||This biographical article needs additional citations for verification. (February 2012)|
|The Right Honourable
The Lord Steel of Aikwood
KT KBE PC
|1st Presiding Officer of the Scottish Parliament|
12 May 1999 – 7 May 2003
|Preceded by||(office created)|
|Succeeded by||George Reid|
|Leader of Social and Liberal Democrats|
3 March 1988 – 16 July 1988
Serving with Robert Maclennan
|Preceded by||(party created)|
|Succeeded by||Paddy Ashdown|
|Leader of the Liberal Party|
7 July 1976 – 16 July 1988
|Preceded by||Jo Grimond|
|Succeeded by||Paddy Ashdown (as leader of the Social and Liberal Democrats)|
|Liberal Chief Whip|
|Preceded by||Eric Lubbock|
|Succeeded by||Cyril Smith|
|Member of Parliament
for Tweeddale, Ettrick and Lauderdale
11 June 1983 – 1 May 1997
|Preceded by||Constituency Created|
|Succeeded by||Michael Moore|
|Member of Parliament
for Roxburgh, Selkirk and Peebles
24 March 1965 – 11 June 1983
|Preceded by||Charles Donaldson|
|Succeeded by||Constituency Abolished|
|Member of the Scottish Parliament
6 May 1999 – 1 May 2003
|Preceded by||Constituency Created|
|Succeeded by||Mark Ballard|
|Born||David Martin Scott Steel
31 March 1938
|Political party||(1) Liberal Party
(2) Liberal Democrats
|Alma mater||University of Edinburgh|
|Religion||Church of Scotland|
David Martin Scott Steel, Baron Steel of Aikwood, KT KBE PC (born 31 March 1938) is a British Liberal Democrat politician who served as the Leader of the Liberal Party from 1976 until its merger with the Social Democratic Party in 1988 to form the Liberal Democrats. He served as a Member of Parliament (MP) from 1965 to 1997 and as a Member of the Scottish Parliament (MSP) from 1999 to 2003, during which time he was the parliament's Presiding Officer. Since 1997, he has been a member of the House of Lords.
David Steel was born in Kirkcaldy, Fife, the son of a Church of Scotland minister also called David Steel, who would later serve as Moderator of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland. He was brought up in Scotland and Kenya, and educated at Dumbarton Academy; James Gillespies Boys' School, Edinburgh; the Prince of Wales School, Nairobi; and George Watson's College, Edinburgh.
Member of Parliament
He first took an active part in Liberal politics at the University of Edinburgh, and after graduating in Law worked for the Scottish Liberal Party and then the BBC before being elected to the House of Commons as the MP for Roxburgh, Selkirk and Peebles at a 1965 by-election, becoming the "Baby of the House". He represented this seat until 1983, when he was elected in Tweedale, Ettrick and Lauderdale, a new constituency covering much of the same territory.
As an MP he was responsible for introducing, as a Private Member's Bill, the Abortion Act 1967 (see Abortion in the United Kingdom). He also became the Liberal Party's spokesman on employment, and in 1970 its Chief Whip.
Leader of Liberal Party
In 1976, after the downfall of Jeremy Thorpe and a short period in which Jo Grimond acted as caretaker leader, he won the Liberal leadership by a wide margin over fellow MP John Pardoe. At only 38 years old, he was one of the youngest party leaders in British history. In March 1977, he led the Liberals into the "Lib-Lab pact" by which they agreed to keep the Labour government, whose narrow majority since the general election in October 1974 had been gradually eroded and left them as minority government, in power in return for a degree of prior consultation on policy. This pact lasted until August 1978.
Steel has been criticised both then and since for not driving a harder bargain; the opposing case is that the continuing scandal surrounding Thorpe left the party in a very weak state to face an early general election and Steel was wise to buy himself some time from Callaghan. The unpopularity of the Labour government impaired the Liberals' performance, and Steel's first election as leader, the 1979 general election, saw a decline in Liberal fortunes.
In 1981, a group of Labour moderates left their party to form the Social Democratic Party. They were joined by the former Labour deputy leader Roy Jenkins who had previously had discussions with Steel about joining the Liberals. Under Jenkins's leadership, the SDP joined the Liberals in the SDP-Liberal Alliance, an electoral alliance that was so promising in its early days that Steel felt able to tell delegates at the Liberal Assembly that year to
"go back to your constituencies and prepare for government."
Steel had genuine hopes at this stage that the Alliance would win the next general election and form a coalition government. Opinion polls were showing Alliance support as high as 50% by late 1981.
