Michael Steed obituary


Michael Steed, who has died aged 83, was one of many pioneers of psephology who labored with the political scientist and psephologist David Butler on many basic election research. He took an early curiosity within the significance of native elections, and for greater than twenty years offered an annual chart of these outcomes to the Economist journal, in addition to contributing to the Observer and making tv appearances on election nights.

A distinguished Liberal occasion activist, he was the vice-chair of the Nationwide League of Younger Liberals throughout its radical section within the Sixties, often at odds with the occasion chief on the time, Jeremy Thorpe. He persistently championed homosexual rights, referred to as for a federal Europe and proposed constitutional reform, together with regional authorities. Steed didn’t simply snipe from the wings however took on key roles within the occasion, turning into a member of the occasion government and serving as its president (1978-79) underneath an election system he had devised and which the occasion backed.

Born in Ramsgate, Kent, to Margaret (nee Cloke) and Norman Steed, a farmer, Michael was the eldest of two boys and 4 ladies. He attended St Lawrence faculty, a neighborhood impartial faculty, following which, in 1959, he spent six months on mainland Europe, which instilled a ardour for that area and internationalism generally. At Corpus Christi School, Cambridge, he studied economics in his first 12 months, after which switched to geography.

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Within the Liberal occasion of Jeremy Thorpe, Michael Steed argued for a deal with rules and insurance policies somewhat than personalities

He had joined the Liberal occasion in 1958, nevertheless it was at Cambridge that he grew to become lively in nationwide Liberal politics, and in 1960 was elected president of the nationwide organisation for Liberal college students. Concerned within the anti-apartheid motion, he tried to enter South Africa to ship help to the victims of the Sharpeville shootings, however was refused entry by the regime.

From 1963 to 1965 Steed undertook postgraduate analysis with Butler at Nuffield School, Oxford. He grew to become Butler’s assistant, from 1964 to 2005 contributing, latterly with John Curtice, the statistical part to most of the lengthy sequence of definitive books on every basic election.

An additional side of his work with Butler lay in devising what he believed to be a extra subtle system for measuring the electoral swing between the key events. Butler took the votes for all of the events whereas Steed believed that extracting solely the Labour and Conservative votes offered a extra correct measurement of swing.

In 1966 Steed additionally started lecturing in authorities at Manchester College, a publish that he held till his retirement because of ailing well being in 1987.

As vice-chair of the Nationwide League of Younger Liberals (1966-68), Steed demonstrated his talent at developing a robust case in debate, notably in response to the makes an attempt by Thorpe and different occasion bigwigs to self-discipline its youth motion. Steed maintained that “the occasion should shift consideration away from personalities to a wide-ranging debate about ideology, rules and insurance policies”.

Whereas within the senior occasion he was a preferred participant within the end-of-conference Glee Membership, for which he wrote plenty of skilful parodies. I personally benefited from his advocacy and forensic abilities when he persuaded the Boundary Fee, through an inquiry in Leeds, that legally it didn’t should create constituencies solely inside the metropolis council space. As a consequence its modified proposals produced the winnable Leeds West seat for me in 1983.

Steed additionally fought tough elections. In 1967 he contested the Brierley Hill, West Midlands, byelection, largely backed by the Younger Liberals, and misplaced his deposit. On the 1970 basic election he contested the extra promising constituency of Truro, however completed third. In 1973 he was the candidate within the Manchester Alternate byelection, a beforehand strong Labour seat with little Liberal exercise. Steed polled 36.5% and got here a great second, the Liberals constructing a group politics marketing campaign from scratch, notably concentrating on soliciting and coping with electors’ particular person issues – a tactic that the profitable Labour candidate memorably labelled “on the spot compassion”.

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An election pamphlet for Michael Steed within the Brierley Hill, West Midlands, byelection in 1967

Steed unsuccessfully fought Manchester Central within the February 1974 basic election and Burnley in 1983. He additionally fought Larger Manchester North on the 1979 European parliament election. His one election success got here in a 2008 byelection for Canterbury metropolis council, now as a Liberal Democrat, however he selected to not defend his seat in 2011. Steed’s issue as a candidate was not unusual amongst teachers preventing elections in that his heat persona was at occasions hidden behind his intellectualism.

In the direction of the top of 1987 Steed had contracted a severe neurological illness that proved proof against diagnose exactly and was thus tough to deal with. In 1970 he had married a Swedish Younger Liberal, Margareta Holmstedt, and settled in Todmorden, West Yorkshire, however after they separated in 1990 he discovered it tough to deal with the hilly terrain there and returned to Kent, settling in Canterbury. In 1999 he met Barry Clements, a grasp carpenter, at a males’s social assembly in Whitstable. They grew to become companions, and had been joined in a civil partnership earlier this 12 months.

Steed and Margareta divorced in 2004. Barry survives him, as do his sisters, Corinne, Sarah, Sue and Frances, and his brother, David.


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