931-36; created 1967 Baron Granville of Eye; married 1943 Elizabeth Hunter (one daughter); died London 14 February 1998.

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