Obituary: Tom Skeffington-Lodge
Saturday 26 February 1994
TOM SKEFFINGTON-LODGE was elected Labour MP for Bedford, to his astonishment and everyone else's, in 1945. Sir Ronald Wells, a popular Conservative brewer, had served the constituency as MP since 1922. Skeffington- Lodge, aged 40, beat him by 19,849 votes to 19,581, but five years later was unable to hold the seat against the formidable challenge of Sir Winston Churchill's son-in-law Christopher Soames, who took it by 21,942 votes to 19,834. Bedford remained solidly Conservative until Brian Parkyn snatched it for Labour in 1966-70.
Yesterday Brian Parkyn recalled that Skeffington-Lodge had very much wished to be selected for Bedford in 1966 but at the selection conference was extremely generous to his successor and throughout the time Parkyn was MP for Bedford he received nothing but generous kindness and encouragement from Skeffington-Lodge. This was typical of the man.
The fact that the majority in 1950 was so slim in a landslide situation speaks volumes for Skeffington- Lodge's attention to the constituency and justifiable reputation as a man who took endless pains for individual constituents, whatever their politics. When, years later, I was a guest speaker of the Bedford Labour Party one of the members summed up Skeffington-Lodge as a 'Christian socialist gentleman'.
Defeat did not deter Skeffington- Lodge from continuing to fight elections, with battle honours against Conservatives of no little distinction. At York in 1951 Skeffington-Lodge went down by 921 votes (32,777 to 31,856) to Harry Hylton-Foster QC, later Attorney General and Speaker of the House of Commons. In 1955 in Mid-Bedfordshire Skeffington-Lodge lost by 3,964 votes to Alan Lennox-Boyd, Colonial Secretary of Mau Mau fame (23,012 to 19,048). In 1959 Skeffington-Lodge lost by 6,615 votes (27,482 to 20,867) at Grantham to Joe Godber, later Minister of State at the Foreign Office. Nothing would deter this socialist warhorse and in March 1969, at the nadir of the fortunes of the first Wilson government, he was asked to fight Brighton Pavilion as a local candidate against Julian Amery.
Nearly a pensioner, he fought a vigorous campaign which would have done credit to a man 20 years younger. Vividly I recollect being in a group striding along the seafront at Brighton led by George Brown and Brown's pronouncing to bemused passers-by that he knew Leo Amery (so he said), that Julian the candidate was no better and they the electors should prefer 'the Lodge'. For his part the worst thing that Julian Amery could say was the tease 'Skeffington-Lodge - the bed-and-breakfast candidate', not the most refined political slogan, but not vicious. Yesterday Julian Amery remembered Skeffington-Lodge as an honourable opponent and an exceedingly pleasant man on every occasion when the candidates met.
Tom Skeffington-Lodge was born in 1905 of a Yorkshire farming family which owned 2,000 acres. His mother, Winifred Skeffington, had suffragette tendencies and his father, Thomas Lodge, was a scion of the famous Lodge family, American and British. In the British branch there was Sir Oliver Lodge, pioneer of wireless and the first Principal of Birmingham University; Sir Richard Lodge, Professor of History at Edinburgh University from 1899 to 1925; and Eleanor Lodge, Principal of Westfield College, London.
Skeffington-Lodge said that after school at Giggleswick and Westminster he joined the Labour Party because he was appalled at the condition of the miners in south Yorkshire. He was greatly moved by the disease and the pit accidents which he saw in the area all around Pudsey. 'The price of coal is the price of pneumoconiosis and too often the price of life itself,' he said.
He became involved in administrative work in the coal trade as Northern Area Organiser for the Coal Utilisation Council and was one of the first to be interested in the potential chemical uses of coal. He always regretted in the 1960s that more was not done to implement the recommendations of the report of the Wilson committee on the chemical uses of coal which he thought was the proper use of so valuable a substance.
At the outbreak of the Second World War he joined the Navy and saw distinguished service on the big carriers HMS Courageous and HMS Furious and the battleship King George V. His service was interspersed by duties on destroyers guarding the Arctic convoys. After becoming an MP one of his formative experiences was to be chosen as a member of the parliamentary delegation to the Nuremberg trials. Not only was this the start of a lifelong friendship with Elwyn Jones, later Lord Chancellor but then one of the Nuremberg prosecutors, but it was also an experience that laid the foundation for a sustained interest in better relations between Britain and Germany. Skeffington- Lodge was one of the founders of the German-British Christian Fellowship and an original member of the Konigswinter conferences organised by Lilo Milchsack.
Following the Labour landslide in 1945 Skeffington-Lodge's chances of ministerial office were slim in an age when, although Britain ran an empire, the number of ministers was 73 against the 94 which are now deemed to be necessary. Skeffington-Lodge's chances of promotion were even slimmer when he managed to get across Herbert Morrison, the Home Secretary, by pressing the cause of better treatment for Italian 'aliens'. Skeffington-Lodge had been deeply involved in the Italian community in Bedford, then by far the largest in the United Kingdom. This may have been one of the reasons why he was a ringleader of the 'Nenni- Goats' Labour MPs who in April 1948 sent a telegram of congratulations on the Socialist Pietro Nenni's electoral pact with the Communists. This activity made him an enemy of the Foreign Secretary, Ernest Bevin. In truth, Skeffington- Lodge's brand of upper-class Utopian socialism did not appeal to Clem Attlee, then Prime Minister.
Skeffington-Lodge's spiritual home was the Fabian Society, in which he was exceedingly active until his late eighties. He was chairman and president for many years of the Brighton and Sussex branch, which is among the most active in the country. He was very friendly with John Parker, Arthur Blenkinsop, and Arthur Skeffington (no relation), all Fabians deeply concerned about the countryside. This led him to give vigorous support to the Council for the Protection of Rural England, of which he was chairman of the Brighton district committee, the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds and the Friends of the Lake District. He was an ecologist long before it became fashionable.
Under the heading of recreations in Who's Who, after mentioning travel and gardening and politics, Skeffington-Lodge inserts: 'and associating Christianity with them, in the hope of erecting fairer national and international living conditions for mankind'. From most people this would sound prissy, self- serving and 'unco guid' as the poet Burns picturesquely expressed it. Yet somehow for those who knew Tom Skeffington-Lodge such a sentiment is authentic and comes
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