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My inaugural lecture at Southampton


Standing as the Conservative candidate for Sheffield Brightside
Colin Renfrew Archaeologist
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It was while we were in Sheffield that I got caught up again with politics. In Cambridge, as well as being in the Union, I'd been in the Conservative Association and I'd taken the Conservative side in debates in the Union Society although actually there weren't that many strongly political debates I was involved in. I think one of the ones I remember mostly clearly must have been in 1960 when there was the presidential election underway in the United States and the motion, which I proposed was that this house hopes for a Democratic victory tonight. That was when JFK was first elected - was elected to the presidency, that must have been in November, I suppose, ‘64. Anyway, in Sheffield, November, 1960, that debate, in Sheffield, the very strongly Labour seat of Sheffield Brightside became available, the - the MP had died and so there was a by-election and they were just busy choosing a Conservative candidate which I hadn't particularly been involved in but I remember that I was having dinner in Jesus College in Cambridge because I was still a research fellow then though only going down there once a week, and it was a feast and I'd invited Leon Brittan who was a good friend of mine, down to the feast. He wasn't at that time - he didn't at that time, I think, have a seat himself though I think he had stood as the parliamentary candidate in some constituency which he didn't at that time win. And he said, well, you ought to stand for Sheffield Brightside and it never really occurred to me that I would - might be the Conservative candidate for such a seat but it seemed an interesting idea and a rather fun thing to do, so I wrote at once, found out who the chairman of the constituency association was, and wrote at once to him saying I'd be very interested to be the candidate in the Conservative interest. I had a telephone call the next day saying we're just doing the selection procedures, can you come and talk to the constituency association this evening along with the other potential candidates? And they'd got three or four people. It was a very safe Labour seat so it wasn't very likely that a Conservative would win it and perhaps for that reason one infers that they didn't have a very strong list or they wouldn't be contacting just the next day in the light of a letter received, but I sort of tried to prepared - probably all the better for not being over prepared which it certainly wasn't, and went down and made my speech and then it all seemed to go down rather well so I was selected as the Conservative candidate. I hadn't really known what I was letting myself in for because a by-election obviously involves a lot of work but it also involves a lot of publicity because in the general election all the journalists are all over the country so you wouldn't have many journalists in Sheffield Brightside in a safe seat at an election, but because it was the by-election was happening that month, no other elections that month, and because Labour wasn't doing too well at the time and Ted Heath, who was the leader of the opposition, was exciting quite a lot of interest, so all the newspaper columnists descended on Sheffield Brightside and I had to give a daily press conference. By the time the campaign began, which of course was some weeks after the - the selection procedure, I'd been doing a lot of reading and taken a lot of advice. I'd taken the trouble to read the Conservative Manifesto with greater care than hitherto and so I was fairly well informed but of course I wasn't very experienced, but they really weren't out to be difficult; they wanted something to quote in the papers and so it was a very active campaign and a lot of people came up from London, Sir Alec Douglas-Hume spoke at one of the evening sessions. We had several cabinet ministers and then friends like Leon Brittan and Ken Clarke, Michael Howard came up to campaign, and the - the majority, the Labour majority had been 19,000 and there was quite a big swing. We reduced that to a 5,000 majority but nonetheless it was a Labour victory and so that didn't lead any further where I was concerned. I did have a number of offers if I was interested in putting in for other seats as they came up and I think it would have been possible to get a seat, indeed, perhaps, a safer seat, but it had become clear to me that it was going to be a fairly full time job. It was certainly a full time job during the by-election campaign and so I thought I would sort of stay with the day job and not take on an additional political concern there. But that became relevant later on when I was nominated to the House of Lords and probably my being nominated to the House of Lords in 1991 probably wouldn't have happened unless I'd shown some political active interest earlier on in this case in 1968. But it was certainly an energetic three-week campaign.

Baron Renfrew of Kaimsthorn is a British archaeologist known for his work on the dispersal of the Proto-Indo-Europeans and the prehistory of PIE languages. He has been Disney Professor of Archaeology at Cambridge as well as Master of Jesus College and Director of the McDonald Institute for Archaeological Research.

Listeners: Paul Bahn

Paul Bahn studied archaeology at Cambridge where he did his doctoral thesis on the prehistory of the French Pyrenees. He is now Britain's foremost specialist on Ice Age art and on Easter Island, and led the team which discovered Britain's first Ice Age cave art at Creswell Crags, Nottinghamshire, in 2003. He has authored and edited numerous books, including Journey Through the Ice Age, The Enigmas of Easter Island, Mammoths, The Cambridge Illustrated History of Prehistoric Art, and, with Colin Renfrew, Archaeology: Theories, Methods and Practice which was published in its 5th edition in 2008.

Duration: 6 minutes, 10 seconds

Date story recorded: January 2008

Date story went live: 14 May 2009