This year’s lecture series looks at distinguished parliamentarians over history, including Pitt the Younger, Edmund Burke, and William Wilberforce. Eleanor Rathbone is included because she was a remarkable MP. She sat as an Independent, for the Combined English Universities, from 1929 until her death in January 1946. Within her time in the House – not exceptionally long by parliamentary standards – she achieved a remarkable amount. She is credited primarily with achieving the introduction of family allowances. However, that was her most notable, rather than her only, achievement. Her far-sightedness in international affairs was something I drew out in the lecture. She was on a par with Churchill in recognising the threat from Nazi Germany and in warning what would happen unless nations mobilised against the threat. She pursued a range of causes, mostly in defence of those who were disadvantaged (such as refugees fleeing authoritarian regimes), and utilised the procedures of the House of Commons to great effect. She was regularly on her feet in Question Time and during debates.
The lecture was recorded by BBC Parliament and is being broadcast tomorrow (Saturday) evening at 9.05 p.m. You can see my earlier Speaker’s Lecture on Parliament and political parties here and that on Enoch Powell by scrolling down on the site here.