Thursday 4 September 2014

Simon Titley has passed away

Simon Titley passed away this weekend, following the news in June that he had been taken ill.  He will be missed terribly by the Liberator Collective, those who enjoyed the Liberal Revue, and many people beyond whose lives he touched by his wit, incisive writing and instinctive, passionate Liberalism.

Originally from Lincolnshire – a heritage of which he was always proud – he went to Keele University, becoming a ‘highly political’ sabbatical officer.  For a long time he worked for the Liberal Party’s central organisation, moving to work for the GLC's successor organisations and finally organising Paddy Ashdown's tour for the 1992 General Election before eventually being coaxed away by the lure of PR.  He preferred the world of the political backroom, but did stand for Parliament once, in Grantham in 1983; as a local eccentric still shot silent newsreels for the town's cinema and filmed one of Simon's campaign meetings he thought he was probably the last UK general election candidate ever to appear in a silent film.  Preferring policymaking (serving on the Europe policy working group until last year) and commentary, his unwavering commitment to numerous personal political causes [Europe and Palestine two constants] always came first, sometimes to the detriment of his career.

Although Simon started to contribute to Liberator in the late 1970s, he was only persuaded to join the Collective in 1985.  His close friend and Liberator Collective colleague Mark Smulian describes Simon’s relationship with him and the magazine:

The first time I met Simon I inadvertantly nearly poisoned him as it turned out the cheese used to stuff rolls at a Liberal student conference in 1977 had spent the night in an underground car park and was thus richly flavoured with petrol fumes.
Alarming as this was to such a noted gourmet, it was start of a long friendship. Simon had contributed to Liberator from the late 1970s but became fully involved around 1985 when he found a book review he’d written had been insensitively edited. On being told this was to make room for a picture of a cat, Simon – fond as he was of cats – decided the only way to prevent such future vandalism was to join the collective.
From then on he, without imposing himself, provided much of Liberator’s political direction and its most telling analysis of events…. he despaired of the Liberal Democrats failure to build a core vote and to instead chase transitory grievances and split the difference in the ‘centre’.
Simon was noted for his love of fine food, wine and beer. He was deeply serious about politics, yet a satirist of great ability and the driving force behind establishing the Liberal Revue, which entertained conference goers on and off for 24 years.
He had a vast collection of erudite books on politics and economics, yet his favourite entertainment was the innuendo-strewn 1960s comedy show Round the Horne.
Simon leaves a huge gap not only in his family and friends’ lives but in the party’s resources for thinking about its future.

While the volume and quality of Liberal publications has declined considerably, even more so since Conrad Russell’s departure a decade ago, Simon fought what was almost a one-person campaign to keep the processes of Liberal thought going. His publications included Really Facing The Future [with David Boyle, 2011], a direct challenge to the party’s attempt to set out a policy programme in ‘sterile and detached language’.  He contributed to Reinventing the State, the 2007 social liberal response to the Orange Book.  His regular contributions to Liberator were supplemented by two periods of prolific blogging on all manner of topics.  His 2004-5 foray as the Liberal Dissenter was supplemented by more recent work on this blog.  

As Mark says, the culture brought to the Liberator and Liberal Revue teams by Simon was distinctive too.  Days out or even occasional weekends away were characterised by his love of the finest food and where possible a visit to the nearest record shop (politics is not the only interest we shared).  Simon was unafraid to stand up against tired received wisdom and lazy thinking – or confront those guilty of either.  The irony of some of those who whined about his blunt observations joining those mourning is not lost on some of us.  However, they are in exalted company.  Vince Cable has written this tribute:

Like many people in the party, I have been greatly saddened to see the passing of Simon Titley, long before his time.

He was in Liberator especially a tough irreverent critic of the party establishment and of conventional thinking.

I want to record my appreciations of his insights, originality and sharp wit. I benefitted personally from his advice and what he had to say was always thoughtful, considered and helpful. He will be greatly missed.

As Mark and Simon say, Liberalism and Liberal thought in particular are weaker today.