Mike Thomas (politician)

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Mike Thomas
Member of Parliament
for Newcastle-upon-Tyne East
In office
10 October 1974 – 9 June 1983
Preceded by Geoffrey William Rhodes
Succeeded by Nick Brown
Personal details
Born (1944-05-24) 24 May 1944 (age 72)
Political party Labour Party (1970-81); Social Democratic Party (1981-88); 'continuing' Social Democratic Party (1988-90)

Michael Stuart Thomas (born 24 May 1944) is a former British politician, identified with the Labour Party until 1981 and thereafter with the Social Democratic Party (SDP). He became well known for his role in both the establishment of the SDP and then in the SDP's subsequent demise. The SDP's leader, Roy Jenkins, referred to Thomas as the "pint-sized Pavarotti", on the basis of his stocky build and beard together with his aggressive manner.

Early life[edit]

Thomas was educated at the Latymer Upper School and King's School in Macclesfield. Both were independent sector schools. He studied at Liverpool University from 1962 to 1966, graduating with a BA degree. From 1965 to 1966 he served as President of the Liverpool University Guild of Students and from 1966 to 1968 he was a member of the National Executive of the National Union of Students.

Early political career[edit]

He initially made a career in political research, acting as head of the Co-operative Party's research department from 1966 to 1968 and as a research associate with the predecessor body of the Policy Studies Institute from 1968 to 1973.[1] He stood as the Labour Party candidate for the constituency of East Hertfordshire in the 1970 general election. On that occasion, Thomas lost to the Conservative Party candidate by a 14,000 vote margin.[2]

Thomas continued in his quest to find a seat in Parliament and eventually succeeded at Newcastle-upon-Tyne East in September 1974, after the death at age 45 of the sitting Labour member Geoff Rhodes. Thomas's rivals for the Labour candidature included a number of local Party activists, notably the prominent local councillor Jeremy Beecham. As an outsider to Newcastle Labour politics, Thomas won the selection vote with the support of left-wing and anti-establishment elements in the local Party. One of the party members who voted for Thomas at the selection meeting later characterised him as "... the classic 'man who got off the train from Kings Cross'. His key asset was that nobody knew anything about him."[3]

He went on to be elected as the Labour and Co-operative Party MP for Newcastle East with a 6,000 vote majority over his Conservative opponent in the October 1974 general election.[4]

The Social Democratic Party[edit]

As a new Labour MP, Thomas served as parliamentary private secretary to minister Roy Hattersley from 1974 to 1976. He developed an interest in industrial and commercial matters, serving on the Parliamentary Select Committee on the Nationalized Industries from 1975 to 1979 and as Chairman of the Parliamentary Labour Party's Trade Group from 1979 to 1981.

Once established as an MP, Thomas soon became associated with the Campaign for Labour Victory group of right wingers in the Labour Party led by MP and Environment Minister Bill Rodgers. In February 1981 Thomas was among a number of Labour MPs who defected to the new Social Democratic Party. During a final meeting with his constituency Labour Party, Thomas claimed that consultations with constituents convinced him that most of them supported his decision the leave the Labour Party. He declined to follow the advice of the constituency party that he should resign as an MP and contest a by-election.[5] Thomas remained in Parliament as an SDP MP where he acted as his new party's spokesman on health and social services.

Along with Ian Wrigglesworth he was credited with masterminding the party's successful launch. As a member of the SDP's national steering committee he assumed a prominent role in the selection of SDP candidates for the forthcoming general election. He also assumed a prominent role in negotiations with the Liberal Party concerning the sharing out of constituency candidacies between the two parties. The terms of an SDP/Liberal alliance was critical to the electoral success of both. Thomas quickly became known for his obduracy in the seat negotiations with the Liberals. In July 1981 it was reported that :

"Senior Liberals were quietly seething... at the suggestion from Mike Thomas that half the prospective parliamentary candidates already adopted by local Liberal associations should stand down in favour of SDP members."[6]

Many Liberals perceived Thomas's approach as being "... a cynical electoral deal imposed from above." Thomas sought re-election at Newcastle East in the 1983 general election as the SDP candidate, but could only come in third place. Labour's Nick Brown won with a majority of 7,000 votes over his Conservative opponent.[7] Thomas stood for Parliament as an SDP candidate in Exeter in 1987 but failed to be elected.

At its annual conference in September 1987, the SDP decided to open negotiations with the Liberal Party over a merger of the two parties. Thomas and some other high-profile SDP members were opposed to this merger. Thomas provided an iconic image of the demise of the SDP when he engaged in a heated exchange with SDP President Shirley Williams over the use of a room at the conference centre for a meeting of those SDP members opposed to the merger. In full view of TV cameras, Williams refused Thomas access to the room on grounds that his group's meeting was not an official SDP function. Thomas initiated another heated disagreement at the Conference when he demanded access to the SDP's central membership list in order to facilitate his campaign to keep the SDP as an independent party. This provoked a further confrontation with Shirley Williams and Thomas moved a motion of no confidence in her chairmanship of the Conference.

Thomas became Vice-President of the SDP rump that continued as an independent party after the 1988 merger of the SDP's main body with the Liberal Party to form the Liberal Democrats. He continued trying to negotiate deals whereby SDP and Liberal Democrat candidates would stand down in each other's favour in particular constituencies. But by now his advances were being largely ignored.[8]

Later career[edit]

After losing his seat in Parliament in 1983, Thomas developed a portfolio of interests in journalism and management consulting. He was involved in various consultancies mainly concerned with media and public relations. In 1988 he established his own consultancy named Corporate Communications Strategy. In 1998 he became a non-executive director of the 'lobbying and direct marketing group' Lopex whose then Chairman was the former SDP peer Viscount Chandos.[9]

He remained a prominent member of the SDP until that party's final demise in 1990. He has not been politically active since then and, unlike many former SDP leaders, has declined to align himself with any of the other political parties.

Personal life[edit]

Thomas married his current wife, Maureen Kelly, in 1976. He has one son (Paul, born 1973) by a previous marriage.


  1. ^ Debrett's biography of Mike Thomas
  2. ^ Political resources 1970 general election results
  3. ^ New Statesman, 'End of the Road for the SDP', 17 October 1987
  4. ^ Political resources October 1974 general election results
  5. ^ The Times, 'Mike Thomas leaves the PLP', 14 February 1981.
  6. ^ The Times, 'Liberals hogging the best seats, SDP man says', 24 July 1981
  7. ^ Not updated: UK General Election results: June 1983
  8. ^ The Times, 'SDP still seeking pre-election pacts with other parties' 19 September 1989
  9. ^ The Independent, 'Former MP gets a vote in a lobby group', June 12, 1998

External links[edit]

Parliament of the United Kingdom
Preceded by
Geoffrey William Rhodes
Member of Parliament for Newcastle-upon-Tyne East
October 19741983
Succeeded by
Nick Brown