Christopher Roberts Walmsley 1943-1995 (Joe's 1955-1972)

Obituary by Tom McNally
written for The Guardian in 1995

Chris Walmsley, who has died a few weeks short of his 52nd birthday, was one of those people whose whole life is an antidote to the jibe of careerist often thrown at party politicians. He died in harness, of a brain haemorrhage, while attending a meeting of the Council of European Liberal, Democrat and Reform Parties of the European Union (the ELDR) in Brussels on behalf of the Liberal Democrats. Since the age of 15 he nurtured an open and avowed intention to become an MP. Quixotically it was the Liberal Party, with the combination of original thinking, independence and humanity epitomised by Joe Grimmond that won him over in the early sixties and the cause he remained true to until his death.

He never did achieve his ambition. In 1986 he came close when, at the Derbyshire West by-election caused by the resignation of Matthew Parris, he missed capturing the seat by 100 votes. On the way into the count he had been told by a BBC reporter that their exit poll predicted him as the winner. He fought and failed to win the seat again in 1987, then in 1992 he turned his attention to Leeds North East. During that campaign he used what proved to be an erroneous newspaper report to attack his Conservative opponent's absence from the constituency in an election leaflet. The leaflet although withdrawn, led to Walmsley's third defeat and a libel suit from the Conservative victor. An out of court settlement of £10,000, a large sum for Chris who worked as a producer for BBC Radio Manchester, did not deter him from seeking and winning nomination as Liberal Democrat candidate for Congleton in the next general election.

Chris Walmsley would have made a very good MP. He was an excellent public speaker and an indefatigable campaigner who genuinely enjoyed the one- to-one contact of the doorstep confrontation. His political life mirrored his personal life in being totally without malice or rancour.

He fitted Denis Healey's criteria for a rounded politician in that he had a hinterland. He was born a policeman's son in Blackpool and studied law at University College, London, where he became President of the Union. As a broadcaster he did genuinely pioneering work with the ethnic communities of Greater Manchester. He was immense good fun and although he tipped the scales at over 20 stone for most of his adult life he used his weight for humorous effect, with none of the pomposity which often accompanies bulk.

No one who heard Walmsley recount the story of his belly dance at a party fundraiser, where he had glued tassels to his nipples and then, because he was carried away by a favourable audience reaction, had torn them off as a final pièce de résistance, will forget his description of the audience swimming before his eyes as the pain hit him. This was not a man overburdened by a sense of self-importance.

Yet neither did he play the populist or the political clown. At the time of his death he was working on a paper mapping out a political strategy for the Liberal Democrats between now and the general election. Admired by the party's defence spokesman, Ming Campbell, as being both knowledgeable and practical about defence and security matters, he had also chaired the party's ethnic minorities working group and was a committed and active European.

Shortly before his death, he told a friend what he wanted on his gravestone 'Here lies Chris Walmsley - He loved life, so you can imagine how brassed off he is now.' There will be many who learn of his untimely death who will be brassed off that so much fun and humanity has been taken from their lives. He leaves his wife Joan, a political soulmate, three children, a stepdaughter and two grandchildren.


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