PRICE, Christopher (1932-2015).



Birmingham, Perry Barr
31 March 1966 - 18 June 1970
Lewisham West
28 February 1974 - 9 June 1983


Christopher Price was born on 26 January 1932 and grew up in East Keswick, Yorkshire. Educated at Leeds Grammar School and The Queen’s College, Oxford, he joined the Labour party when he was sixteen and became a Sheffield City Councillor in 1962. He married Annie Grierson Ross in 1956.

Price became Labour MP for Birmingham, Perry Barr in 1966, after an unsuccessful attempt to win in Shipley in 1964. He was not re-elected in 1970, but returned to Parliament in 1974 to represent Lewisham West, holding his seat until 1983. His work in the House mainly focused on education: he was the Parliamentary Private Secretary for the Education Minister and served as Chairman of the Select Committee on Education, Science and the Arts. He was also a Member of the European Parliament.

Chris Price died on 21 February, 2015.

Click here to listen to the full interview with Chris Price in the British Library.

Transcript of clip

My problem: I was neither left-wing nor right-wing. Frequently, however, I felt that Labour was doing the wrong thing and sometimes I blurted it out at the Labour party group, which was meant to be private, but it was not private at all.  So I never became at all popular with either the left or the right, within either Birmingham or the Labour Party in London. I tended to specialize in education because you have to specialize in something. A lot of Labour party MPs were brought up in working class homes, were terrible aware of the difference between working class people and others. The others had to sort of pick up things and specialize in something…There were probably a half dozen of MPs who were rather like me. When they felt the Labour Party has done wrong we just didn’t do it in private, they started doing it in public and saying “you are doing it all wrong”. Harold Wilson was brilliant, but after Harold Wilson…Callaghan, he irritated me, because he always sort of – I would be standing there and he’d put his arm around my shoulder: “How are you doing Chris? It’s all right for you, you know, with your first class honours degree” and I would say “Jim, I got a third class”, “Well, anyway it was in Oxford. Anyway, it’s all the same for people like you”. He was fairly bitter about the posh classes and this is why he and Wilson didn’t get along very well.