However, the beginning of the Falklands War the following spring radically shifted the attitude of the electorate, and the Conservatives regained the lead in polls from the Alliance by a wide margin.
The Alliance secured more than 25% of the vote at the 1983 general election, almost as many votes as Labour, but it won very few seats and Steel's dreams of a big political breakthrough were left unfulfilled.
Shortly afterwards David Owen replaced Roy Jenkins as leader of the SDP and the troubled leadership of the "Two Davids" was inaugurated. It was never an easy relationship - Steel's political sympathies were well to the left of Owen's. Owen had a marked antipathy towards the Liberals though he respected Steel's prior loyalty to his own party contrasting it with Jenkins' lack of interest in preserving the SDP's independence. The relationship was also mercilessly satirised by Spitting Image which portrayed Steel as a squeaky voiced midget, literally in the pocket of Owen. Steel has often stated that he feels this portrayal seriously damaged his image. This portrayal of Steel as weaker than Owen was also present in other satires, such as Private Eye's Battle for Britain strip. The relationship finally fell apart during the 1987 general election when the two contradicted each other both on defence policy and on which party they would do a deal with in the event of a hung parliament.
Two parties merger
Steel was convinced the answer to these difficulties was a single party with a single leader, and was the chief proponent of the 1988 merger between the Liberals and the SDP. Steel emerged victorious in persuading both parties to accept merger in the teeth of opposition from Owen and radical Liberals such as Michael Meadowcroft but badly mishandled the issuing of a joint policy document. Steel had often been criticised for a lack of interest in policy and it appeared he had agreed to the document – drawn up by politically naive SDP advisers – without reading it. Steel's colleagues rejected it immediately and demanded a re-draft, fatally wounding his authority.
Steel was briefly joint interim leader of the Social and Liberal Democrats (as the new party was at first called) in the run-up to elections in which he did not stand, before becoming the party's Foreign Affairs spokesman. In 1989 he accepted an invitation from Italian liberals to stand for the European Parliament in that year's elections as a Pan-European gesture. Although not elected he polled very well. He was knighted and received the KBE in 1990. He became President of the Liberal International in 1994, holding the office until 1996.
Retirement and life peerage
He retired from the House of Commons at the 1997 general election and was made a life peer as Baron Steel of Aikwood, of Ettrick Forest in the Scottish Borders in the same year, residing at Aikwood Tower. He campaigned for Scottish devolution, and in 1999 was elected to the Scottish Parliament as a Liberal Democrat MSP for Lothians. He became the first Presiding Officer (speaker) of the Scottish Parliament on 12 May 1999. In this role, he used the style "Sir David Steel", despite his peerage, and had no party allegiance. He stepped down as an MSP when the parliament was dissolved for the 2003 election, but remained as Presiding Officer until he had supervised the election of his successor George Reid on 7 May of that year. He was appointed Lord High Commissioner to the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland in both 2003 and 2004.
Steel and his wife, Judith (often known as Judy), have three children: Graeme, Catriona and Rory. He has seven grandchildren: India, David, Caledonia, Hannah, Persia, James and Rio.
- Peter Bartram, David Steel: His Life and Politics (W.H. Allen, 1981)
- David Steel, A House Divided (Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 1980)
- David Steel, Against Goliath: David Steel's Story (Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 1989)
- General Mediterranean Holdings, owned by an Anglo-Iraqi billionaire, Nadhmi Auchi. Lord Steel was a director of it and was pressured to quit it.
- O'Grady, Sean (27 October 2007). "David Steel: Liberal conscience". The Independent (London). Retrieved 1 May 2010.
- "Liberal Democrat History Group". Liberalhistory.org.uk. Retrieved 2013-09-19.
- "BBC Politics 97". Bbc.co.uk. 1979-05-03. Retrieved 2013-09-19.
- "Top Ten: Lib Dem 'breakthrough moments'". ePolitix.com. 2010-04-24. Retrieved 2013-09-19.
- "1983: Thatcher triumphs again". BBC News. 5 April 2005.
- Verkaik, Robert (20 February 2006). "Politicians beware! 'Spitting Image' set to return". London: The Independent. Retrieved 11 May 2010.
- "Liberal Democrat History Group". Liberalhistory.org.uk. Retrieved 11 June 2010.
- Hansard 1803–2005: contributions in Parliament by David Steel
- Catalogue of the Steel papers at the Archives Division of the London School of Economics.
- Lord Steel of Aikwood profile at the site of Liberal Democrats
- Prince of Wales School:Old Cambrians Society, Nairobi
- We need to rethink my abortion law Steel's thoughts on the abortion debate, as of 2004.