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I first met Austin Mitchell in 1977 when I was supporting the Conservative Party candidate for Great Grimsby in the by-election triggered by the death of Anthony Crosland.
I was born in Grimsby and fought the seat in the 1966 general election. Austin came across as a man who was full of sun, immensely amiable but quietly determined to win, and had a very well organised campaign. I came to know him well in the House and for 10 years he acted as my associate editor of The House magazine, of which he became a very devoted and faithful servant.
We never had a cross word, for although he was irascible, and his copy was occasionally so over the top that I had to get out the blue pencil, he was unfailingly good humoured and would frequently comment, “Damn, I thought I would get away with that,” or words to that effect.
Under the froth and the banter he was an intensely serious and able politician
But he was not just a political joker, he was an extremely able man with a serious academic background and a piercing intellect. Under the froth and the banter – and the frequently outrageous comments on current events – he was an intensely serious and able politician.
His ultimately successful campaign for televising Parliament was a textbook example of political consistency and campaigning. His successful campaign to bring down the legal costs of house purchase has benefited millions over the last four decades.
He had all the gifts needed to hold high office except tact and an ability to flatter his party bosses. He stuck to his views and his principles and if he thought something was wrong, or someone had blundered, he said so – often in the most colourful language. He was also a splendid constituency MP for my hometown of Grimsby. I felt it a privilege to count him as a dear friend and valued colleague – and one of the most colourful characters in the House of Commons in my 40 years there.
Lord Cormack is a Conservative peer and life president of The House magazine
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