Brian Sedgemore: A maverick too independent for high office

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The Independent Online

Brian Sedgemore is a member of a left-wing luncheon club called the Old Testament Prophets who pride themselves on being a thorn in Tony Blair's side.

Brian Sedgemore is a member of a left-wing luncheon club called the Old Testament Prophets who pride themselves on being a thorn in Tony Blair's side.

By defecting to the Liberal Democrats in the middle of a general election, Mr Sedgemore, 68, risks becoming far more than an irritant to Mr Blair. He knows he could inflict a serious wound on New Labour.

Only a few friends knew of his decision to quit Labour. They included Bob Marshall-Andrews, a fellow barrister and Labour candidate, who runs the Prophets' dining club. Mr Sedgemore wrote to Ann Clwyd and Lord Campbell-Savours, two of his closest friends, explaining his decision. He had been dreading breaking the news.

Mr Sedgemore joined Labour in 1968 - the summer of student rebellion - partly in protest at the Vietnam War. He was born in Devon, one of three children brought up by a widowed mother, whose husband, a stoker on a merchant ship, was killed in the Second World War.

Despite the hardships, he went to grammar school and read philosphy, politics and economics at Oxford, before becoming a civil servant. He qualified for the Bar at night, and became a criminal lawyer, marrying a fellow barrister, Audrey.

He was first elected for Luton West in 1974, and became Tony Benn's parliamentary aide when Mr Benn was put in charge of the energy department. He had to resign as Mr Benn's PPS when he revealed leaked Treasury papers on the exchange rate mechanism at a Treasury Select Committee. He lost his seat in 1979, but came back in 1983 as MP for Hackney South and Shoreditch.

An irrepressible independent thinker, he was never trusted with a ministerial post higher than the unpaid PPS job. He carved out a career as an acerbic questioner on the Treasury Select Committee, and he also wrote gossip pieces for Private Eye.

After the election, he will retreat to his five-bedroom house in the Gwaun Valley, north Pembrokeshire.

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