Opinion : A little bit of politics, 2019 edition

Well, it is General Election time in the UK again, with various dubious characters promising nirvana if you vote for them. So, I have delved into the archives to produce some more pictures of politicians with our favourite cars. First off are two images of Barbara Castle, circa 1968, with BMC works driver Paddy Hopkirk and Mini Cooper 1275S JMO 969D. It is obviously a PR exercise to promote the use of seatbelts by motorists. Believe it or not, it took until 1983, after various failed attempts, for the UK Parliament to make it compulsory for front seat passengers to wear seatbelts.

One of the arguments used against compulsory seatbelt use was that it was an infringement of civil liberties. Barbara Castle (below) succeeded Tom Fraser as Minister of Transport on 23 December 1965 and remained in the post until 6 April 1968. She did not endear herself to motorists by the fact that she was not a driver herself. In February 1966 she told Parliament ‘Hitler did not manage to kill as many civilians in Britain as have been killed on our roads since the war.’

This may have seemed an outrageous thing to say, but it was backed up by statistics – since 1945, some 150,000 people had been killed on Britain’s roads.

Although Barbara Castle’s legacy is legislation to bring equality in the workplace for women, like all politicians, her ministerial career was not all roses. In her tenure as Minister of Transport she approved a record 2050 miles of rail closures as part of the ongoing pruning of the rail network recommended by Dr Richard Beeching. Her supporters claim she saved the bulk of the network from any major closures, but that was cold comfort to the communities cut off from the rail network and to 21st century planners trying to create a transport infrastructure fit for purpose.

As for JMO 969D it still survives in private hands.

The next politician is the now-forgotten John Peyton, the Minister of Transport from 1970 to 1974 in Edward Heath’s Conservative Government. Educated at Eton, he was part of the British Expeditionary Force in Belgium in May 1940 when he was captured and spent the next five years in German captivity. The image shown below is of John Peyton in a Mini with Lord Stokes, the Chairman of British Leyland. This was taken on 25 October 1972 at the London Motor Show and the occasion was the production of the three millionth Mini. The car, which conveniently happened to be a top-of-the-range 1275GT, was rushed from Longbridge down to London for the Minister to pose in.

Lord Stokes told the press: ‘Looking around the show you can see foreign manufacturers have copied our small car design. It won’t take us 13 years to build the next three million — as we fully intend to do.’ In fact, it took around another 30 years to build the six millionth Mini, and that was a product of BMW’s Cowley Plant Oxford.

After the Conservative’s 1974 General Election defeat, John Peyton became part of Margaret Thatcher’s shadow cabinet, but declined a ministerial post when the Tories returned to power in 1979, returning to the back benches, before leaving the House of Commons in 1983, when he became a life peer. Although he was seen as a right winger, Peyton led a rebellion against Prime Minister John Major’s attempt to privatise British Rail in 1990.

As well as his own autobiography, John Peyton, who was Treasurer of the Zoological Society of London, wrote a biography of Solly Zuckerman, a zoologist who somehow managed to become the Chief Scientific Adviser to the British Government after occupying a similar post at the Ministry of Defence. John Peyton died in 2006.

Next up is Denis Healey pictured in a Mini (above) in 1980, after he had left office as Chancellor of the Exchequer. In that role he had to find the cash to prop up British Leyland as Tony Benn’s dream of a state-owned, worker-controlled motor manufacturer turned into a nightmare. Denis Healey was a Marmite character, you either liked him or you didn’t. What cannot be doubted is his war record in North Africa and the Mediterranean. He was a beach master at Anzio. Denis Healey never gave much detail of what he experienced at Anzio, but students of the Italian campaign can only imagine.

An isolated beachhead behind German lines, created with the intention of bypassing the Gustav line obstructing the allied advance north, Anzio came under sustained pressure with axis artillery raining down death and destruction. No wonder Denis Healey never discussed it much…

It has just occurred to me that all these images contain Minis, perhaps fitting in this 60th anniversary year. So that is that. Happy Voting!!

Ian Nicholls
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  1. Good stuff. We could add Thatcher in an MGB GT, Blair in a Montego Countryman, Ann Widdecombe and Harriet Harman in Ford Escorts, and more recently Johnson in a knackered Toyota Previa

  2. One certainty from Harold Wilson to the early Thatcher years was all Prime Ministers were chauffeured around in Rover P5s. These cars were chosen for being less flash than a Jaguar and for being sober, reliable cars that suited the establishment of the time. iroinically the P5s that transported Maggie’s rivals around in the seventies were so reliable, compared with the newer Rover SD1s, were her choice of car until 1982 as they were so good.

    • Supposedly Callaghan bought two SD1s as his official cars but they gave too much trouble.

      I noticed in Yes Minister Jim Hacker’s official car was a Princess, were they used by ministers in real life?

    • I guess the Mk 10 was seen as being too big and opulent! The P5 was probably a better car to sit in the back of than the XJ6 which was never an especially roomy car.

    • In 1975 Wilson decided that all ex-PMs should have a chauffeur driven car for the rest of their lives. One year later he retired!

  3. “In her tenure as Minister of Transport she approved a record 2050 miles of rail closures as part of the ongoing pruning of the rail network recommended by Dr Richard Beeching. ”

    Anglo-Saxons are unable to realise that public transport should be a service, and not always profit-led.
    But passenger trains have been losing money through most of the existence of the railways; it was the freight that made up for those losses. Then came the War Surplus lorries in 1918 and 1945 – along with ever-improved roads. Now we have 70 mph motorways with NO hard shoulders! I am told it is progress.

    • The Princess was most definitely used by junior ministers as was the Ambassador. These were followed by Montegos and then Rover 600 and 800s. It was the Blair government that started using the Prius and other non BLARG cars.

      • I did watch a programme about Margaret Thatcher a few months ago and an Ambassador was seen on Downing St. For more senior ministers in the early eighties, it was a Rover SD1, and Maggie, when her P5 was retired in 1982, decided on Jaguars for the rest of her career. Seemingly due to the terrorist rhreat at the time, these were armour plated with bulletproof glass.

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