Sir Alan Beith: Adrian Pearson on the life and times of a political survivor

In 1973 Berwick Liberals raised a large amount of their campaign funding from a regular Saturday night "beat dance" at Alnwick's Northumberland Hall

The dance isn’t there any more and the Liberals are now the Liberal Democrats but the MP remains, for now.

Sir Alan Beith’s decision to step down in 2015 comes at a far quieter pace than his election.

The Newcastle University lecturer had failed to even come second in the 1970 General Election, but as a local councillor he remained the candidate, albeit with not a great deal of hope for the seat.

Two call-girls changed all that, when the News of the World revealed they were sleeping with the sitting Conservative MP Lord Lambton. A by-election beckoned, every village hall was targeted, with the would-be MP talking in many cases to audiences that included just two men and a dog.

It was a constituency tour which has served the MP well ever since, and saw him make front page news when he narrowly took the seat in November 1973.

It was a time of crisis, with the Government declaring a state of emergency as the MP waited to take his seat.

Three months after his election, the Government again went to the polls and in February 1974. Sir Alan increased his majority from 57 to 443.

Another election in October 1974 saw the majority back down to 73. A growing local loyalty would see it eventually become a steadfast Lib Dem seat.

Sir Alan has been chief whip of the party, deputy leader and candidate for the Speakership of the House of Commons.

His first spell as chief whip came from a shake-up in the Liberals as party leader Jeremy Thorpe stepped down amid lurid allegations about his private life. His first job was to arrange Mr Thorpe’s departure.

His time as an MP saw him deal with far greater personal loss, with his autobiography telling the story of his first wife Barbara, who died in 1998, two years after being diagnosed with breast cancer. Sir Alan would have to cope with more shattering news when, in 2000, one of their adopted children, Chris, died as a result of complications with diabetes.

Around the time of his son’s death, Sir Alan met former Liberal Democrat MP Diana Maddock, Baroness Maddock, who he says offered him immense support. They were married in 2001.

Sir Alan refers in his autobiography to his belief that the Lord taketh away, but that he continues to give, a phrase which will come as no surprise to those who know of his strongly held religious beliefs.

While he might speak to spies and hear Government secrets in his role as a member of the Intelligence and Security Committee, he hears far more pressing concerns in his role as a lay preacher in the Methodist Church. When he steps down in 2015, the son of a textile factory worker will be the longest serving Liberal MP since Lloyd George.


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