It was not in the least surprising that Enright within weeks of arriving at Westminster should have embarked on a picturesque, rather loud, but eventually successful fracas with the Serjeant-at-Arms as to whether his dog Sam should be allowed into the House of Commons. Owners are often like their dogs, and Sam was a bull-terrier. So was Enright. What however was concealed under the collar of the bull-terrier was a first in Greats at Oxford.
His father, Lawrence Enright, was a railwayman who had been a ringleader and on that account peremptorily sacked during the 1926 general strike. Both in the European Parliament and later at Westminster Enright would lead the roar against any statement which could be interpreted as industrial injustice. The treatment of his dad was an ongoing scar.
But he told me that the hereditary genetic basis of the fire in his belly mostly derived from his mother, Helen. She had led the first big dispute for better conditions at the old Pontefract liquorice works, which used to produce most of Britain's indigenous liquorice sweeties.
All his life a devout Roman Catholic, he was selected to go to St Michael's College, a distinguished grammar school in Leeds, where he told me that a particular elderly teacher had imbued him with love of learning and the Classics. The importance of the individual inspirational schoolmaster was constantly harped upon by Enright during the many committee stages on educational Bills on which he served in the House of Commons. John Gunnell, leader of the West Yorkshire Metropolitan County Council and now MP for Leeds South and Morley, whom Enright beat in selection for a European Parliament seat by 49 votes to 48, told me: "Derek was humorous and incisive throughout all the hours we spent on educational legislation together. He could make a point picturesquely and memorably. He did not divorce his professional experience from his politics."
It was this love of the Classics which paved the way for a scholarship to Wadham College, Oxford, and the spell of the charismatic Warden of Wadham Sir Maurice Bowra.
Bowra took the view that the whole Greats course required a good preparation before anyone could start it. He must have enough command of the ancient languages to be able to read them in bulk and to know what the text meant. If he could do this he would when he finished have had a training which exercises his mind in three quite different directions; first in ancient literature which would introduce him to a world unlike his own; second in ancient history which was a stiff discipline in the use of evidence and the assessment of historical fact; and third in abstract thinking, both in interpreting the works of philosophers and in forming some kind of philosophy for himself. Enright benefited to the full from this rich, if exacting, training.
Once Enright ended a difference of opinion with me on a matter of Labour Party policy, "Push off, and bury yourself in Bowra's Periclean Athens - then you'll know better!" Not quite the standard rebuke between parliamentary friends and colleagues.
In Arthur Scargill's heyday it was not the norm for newly elected Labour MPs from the Yorkshire coalfield to quote the Classics in their maiden speech. However, Enright was undeterred in speaking to the Commons on 13 November 1991:
This constituency has been destroyed because of the destruction of its industry, mining; a destruction that was completely unnecessary. We are left with real problems of unemployment and all that goes with that with the drifting away of hospital care so that everything is centred outside the constituency; with the drifting away of real jobs so that people have to move outside. One reason for that drifting away is that as a result of the Government's failure to obey European Community rules, we are not getting the money that we should under Rechar ["REclaiming CHARbon" - EEC money for coalfield communities ].
Cato used to end all his speeches with the words "Delenda est Carthago". I will conclude all my speeches with a plea for money from Rechar. We have already sown the seeds of what needs to be done to bring about job regeneration in my area. The small extra amount of money for that purpose already approved by the commission would make a tremendous difference. The mining part of the community that I represent is extremely important, even though only one pit is left. Our history and our traditions are in mining and those traditions remain even when people move into other kinds of industry.
The reason why Enright was so popular in all parts of the Commons was that his serious points were laced with humour. In the same breath as berating the Government for not providing Euro funds he said, "There is also the village of Ackworth, where Geoff Boycott took his first faltering steps at the crease to become the greatest cricketer that the world has ever seen and a great Yorkshireman. Ultimately, because we pray for him every night, he will change his politics."
Within months of doing a DipEd, on account of his obvious quality of mind and no- nonsense discipline Enright became head of department in 1959 at the John Fisher School, at Purley in Surrey. In the course of my public life several ex-pupils of Enright's have vouchsafed to me, "Do you know Derek Enright? He was my Classics teacher. One hell of a bloke!" They remembered him vividly, and adored that which they remembered. Teaching Classics by definition to gifted children he was inspirational.
