British Conservative politician and judge
Born 1925 Died 2007
Described as "a walking antithesis of the public notion of a politician", Norman Miscampbell was the long serving Member of Parliament for Blackpool North between 1962 and 1992 (1) who combined his parliamentary duties with a career at the criminal Bar culminating in an eighteen year stint as a Crown Court recorder. He is however probably better remembered as the author of the joke "Anyone who has been to Eton has already served the equivalent of five years in jail" (although he'd never actually been to Eton College), which was later repeated with greater effect by Alan Clark (who had).
He was born Norman Alexander Miscampbell on the 20th February 1925 at Carrickfergus in County Antrim, Northern Ireland, where the family owned a salt-mining business (2). His father went to work for ICI and as a result moved to England in 1932 which is why Norman received his education at St Edward's School in Oxford. His education was subsequently interrupted by the intervention of World War II and in 1943 he joined the 4th Hussars, where he saw action in the Italian Campaign. His military service continued until 1947, after which he completed his education at Trinity College, Oxford(3). He was later called to the Bar by the Inner Temple in 1952 and afterwards built up a criminal practice on the Northern Circuit from chambers in Liverpool.
Miscampbell had shown an early interest in politics when he became a member of the Oxford University Conservative Association and later served as a councillor on Hoylake Urban District Council in the Wirral between 1955 and 1961. He served his apprenticiship by contesting the safe Labour seat of Newton in both the 1955 and 1959 General Elections, and his opportunity came with the resignation of Toby Low, and he was chosen as the Conservative PPC for Blackpool North.
At the time Blackpool North was viewed as a safe Conservative seat, as his predecessor had been returned in 1959 with a majority of 15,859. But these were the days of Orpington Man, when it seemed as if the Macmillan government, beset as it was by a series of scandals, would be swept aside by a great Liberal revival. At the resulting byelection held on the 14th March 1962, Miscampbell only just scraped home with a majority of 973, although in the circumstances he was thought to have done well as a string of similarly 'safe' Conservative seats fell to the Liberal Party (4).
In common with many other Conservative politicians of his generation, he was affected by his wartime experiences and once in the House of Commons he established his credentials as a liberal Tory. He was one of the few Conservatives who supported Sydney Silverman's Private Members' Bill to abolish the death penalty in December 1964, in the same month as he became one of the thirty-eight Conservatives who broke ranks with the party to vote in favour of the Labour government's proposed oil embargo against the Smith regime in Rhodesia.
Although he occasionally made the headlines with such initiatives as applauding the Beatles as role models for teenagers who had underachieved at school, or urging the government to crack down on unlicensed teenage clubs in order to minimise the risk of drug-taking, he was not regarded as being of the front rank of the 1959 intake, and in any case, hopes of office were dimmed by the years of opposition between 1964 and 1970. Miscampbell rather took on the role of the assiduous constituency MP eager to defend and promote the interests of Blackpool's tourist economy.
His first and only glimmer of political office came towards the end of 1972 when he became Parliamentary Private Secretary to the Attorney-General, Peter Rawlinson. The election defeat of February 1974 however put paid to any further advancement in office, and whatever hopes there might have been were utterly extinguished when Margaret Thatcher replaced Edward Heath as party leader in 1975. Indeed as the 1980s progressed he found himself increasingly at odds with the new Thatcherite Conservative Party. His attitude towards the proposed community charge or poll tax was that it was "completely wrong", and both he and Patrick Cormack became the only Conservative MPs with sufficient courage to approach the Chief Whip John Wakeham to inform him of their opposition to the new tax. As it was he could only bring himself to abstain when it came to a vote in the House of Commons, but he persisted with his opposition to the introduction of both the Assisted Places Scheme, and of student loans, voted against the government on the question of the abolition of the Greater London Council, and like many other Conservative MPs from the north-west complained loudly when proposals to dispose of British Leyland to General Motors and Ford became public.
Given that his political career had effectively ended at the beginning of 1974 Miscampbell made the decision to take Silk in April 1974, and thereafter began a steady climb up the judicial ladder. Appointed as an assistant recorder in 1974 he progressed to deputy circuit judge in 1976, and a Recorder of the Crown Court in 1977.
When the results of the 1989 local council elections strongly suggested that Labour would take his seat at the next election, he announced his intention to stand down from Parliament, and duly left the House of Commons with the General Election of 1992. (At which point the Labour Party did indeed win Blackpool North.) A knighthood would have been the customary reward for thirty years service on the bankbenches, but it seems that although he was offered one by Margaret Thatcher, he declined the offer because he "thought a handle to his name would embarrass his friends". He continued to act as Recorder until 1995 and was also became a member of the Criminal Injuries Compensation Board from 1993 until it was finally wound up in March 2000.
Norman Miscampbell died in a London hospital on the 16th February 2007, just four days short of his eighty-second birthday, being survived by his wife Margaret Kendall, whom he married in 1961, and their two sons and two daughters.
(1) According to the Blackpool Gazette he was the "longest serving MP in Blackpool's history".
(2) Although most of his obituaries claim that the family owned the salt mine at Carickfergus, a 1910 Business Directory for Ulster refers to an Alex Miscampbell simply as the local manager for Salt Union Ltd.
(3) The Independent states that he took "a good law degree" the Guardian alleges that he "read economics"; it is quite possible that he did both.
(4) It was two days later that the Orpington byelection saw the Liberal Eric Lubbock returned to the House after a substantial swing against the Conservatives.
- The Daily Telegraph 27/03/2007
- Tam Dalyell, The Independent, 26 February 2007
- Andrew Roth, The Guardian, March 1, 2007
- Alistair Cooke, The Times,
- Tributes to former Blackpool MP Blackpool Gazette, 22 February 2007