Summary of interview

Track 1 [59:39] [Session one: 15 October 2012]. Christopher Price [CP], born {}1932. Mentions childhood in East Keswick, Yorkshire and attending Leeds Grammar School. Mentions becoming interested in labour politics after 1944 elections. Mentions family members belonging to Congregationalist church. Description of being fascinated by the way Congregationalists voted for church leader. Remarks on evacuation to Wales during WWII and anti-Semitism in Leeds during WWII. Mentions Gerald Kaufman [GK] being at same school and encouraging CP to join Labour party. Describes attending Labour party meetings. Remarks on how studying classics in Sixth form was all about politics. Mentions going to Oxford University where he joined Oxford Labour Club and was chairman of Oxford Labour Party Group. Description of father’s stammer. Description of father reading war announcement from Yorkshire Post. Mentions evacuation of Leeds Grammar pupils to Yorkshire Dales and Wales. Mentions father’s role in promoting higher education in Leeds and London. Mentions choosing Queen’s College at Oxford and being active in Labour party there. Mentions GK being at Oxford at same time. [11:10] Description of anti-Semitism in Leeds in late 1940s. Description of Jewish association with Leeds clothing industry. Description of being evacuee and the matron’s popularity among schoolboys. Description of CP’s family moving to London after WWII while CP stayed in Leeds to finish his schooling. Description of GK’s family. Mentions CP’s aptitude for Latin and Greek. Description of National Service and being thrown out of Officer Cadet School (OCS) for being argumentative. Reflection on living in Leeds with his Methodist teacher Reverend {Warrell}. Description of radar training course in army. Reflection on association with GK. Mentions teacher training and being chairman of International Union of Socialist Youth. Anecdote IUSY meeting where members communicated in Latin. [29:56] Anecdote about scruffy appearance contributing to being thrown out of OCS. Mentions family’s move to London. Mentions brothers attending Merton College at Oxford. Description of himself as a loner. Further description of army radar course. Remarks on leaving the army two days before starting university. [40:27] Comments on the other soldiers who started at the same time. Comments on translating Yorkshire Post articles into Latin and Greek at school. Comments on Yorkshire Post being anti-Labour. Anecdote about his father’s intellect and digging for victory. Mentions teaching for 10 years at Ecclesfield Grammar School. Remarks on being secretary of Labour Club and chairman of Labour Party Group at Oxford. Comments on learning politics through studying ancient Greeks. Mentions reading ‘The Guardian’ but not always being loyal to the Labour party. [50:09] Mentions being friends with Rupert Murdoch [RM] at Oxford who was regarded as a socialist at that time. Story of RM’s father writing about the British army’s treatment of ANZAC soldiers during WWI. Story about RM’s father dying during RM’s finals and RM taking over newspaper empire. Mentions parents reading ‘The Guardian’. Mentions younger sister Helen Jackson [HJ] becoming an MP and brother’s career as a chemist. Remarks on serving as a councillor in Sheffield where he lived when first married.
Track 2 [41:49] Remarks on becoming a councillor in Sheffield. Mentions Roy Hattersley [RH]. Comments on unsuccessfully standing for Parliament in Shipley, and RH recommending he stand for Perry Barr in 1966. Mentions losing Perry Barr in 1970. Remarks on becoming education correspondent for the ‘New Statesman’ at Dick Crossman’s suggestion. Detailed comments on being a journalist. Comments on Labour leadership in Sheffield council. Mentions moving to London with three children [and wife Annie] and standing for Parliament in Lewisham West. Remarks on always doing well in selection process. Remarks on teaching at Ecclesfield Grammar School. [10:49] Remarks on election campaigns being run by election committees. Comments on first campaign in Shipley. Anecdote about becoming PPS to Education Minister Tony Crosland [AC] and AC’s comment on RH attending Hull University. Comments on how members of Labour party needed to have either a trade union background or university education. Anecdote about Jim Callaghan’s [JC’s] attitude to CP’s Oxford degree which CP partly explains why CP was never made a minister. Remarks on tendency to support left-wing of party. Story about how whips asked CP to stop filibustering about comprehensive schools and then becoming chairman of Select Committee on Education, Science and the Arts. [20:19] Comments on quid pro quo system of politics. Remarks on getting a feel for the vote in an election campaign. Mentions RH’s safe seat in Birmingham Sparkbrook. Comments on Labour party seeing CP as being ‘too clever by half’. Remarks on AC. Remarks on not being interested in policy but knowing about history of education. Lengthy remarks on education system. [29:08] Comments on academies and comprehensives and splitting education between those that are clever and those that use their hands. Remarks on his father’s career in technical education and being secretary to Yorkshire Council for Further Education. Mentions Denis Healy’s father, chairman of Yorkshire technical colleges, arguing with CP’s father over funding. Remarks on terminology of further education. Lengthy comments on promotion of technical education after WWI to which CP attributes WWII victory. Comments on need to combine education and training. Remarks on studying and lecturing on history of education since 1970s. Comments on efforts to squeeze ‘class’ out of the education system. Anecdote about CP’s two local pubs in Dulwich catering for two different classes.
Track 3 [54:40] Remarks on campaign in Perry Bar. Mentions campaign being vague. Comments on whips’ influence once elected to House of Commons. Comments on visiting Perry Barr once a month and constituency make-up. Remarks on meeting constituents and having minimal constituency work. Comments on local Labour party. Comments on losing seat to the Conservatives and 1970 election. [10:01] Comments on first weeks in Commons. Remarks on not being popular either with left or right of Labour party. Comments on Labour MPs from working-class background. Comments on not always agreeing with Labour party strategy. Remarks on JC being bitter about upper classes which affected JC’s relationship with Harold Wilson. Remarks on House of Commons operating like a London club. Comments on being very involved in education group. Remarks on being unusual in neither having working-class background nor having studied history of the Labour party. Self-deprecating remarks about himself. Mentions suffering a stroke two years before the interview. Comments on knowing about development of education during 20th century and becoming a specialist in education. Mentions enjoying becoming education correspondent to the ‘New Statesman’ when he lost Perry Bar. Mentions being difficult to categorise. [19:10] Comments on speaking in the House. Comments on being seen as a loner which meant he was not considered for a ministerial role. Remarks on receiving offers of work after losing his seat and not being too concerned about getting back into Parliament. Mentions MP’s salaries and earning additional money from journalism. Remarks on how his articles may have offended other MPs. Mentions standing for Lewisham West. Comments on Lewisham’s demographics. Remarks on seeing himself as much a journalist as a politician. [29:32] Further comments on seats in Lewisham. Remarks on how Margaret Thatcher’s [MT] decision to let people buy council houses had an immediate effect on Labour losing seats. Comments on meeting MT after leaving Parliament. Remarks on MT’s policies. Comments on MT’s current health. Description of being chairman of committee on Education, Science and the Arts during his second period in Parliament. Remarks on how party politics were swept away in select committee reports. Description of how CP assigned the committee posts. Mentions not belonging to any dining groups. Mentions a period of heavy drinking. [39:19] Remarks on whips and pairs. Remarks on Inter-Parliamentary Union. Mentions whips ‘bribing’ MPs with the offer of a trip overseas. Comments on value of IPU trips. Description of being an MEP. Comments on European Parliament and drinking culture. Comments on useful conversations with representatives from other countries. Further remarks about European Parliament. Description of origin of whips. [50:17] Comments on colleagues in the House. Remarks on benefit of trips for some MPs who had never previously left Britain. Remarks on Labour party being much better organised now. Comments on lack of politics in local newspapers.
Track 4 [14:22] Comments on constituency work in Lewisham West. Remarks on never being pressurised from outside Parliament. Remarks on losing Lewisham West due to the national swing. Remarks on not wanting to try again for another seat. Mentions no regret about not becoming a minister. Comments on books written on politics. Mentions not keeping in touch with any MPs except for his sister HJ. Comments on HJ’s decision to leave Parliament. [06:42] Lengthy description of his involvement in [Maxwell] Confait case which eventually resulted in new legislation on police interrogation methods. Remarks on Colin Lattimore’s [CL] reduced mental capacity. Remarks on being invited to police conferences as a result. Mentions book he wrote ‘The Confait Confessions’. Mentions death of CL’s parents. Comments on police force. Remarks on working after leaving Parliament.