Big interview: A life in politics for Rise Park activist Terry Hurlstone
�Peter Hain, Vince Cable, and Sir Francis Drake – just three of the names who have made an impact on political activist Terry Hurlstone’s fascinating life.
When he interrupted Diane Abbott on Question Time two weeks ago, the four-time Liberal/Liberal Democrat election candidate put himself back in the spotlight – a place he has rarely been a stranger to.
He interrupted the shadow public health minister shadow health minister Diane Abbott when she praised Ed Miliband for “being the first” to distance himself from Rupert Murdoch.
Terry shouted from the audience: “Vince Cable was the first to pull the plug on Murdoch. If you read two days ago what’s come out of the (Leveson) inquiry... Vince Cable did not fall for it, so let’s give a cheer for Vince Cable.”
The audience joined in with the applause, and presenter David Dimbleby said to him: “Thank you sir, you don’t need a microphone.”
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“Politics is fun, and it should be fun,” Terry says, summing up his approach to his activism, which saw him make a breakthrough in Romford for the Liberal Party, as well as help to found Friends of the Earth.
Raised in Hendon, North-West London, Terry, now 72, studied at Brentwood College of Education in Sawyers Hall Lane, before becoming an art teacher at Quarles Secondary School for Boys in Tring Gardens, Harold Hill, in 1971.
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A Liberal Youth activist for several years by then, Terry was inspired by his study of history and fascination with Liberal prime ministers William Gladstone and David Lloyd-George.
“We’ve come a long way. When I joined the party, we had five MPs. I knew every single one of their names.
“Now, when I sit and watch TV I see ones who I have no idea who they are.”
As a young activist he worked closely with future Labour minister Peter Hain, who was then a member of the Liberal Youth. Terry was once arrested for fixing a chain across Oxford Street with Peter – who was not arrested – as part of a campaign to pedestrianise the area.
In the general election of February 1974, he scored the sixth-highest result of any Liberal candidate who failed to get elected, with 28 per cent of the vote in Romford.
Part of that success was due to a campaign he led against the demolition of Gidea Park Cottages on Main Road, which, he believed, had their origins in medieval times.
In 1972 he and other activists protested outside the buildings dressed in medieval costumes.
They eventually secured a temporary order stopping the demolition – but on the day that expired, the bulldozers moved in.
“We had a team of people in the area. One phoned me about seven in the morning. I phoned a friend who rushed to the town hall to try to get a new order – but of course it wasn’t open until nine.
“I went and stood in front of the bulldozer. The developer who was in the bulldozer shouted at me, ‘If you don’t move out of the way, I’ll kill you with the bulldozer’.
“But there were four policeman there and they heard him and warned him not to threaten me. By the time I moved, we got the order and stopped the demolition again.
“The developer sold it on and the new developer didn’t want to knock it down – the cottages are still there to this day.”
Other memories of his career include helping to organise a Recorder-backed clean-up of the River Rom.
He stood, unsuccessfully, as a general election candidate twice more in Romford and once in Upminster.
As vice-chairman of the London Liberal Democrats, he helped to approve Vince Cable’s selection as an parliamentary candidate, which he says is “very proud” of.
In 1994 he was given a certificate by then party leader Paddy Ashdown for recruiting 102 new party members in 100 days.
But his activities slowed later in the 1990s and he had to retire from teaching: “I found in my mid-fifties I was riddled with arthritis. I was on two walking sticks.
“Nineteen years ago I had a hip replacement and was able to get around again, but I still have the arthritis.”
Terry’s family was hit by tragedy in 1995 when his stepdaughter Jessie, 27, was killed by a stalker at a stables in Devon where she worked.
Terry recalled: “My daughter was murdered. That was appalling, as you can imagine. A maniac killed her, and that was a terrible time.”
Stephen Webber, 42, was jailed for life for the murder in November 1996.
Terry hit the headlines again in 1997, after he was convicted of assaulting Havering Council’s then leader Arthur Latham in his home.
He had accused the Labour councillor of having an affair with his wife Caroline, who was the Lib Dem group’s leader on the council.
He was fined �750 for common assault. Caroline later married Mr Latham.
In recent years Terry has remained involved in the Liberal International group, as well as taking an interest in his family history.
He has discovered that his ancestor John Hurlstone was with Sir Francis Drake in 1590 when he travelled to America.
The ancestor earned a fortune from his exploration – worth about �3million in today’s money.
“He died when he was 39, and had some daughters and one son.
“His son had 20 children, from three wives. I’m descended from the 17th child – but there was no money left to pass on to the 17th.”