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Farewell to Lord (Ted) Graham of Edmonton

By David Rodgers, former President, Co-operative Housing International.

Today I heard, with great sadness, about the death of my great UK Labour and Co-operative Party political mentor and friend, Lord Graham of Edmonton.

Ted Graham, later Lord Graham of Edmonton, was Labour Co-operative Party MP for Edmonton, London, from 1974 to 1983 and later as a member of the UK’s  House of Lords where he served as the Labour Party Opposition Chief Whip from 1990 to 1997. He had a sharp wit, a playful sense of humour and self deprecating sense of himself. He hosted many events for the UK co-operative housing movement while an MP and a Peer. In the events in the House of Lords he always introduced proceedings by saying “My name is Ted Graham, but you can call me Lord”. He told me that, when he was nominated to his life peerage, he was asked what title he would like to be known as. He told Black Rod, the Queen’s representative at the Palace of Westminster, that he would like to be called “Lord Help Us”, but Black Rod advised him that that would not be an acceptable title to Her Majesty. He chose Lord Graham of Edmonton to honour the people he previously represented as their MP.

I had the honour and privilege to know and work with Lord Ted for over 30 years from 1979, when I was appointed chief executive of CDS Co-operatives, the UK’s largest co-operative development agency. At that time, Ted was a member of CDS’s board of directors. Because of his parliamentary duties he had less time to devote to CDS’s corporate governance but we did not wish to lose his knowledge of co-operatives or his immense Co-operative/Labour party political connections which helped us raise the profile of housing co-operatives time and time again in Parliament when they were threatened or ignored in housing legislation. We changed CDS’s rules to enable us to appoint Ted as our honorary President, a role in which he served with great effect.

His support was unstinting, The last time we worked together on legislation was to secure the definition of a community land trust in section 79 of the Housing and Regeneration Act 2008. The story of Ted’s intervention to make this happen is too long to tell in this short eulogy, but without his parliamentary intervention community land trusts would not be defined in law, as they now are.

Ted was a man who rose from humble origins in Newcastle, in the North of England, to the heights of political office in London, a personal journey well worth reading. His autobiography “From Tyne to Thames” is still available on-line (though I doubt he would have recommended it be bought from Amazon with its restriction of worker rights and not paying appropriate taxes for its UK trading). His Wikipedia entry says that he served in World War 2, which he valiantly did, and that he was wounded by enemy action. He certainly served, in the Royal Marines, and proudly wore the Royal Marines tie which enhanced the respect that staff in the Palace of Westminster had for him, many of whom were ex forces personnel. But according to the story he told me, he was not wounded by enemy action. He said that at the age of just 19, he was in training for D Day with the Royal Marines on the south coast of England when, in a live fire exercise, he was hit by a hail of machine gun bullets that cut across him and split open his abdomen. He walked, holding his intestines in both his hands to an American field hospital that had been set-up in tents to prepare for D Day landing casualties. An American surgeon operated and saved his life. Ted was hospitalised and not able to participate in the D Day landings. He was a hero, but had he participated in the D Day landing, who knows what his fate and our loss might have been.

After the Second World War Ted was educated at the UK’s Co-operative College, then a residential college for the Co-operative Movement at Stanford Hall, Loughborough, and worked for the Co-operative Party, becoming its general secretary before entering Parliament as the Labour/ Co-operative Party MP for Edmonton in 1974. He lost his seat in 1983 and was elevated to the House of Lords. Ted’s commitment to the 1st Co-operative Principle of open membership of co-operatives and society without discrimination was unrivalled. On 18 December 1986, Lord Ted Graham was the only Peer in the House of Lords to speak against Lord Halsbury’s Local Government Act 1986 (Amendment) Bill, which sought to prohibit the promotion of homosexuality by local authorities, the notorious section 28.

Ted often invited me to meet with him in Parliament to update him on issues affecting housing co-operatives and what he could do to support our efforts. I will always remember the enjoyment and privilege of such meetings when we had tea in the Pugin Room or lunch, always at Ted’s expense, in the Peers dining room. He was open and easy to discuss matters with, with no arrogance because of his stellar political career, a vice some politicians fall into. The respect for him in Parliament was immense, not least amongst the staff who worked there. He always treated them with the utmost courtesy and respect and they revered him; he always had time for all and addressed all of them by name. I recall two particular incidents in which his wicked and acute sense of humour shone through. The first was meeting him in the Central Lobby and walking with him down the corridor to the House of Lords. Ted said to me: “Do you know why the carpet in the corridor to the House of Commons is green and the one to the House of Lords is red?”. He said “ that’s because green is go, and red is stop”. The second was after we had lunch in the House of Lords dining room in the year 2000 before both giving evidence to a hearing of the Co-operative Commission set up by Tony Blair. We both agreed it best to visit the WC before the hearing but as we walked along the corridor the only WC had a clear sign saying “Peers only”. I said I would go and find a public toilet, but Ted said: “Don’t be daft, we can both go in here”. As we stood, side by side in magnificent Victorian urinals, Ted said to me “David, I hope you remember that this is where high Peers go”.

After I retired as CEO of CDS Co-operatives in 2012, I planned to visit Ted, particularly when I learned that he was becoming frail and had moved into a nursing home. To my great regret that did not happen because of the time consuming work I did for the International Co-operative Alliance as President of Co-operative Housing International and, latterly, having been elected and served for four years as a Labour councillor in Ealing, working to represent my constituents and to raise the profile of co-operatives and co-operative enterprise in Ealing. I wrote to Ted each Christmas telling him of my work. Ted was a co-operator through and through and I know that my commitment to the co-operative cause and our shared political endeavours was more important to him than any visit could ever have been.

On this sad day, I take comfort in a conversation Ted and I had at the funeral of another great co-operator from the post war years, Gladys Bunn, who also served as a member of CDS Co-operatives Board. As we waited in a the cold for Glady’s funeral cortege to arrive Ted told me that, in the immediate years after the Second World War, he and Gladys were members of a Co-operative Party rambling club that discussed politics as they walked, which they called the “Walk and Talk Club”. As they got older, Ted said, they kept walking but renamed themselves the “Shuffle and Grunt Club”. We laughed together at this reminiscence and, in our shared sadness at Gladys’s death, I said to Ted as he was contemplating his own mortality: “You have been a great friend and co-operative mentor to me Ted. When you die I will shed buckets of tears for you.”

Tonight my buckets are all full.

Rest in peace Ted.

David Rodgers

March 2020

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