Interview with Lord Bruce Grocott, the new Chancellor of the University of Leicester

On Thursday 24 January 2013, Lord Bruce Grocott was installed as the sixth Chancellor of the University of Leicester. A former Politics and PGCE student at the University, Lord Grocott then served in local and national politics for over forty years.

Lord Bruce Grocott
Vice-Chancellor Professor Sir Robert Burgess and Lord Bruce Grocott,
Can you recall why you chose Leicester as a student? What were your impressions of the University and the City?

Because Leicester was one of the very few places where you could do a pure politics degree.  I had been accepted at LSE to do economics but in simple terms I was bored with that subject and totally fascinated with politics.  At first, as with most new students (and like many others of my generation, the first in my family ever to go to university) I found things strange and slightly daunting.  But it was great that Leicester was small – fewer than 2,000 students and I quickly settled in.  The people in the city were very friendly and supportive of the university and its students.

Did your education/experiences at Leicester stand you in good stead for the life ahead?

Very much so.  I have had the enormous good fortune to have had much of my life in politics, practicing the subject I studied.  Above all my studies enabled me to put political events in perspective – not to take defeats personally!  Also it has been useful to have an understanding of governments overseas and to see the strengths and weaknesses of our system.   I was Secretary of the Labour Club, a role I thoroughly enjoyed, organising various meetings including one with the then Deputy Leader of the Labour Party, George Brown MP.

What were the highlights of your time at University- apart from meeting your wife-to-be of course?

Sorry, but it has to be meeting Sally.  It was fifty years ago this February at a party in a fellow student’s flat.  Without that there would be no children or grandchildren – much more important than anything else in life that has happened to me.

What have been the highlights of your career?

Without doubt it has to be May 1997 and the first Labour Cabinet meeting for 18 years, and of course the first one ever that I attended.  It really was hairs on the back of your neck  time.  I studied at Leicester how a Cabinet ought to function, and now I was watching a real one at work.

What impressions have you formed of the University upon your visits back?

I am very pleased to see a splendid mix of the old and the new.  There is much that is nostalgic for me – the student accommodation, especially Shirley House, as well as the main administrative building of the university.  Then there are the wonderful new developments – the Medical School to name but one.

What are your hopes/ambitions for your role as Chancellor?

I love the description of the University “elite but not elitist”.  I want to play a part in continuing the remarkable success and achievements of the University over past years, and to fly the flag for the university within parliament and elsewhere.   I am particularly proud of the diversity of University of Leicester – we reach the parts that many others don’t – and I hope we will continue to give a special welcome to people who may have initially thought that university was not for them.

What are you looking forward to most?

To meeting staff and students.  To experience at first hand the work of the university and in so doing to re-integrate myself after a fifty year gap.

What has impressed you about the University upon your return?

How it has grown in the range of subjects taught and massively in terms of the numbers of students attending, while managing to retain its friendly, reassuring and inclusive character.

What message would you like to give to staff?

That I intend to be an ambassador for the university and where I can be useful, to be involved in its work.   I have already taken Leicester politics students round Westminster and dusted down some of my old politics lecture notes.

And to Students?

Make the most of your time at what is an excellent choice of university and I hope you will get as much out of it as I did.

Who would be your favourite political figure from history and why?

If I could only choose one, then it would have to be the incomparable Nelson Mandela.  But if I am allowed a bit of leeway, I would add Gandhi for his phenomenal achievement in leading the independence movement by sheer force of personality and by peaceful means.  And I really ought to be allowed a Labour hero.  Keir Hardie takes some beating – from an impoverished background to becoming the first leader of what became a great national party.  And surely Attlee is worth a mention – Prime Minister of the greatest peacetime government of the 20th century which amongst numerous achievements, founded the National Health Service.

What are some of your favourite pieces of music?

There are so many -  this feels like Desert Island Discs.  I love music of all kinds, ranging from Buddy Holly and the Beatles to Chopin and Tchaikovsky.

What are your favourite films or plays?

I must have watched the Jungle Book dozens of times with children and now grandchildren, and how could you not just love it – wonderful characters and music.  Just happiness on film.  Brief Encounter is a wonderful film, so atmospheric at the railway station and with a simple romantic story.  My choice of a play is  an unashamed  plug.  Go and watch “This House” at the National Theatre.  It has had rave reviews and it is about the Labour Government of 1974 to 1979, which was defeated by a single vote on a motion of no confidence.  It is a little self- indulgent because Sally and I collaborated and advised the playwright and the cast.  We had after all lived through it!

What are your favourite books?

The one I have read most and continue to read is the Bible.   I am addicted to political biographies and to reference books of all sorts. I have read and re-read George Orwell since I was a student. P.G. Wodehouse for total relaxtion. On my table at the moment is an Alastair Campbell and a Chris Mullin diary.

Do you have any favourite sports teams?

I have been a season ticket holder at Stoke City for very many years. I inherited supporting Stoke from my father and now go to matches with my son and grandson.  It is the Club’s 150th anniversary this year and I am organising a celebration of this in parliament.    

What are some of your favourite spots for holidays?

Nothing exotic I am afraid – every year we go to Broadstairs and Llandudno with occasional forays to France, Germany and Switzerland.

What would you count as your hobbies?

I love railways – the routes, the exotic locations, the motive power, the dining cars and sleeping cars.  I come from three generations of railwaymen, so it is in the genes.  I have been involved with various heritage rail groups over the years.  And there is hardly a sport I can’t watch if it is live on television.

What is your favourite cuisine?

There is nothing to beat a full English breakfast.

BIOGRAPHICAL NOTE:

Source: http://www.parliament.uk/biographies/lords/bruce-grocott/26522

Electoral history

Contested South West Hertfordshire 1970 and Lichfield and Tamworth February 1974 general elections. MP (Labour) for Lichfield and Tamworth October 1974-79. Contested Lichfield and Tamworth 1979 and The Wrekin 1983 general elections. MP for The Wrekin 1987-97, for Telford 1997-2001

Parliamentary career

PPS to John Silkin: as Minister for Planning and Local Government 1975-76, as Minister of Agriculture 1976-78; Deputy Shadow Leader of the House and Deputy Campaigns Co-ordinator 1987-92; Opposition Frontbench Spokesperson for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs 1992-93; PPS to Tony Blair: as Leader of the Labour Party 1994-2001, as Prime Minister 1997-2001

Lords career

Government Spokesperson for: Defence 2001-02, Foreign and Commonwealth Office 2001-02, International Development 2001-02, Work and Pensions 2001-02; Government Whip 2001-02; Chief Whip 2002-08; Deputy Chair of Committees 2002-08; Deputy Speaker 2002-08

Councils, public bodies

Councillor, Bromsgrove Urban District Council 1971-74

Political interests

Foreign affairs, media, health service, machinery of government

Countries of interest

Angola

Name, style and title

Raised to the peerage as Baron Grocott, of Telford in the County of Shropshire 2001

You can read an oration by Professor Stewart Peterson on the occasion when Lord Grocott was awarded an honorary Doctor of Laws in July 2011:

http://www2.le.ac.uk/offices/press/media-centre/graduation-ceremonies-1/july-2011/orations/rt-hon-lord-grocott-pc-lld-doctor-of-laws

You can watch and listen to Lord Grocott’s response on the occasion when he was awarded an honorary degree:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=y9vr8U4Wmps&feature=edu&list=PL3CB04A900BEA9959      

The oration for Lord Grocott starts at 33mins 30secs, with Lord Grocott’s response following at 42mins.

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