Rt Hon Lord Grocott PC - LLD (Doctor of Laws)
Bruce Grocott is a greatly respected politician who has contributed to the political life of this country for over forty years. A consummate parliamentarian and party man, his sterling service in the corridors of the Palace of Westminster has involved him in many of the major political developments of our recent history.
Bruce was born and grew up near Watford. His father was a railway man like his father before him. A lifetime Labour party supporter, he held firm views on the injustices of the world, conveyed in no uncertain terms to his son. Bruce has a clear memory of his father’s evident satisfaction following the nationalisation of the Railways by the radical post war Labour government. He knew from an early age that politics was the career for him. As a teenager Bruce was a keen observer of political events, and determined to play a part in changing things in the future. He was sure he wanted to read politics at University, but there was a problem - virtually no courses. The only pure politics degree was at Leicester, at that time in the late fifties a small institution only recently elevated to full University status. Bruce decided to bring his high grades and prestigious state scholarship to Leicester, and has never regretted it. Here he learned the theoretical basis of political life from established authorities at the forefront of research, so the course proved as vocational for him as an engineering degree for an engineer. He also remembers very fondly the quality of student life at what remains an exceptionally friendly place. Aware of the realities of political life however he opted for the safety net of a PGCE, still at Leicester. It is a good job he did because during that year he met a newly arrived Sociology student, Sally, and on Sunday they will be celebrating their 46th wedding anniversary.
Bruce started a career teaching politics, first at Manchester University and then at what was to become the Birmingham Polytechnic. He combined this with the first faltering steps on the political ladder. Rebuffed by the electorate for seats at parish and county council level, he was reminded of the vital skill of a politician; the capacity to handle losing as well as winning, and he picked himself up to be elected to the local Bromsgrove Urban District Council where he chaired the Finance Committee. Having acquired both his basic theoretical and his practical political skills he first stood for parliament in 1970. Unsuccessful, he regrouped again, fought and lost in February 1974, and then finally in October 1974 he won the seat of Lichfield and Tamworth for Labour by just 331 votes. His first entry to the Palace of Westminster as an MP had a profound effect upon him, and he knew that he had found his spiritual home, doing what he describes as ‘The best job in the world’.
He played a number of roles in the turbulent Labour administration of the late 1970s, but like many lost his seat in 1979, and spent the next eight years away from Westminster. This time was not, however wasted. As an MP in a marginal seat he had considerable contact with the media, and he was immediately recruited as a political commentator to what was to become Central TV. Initially on an insecure weekly contract, he demonstrated his worth and eventually produced the very successful live programme ‘Central Weekend’. A return to politics was never far from his mind, however, and after unsuccessfully contesting the Wrekin in 1983, he was returned for that seat in 1987 where he remained for fourteen years.
Though he had been content to be on the periphery of the convulsions taking place in the Labour party in the 1980s, he was very glad to be back. He quickly re-established himself as a party man respected on all sides, and was immediately appointed Deputy Shadow Leader of the House, advisor to Neil Kinnock, the Leader of the Opposition, and then a Foreign Affairs spokesman under John Smith.
Then In 1994 Bruce was appointed as Parliamentary Private Secretary to Tony Blair, first as Leader of the Opposition, and then as Prime Minister. In this role he was at the very centre of political life as the PM’s connection to his parliamentary party, reflecting the mood of the party to the PM, and explaining the decisions of the PM to the party.
Bruce remembers well the spine tingling excitement of that first cabinet meeting in 1997, after a landslide Labour victory. In his role as the Prime Minister’s Parliamentary Private Secretary, he sat in that famous room with the sense of being where it all happens, where complex and difficult decisions are taken, often under great pressure. He spent seven years at Tony Blair’s side, and so played an important role in many major decisions. He retired as an MP in 2001, but his talents were not to be lost, and he moved to the red end of the Palace of Westminster as Lord Grocott of Telford. There was only one role for the new peer, party man to his fingertips and known to all at Westminster - Chief Whip in the House of Lords, with membership of the Privy Council. This at last took him to membership of the Cabinet in his own right. He served in this capacity, under both Tony Blair and Gordon Brown, with the tearooms and lobbies as his principal office before deciding to step down in 2008. He is still to be found in the Palace most days when the House is sitting, and remains a man of great influence. He is presently deeply involved in discussions and debate about constitutional reform.
Bruce Grocott has never lost his fundamental political convictions or his connections to the grass roots of politics. Without politicians like him our politics would be much the poorer. It is so good for us all that persons of his evident calibre are willing to beaver away in the ‘engine room’ of political life at Westminster to convert political vision so effectively into practical reality.
Mr Vice-Chancellor, on the recommendation of Senate and Council I present to you the Right Honourable Lord Grocott, that you may confer upon him the honorary degree of Doctor of Laws.
Written and delivered by Professor Stewart Petersen