Partly for social conscience, partly out of a desire to return to his roots and partly out of political ambition and the feeling that South Yorkshire was more likely territory than Surrey for an honourably aspiring politician in 1967, Enright moved to become deputy head of a comprehensive school. He later told the Commons:
Featherstone is another area that once relied on coal and it is also where I taught for 12 years as deputy head of a comprehensive school which I helped to establish. I am extremely proud of the comprehensive education system. My school vied with eight grammar schools and produced results better than any of them - and for many more children. That is why I am proud of the comprehensive system and why I support my colleague Derek Fatchett, MP for Leeds Central, in all his splendid work to make education once more a human thing with human values.
In 1974 Enright became a West Yorkshire County Councillor whose rumbustious good sense impressed itself on the discerning Sir Alec Clegg, the distinguished chief education officer of the West Riding. As a trustee of the British India Steam Navigation Company ship school scheme I had known Clegg well and he told me he was delighted that Enright should become a member of the European Parliament for Leeds in 1979. He was one of the members of the first directly elected European Parliament to make serious use of the opportunity. In April 1984 he produced an important pioneering report on Namibia:
Only time will tell whether the latest initiatives launched in southern Africa will turn out to be another false dawn as far as Namibian independence is concerned. Its past vicissitudes invite some scepticism. It is vital at this time for the EEC to reiterate its full support for implementation of aid and help and to back up that commitment by offering an independent Namibia a clear opportunity for permanent political and economy links. However the community
should not wait for full independence
before granting aid and indeed it has not done so. Some conditional direct aid should be made available for humanitarian purposes in addition the community can step up aid to Namibians outside the country both through aid for Namibian refugees and by offering fuller panoply of training and education possibilities for Namibians living outside their country.
When Enright was deselected in 1984, for reasons that had nothing to do with his excellent performance in the European Parliament and everything to do with the state of the Labour Party in Yorkshire at the time, he went to Africa as the EEC delegate in Guinea Bissau. His wife Jane, who gave him wonderful support in over three decades of happy marriage, says that Africa was a very fruitful part of their lives. This high opinion was reciprocated by people in Brussels who knew about the West African situation - other than one who had been mauled in a hearing by Enright when he was an MEP and took revenge by terminating his Guinea Bissau appointment.
As it happened the Hemsworth seat became vacant. The Labour Party was divided by the leadership's decision to impose a moderate candidate to fight in place of Ken Capstick, a close ally of Arthur Scargill. NUM officials accused the leadership of "obsessive vendetta" against the miners and described Walworth Road's action as "creeping Stalinism". The Hemsworth constituency demanded a new selection process. After vetting all nine potential candidates the leadership's "by-election hit squad", led by Roy Hattersley, rejected Capstick and presented the local party with a short list of four moderate candidates. When the local party refused to endorse any of them the squad imposed Derek Enright. It is easy to imagine the resentment once he was elected but it was also typical of Enright that he should mend his fences after the famous by-election.
His press conferences at the 1991 by-election were described by one seasoned journalist as bilingual - English and Latin. His ex-pupils expatiated on his Latin versions of "Yellow Submarine" and "Eleanor Rigby". A Labour Walworth Road poster "Making Hemsworth Count" went up in a Featherstone council house window. Underneath in Latin with translation was "And about time too". Enright took an active part in the social life of the House of Commons and went to Corfu to play cricket under the captaincy of Graham Allen, MP for Nottinghamshire East. As his colleagues cheerfully put it, "No amount of ouzo and retsina could help" their colleague Derek "in his attempts to converse with his generous hosts." "Derek," they sadly shook their heads, "speaks only Ancient Greek."
Barbara Castle said, "Derek Enright was one of the best colleagues I had in the European Parliament." His colleagues in the House of Commons would echo the verdict of Enright's parliamentary neighbour and friend the deputy speaker Sir Geoffrey Lofthouse: "Derek, open to the point of sometimes being naive, was as sincere a man as I have ever met."
Derek Anthony Enright, schoolmaster and politician: born Thornaby-on- Tees, Cleveland 2 August 1935; Head of Classics, John Fisher School, Purley 1959-67; Deputy Head, St Wilfrid's, North Featherstone 1967-79; Member of the European Parliament (Labour) for Leeds 1979-84; EEC delegate in Guinea Bissau 1985-87; MP (Labour) for Hemsworth 1991-95; married 1963 Jane Simmons (two sons, two daughters); died London 31 October 1995.Reuse content