Peter Griffiths

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For other people named Peter Griffiths, see Peter Griffiths (disambiguation).
Peter Griffiths
Member of Parliament
for Portsmouth North
In office
3 May 1979 – 1 May 1997
Preceded by Frank Judd
Succeeded by Syd Rapson
Member of Parliament
for Smethwick
In office
15 October 1964 – 31 March 1966
Preceded by Patrick Gordon Walker
Succeeded by Andrew Faulds
Personal details
Born (1928-05-24)24 May 1928
West Bromwich, Staffordshire, England, UK
Died 20 November 2013(2013-11-20) (aged 85)
Southsea, Portsmouth, Hampshire, England, UK
Citizenship British
Political party Conservative
Residence United Kingdom

Peter Harry Steve Griffiths (24 May 1928 – 20 November 2013) was a British Conservative politician best known for gaining the Smethwick seat by defeating the Shadow Foreign Secretary Patrick Gordon Walker in the 1964 general election against the national trend.


Griffiths was born in West Bromwich, Staffordshire, and attended West Bromwich Grammar School, Leeds Teacher Training College and London and Birmingham universities before entering a teaching career. In 1955 he was elected to Smethwick County Borough Council[1] and subsequently stood against the sitting Member of Parliament (MP) Gordon Walker in the 1959 election, reducing Walker's majority from 6,495 to 3,544.[2]

Griffiths served as a local councillor until 1963 when he resigned to fight the Smethwick parliamentary seat again in the forthcoming general election. Labour were expected to win the 1964 election, and Gordon Walker was Foreign Secretary designate. Smethwick had been a focus of immigration from the Commonwealth during the years of economic and industrial growth following World War II[citation needed]. It was perhaps for these reasons that race and nationality featured prominently in what became an increasingly ill-tempered election campaign in 1964. The Conservatives were accused of running a racist campaign under the slogan "If you want a nigger for a neighbour, vote Labour".[3][4] Griffiths' defeat of Gordon Walker resulted in a furious Harold Wilson claiming in the House of Commons that Griffiths should "serve his term here as a parliamentary leper".[5][6] In his maiden speech in the Commons, however, Griffiths pointed out the problems faced by local industry and drew attention to the fact that 4,000 families were awaiting local authority accommodation.[7] Griffiths also wrote his own account of the election in 1966.[8][9]

Griffiths was in turn defeated by Labour candidate Andrew Faulds in the 1966 general election[10] and returned to a career in education.[1] In 1967, he became a lecturer in Economics at Portsmouth College of Technology. After a year as an exchange professor in California, he returned to the now Portsmouth Polytechnic, until he returned to Parliament in 1979.[5]

He unsuccessfully fought the Portsmouth North constituency in the February 1974 general election, but did not stand in the October 1974 election. However, he stood again at the 1979 general election, defeating the sitting Labour MP Frank Judd. He held the seat until the Labour landslide at the 1997 election.[1]

He was married to Jeannette, née Rubery, and they had one son and one daughter.[1]

He died on 20 November 2013.[5]

Media views[edit]

Griffiths has been described as a racist (or racialist) who blamed the spread of disease on the rise in Black immigrants into the UK and who "killed rational debate about immigration".[11] Refusing to disown[12] the infamous 10-word slogan used during the Smethwick election ("if you want a nigger for a neighbour, vote Labour"),[13] Griffiths is said to have called the slogan "a manifestation of popular feeling",[12] although he denied that there was any "resentment in Smethwick on the grounds of race or colour", and claimed that he himself had "no colour prejudice".[13]


  1. ^ a b c d Who's Who 2007
  2. ^ Smethwick (UK Parliament constituency)
  3. ^ Childs, P., Storry, M. (1999) Encyclopaedia of contemporary British culture, London: Routledge p. 13
  4. ^ Geddes, A. (2003) The politics of migration and immigration in Europe, London: Sage Publications, p. 34
  5. ^ a b c "Peter Griffiths - obituary". Daily Telegraph. 27 November 2013. Archived from the original on 9 August 2014. Retrieved 27 November 2013. 
  6. ^ The Times, 4 November 1964, p.4 col.5
  7. ^ Hansard, 1964
  8. ^ Griffiths (1966)
  9. ^ Time Magazine, 13 November 1964
  10. ^ White (2000)
  11. ^ Stanley, Tim (28 November 2013). "Peter Griffiths and the ugly Tory racism of the 1960s killed rational debate about immigration". Blogs - The Telegraph. The Telegraph. Retrieved 17 March 2015. 
  12. ^ a b Jeffries, Stuart (15 October 2014). "Britain's most racist election: the story of Smethwick, 50 years on". The Guardian. Retrieved 17 March 2015. 
  13. ^ a b "Peter Griffiths - obituary". The Telegraph. Retrieved 17 March 2015. 


External links[edit]

Parliament of the United Kingdom
Preceded by
Patrick Gordon Walker
Member of Parliament for Smethwick
Succeeded by
Andrew Faulds
Preceded by
Frank Judd
Member of Parliament for Portsmouth North
Succeeded by
Syd Rapson