The following article won The Spectator’s Greatest Parliamentarian of the Last 25 Years article writing competition in 2010:
I nominate David Steel as the best Parliamentarian of the last twenty-five years. While there were more important historical figures sitting in the Commons during this period, for most of them their greatest achievements were behind them by 1985. Roy Jenkins, Margaret Thatcher, Nigel Lawson, Geoffrey Howe and Tony Benn could all make claims, but not based on their records after the mid-eighties.
David Steel was instrumental in founding the Liberal Democrats which, regardless of your opinion of that party, was surely one of the key events in our recent political history. The agenda of the Alliance, which was Steel’s as much as anyone’s, shaped the politics of the nineties and noughties. Neil Kinnock, Tony Blair and Gordon Brown were pushed into remoulding the Labour party along non-socialist lines as a result of continuing popular support for the Liberal Democrats.
On top of this, Steel was a key figure in achieving devolution of power to Scotland, Wales and London. If it hadn’t been for the involvement of high profile politicians like David Steel then devolution might have dropped off the political agenda entirely during the eighties and nineties. In 1999 he became the Scottish Parliaments first Presiding Officer.
To cap it all, as a public speaker Steel was and is in the top rank of modern British politicians. There are few who are clearly more able speechmakers than Steel. In terms of achievement he trumps them all. A towering figure in all but the most literal of senses.