Maureen Colquhoun

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Maureen Colquhoun
Maureen Colquhon.jpeg
Member of Parliament
for Northampton North
In office
28 February 1974 7 April 1979
Preceded byConstituency created
Succeeded by Antony Marlow
Personal details
Maureen Morfydd Smith

(1928-08-12)12 August 1928
Eastbourne, Sussex, England
Died2 February 2021(2021-02-02) (aged 92)
Political party Labour
Keith Colquhoun
(m. 1950;div. 1980)
Domestic partnerBarbara Todd (1975–2020)
Children3 [1]
Alma mater London School of Economics

Maureen Morfydd Colquhoun [1] ( /kəˈhn/ kə-HOON; née  Smith, 12 August 1928 – 2 February 2021) [2] was a British economist and Labour politician. She was Britain's first openly lesbian member of Parliament (MP).


Education and early political career

Smith was born in Eastbourne [3] and raised in a politically active home. She was educated at a local convent school, a commercial college in Brighton, [1] [4] then at the London School of Economics and later worked as a literary research assistant. [2] She joined the Labour Party in her late teens. [5]

Colquhoun contested Tonbridge at the 1970 general election. [2] She served as a councillor in Shoreham-by-Sea, from 1971 to 1974. [2] The only female Shoreham councillor at the time, she was blocked by Conservative opponents from sitting on any of the authority's committees. [6] In January 1970, a decision by Shoreham Urban District Council to block her from appointments as a primary school manager, school governor and library committee membership, on the grounds that she talked too much, was overruled. [7]

Parliamentary career

Colquhoun was elected as the Member of Parliament (MP) for Northampton North at the February 1974 general election, [2] [8] and identified with the Tribune Group, [9] and served as the group's treasurer. [10] Arguing in favour of creche facilities for female delegates at the following year's Labour conference, she said in October 1975: "It is outrageous that we have to ask for this. The Labour Party pays mere lip service to International Women's Day. ... Young women are deterred from coming because there is no provision for their babies. Those who do are not even allowed to bring their toddlers into the gallery." [11]

In 1975 she introduced the Balance of Sexes Bill with the objective to require men and women on public bodies in equal numbers. [12] She had identified 4500 jobs appointed by Ministers, and 174 public bodies that were almost entirely male. In her speech to introduce the second reading of the Bill, she commended changes that had been made to the nominations process for the 'central list' from which candidates for government bodies could be selected, although she doubted that it was sufficiently broad to encourage applications from all areas of society. The Bill did not become law. [13] [5]

In 1976, Colquhoun was among nine Labour MPs advocating in a letter to The Times an "alternative policy" on Northern Ireland, including the removal of British troops from the country. [14] She drew a negative response from members of her constituency party, in an area with a significant non-white population, for appearing to defend Enoch Powell in January 1977. "I am rapidly concluding", she said, "that Mr Powell, whom I had always believed to be a racialist before I went into the House of Commons, is not one". She thought that sometimes it was wrong for members of her party to stop listening to what he was saying, and that the "real bogeymen are in the Labour Party" who do not improve the conditions for people in the multi-racial inner-cities. [15] In February 1977, she expressed regret for her comments to her constituency party, withdrew any suggestion she supported Powell's opinions, and affirmed her support for a multi-racial society. [16]

In 1979, she introduced the Protection of Prostitutes Bill into the House of Commons, turning up with 50 prostitutes in order to campaign for the decriminalisation of prostitution. [17] [18] [19]

Coming out and deselection

Colquhoun was Britain's first openly lesbian MP. [20] In 1973, as a married mother of three teenage children, [21] she left her husband of 25 years, Sunday Times journalist Keith Colquhoun, for the publisher of Sappho magazine, Babs (Barbara) Todd. [9] [22] [23]

In February 1976, Colquhoun asked the then Commons Speaker George Thomas to refer to her as "Ms." instead of "Mrs". [24] It was the first time such a request had been made. Mr Speaker Thomas responded by letter: "In the interests of the House, I think I must continue to use some form of prefix, but I will endeavour to slur it in such a way as to reduce, if not entirely eliminate, the audible distinction between 'Mrs' and 'Miss'". [9] The next month, gossip columnist Nigel Dempster contrived to gain an invitation to Colquhoun and Todd's housewarming party. Colquhoun complained to the Press Complaints Commission, which ruled in the two women's favour. [25] In December 1976, she punched a car park attendant in a row about a parking ticket. [15] [26]

Colquhoun was deselected due to her sexuality and her feminist views; [27] in late September 1977, members of her constituency party's General Management Committee voted by 23 votes to 18, with one abstention, to deselect her, [28] [29] citing her "obsession with trivialities such as women's rights". [30] The local party chairman Norman Ashby said at the time: "She was elected as a working wife and mother ... this business has blackened her image irredeemably". [30] "My sexuality has nothing whatever to do with my ability to do my job as an MP", Colquhoun insisted in an article for Gay News in October 1977. [27] [31]

The vote by her constituency party was overruled in January 1978, as supporters of Colquhoun appealed to the National Executive Committee, who agreed that Colquhoun had been unfairly dismissed owing to her sexual orientation. [29] [32] Colquhoun wanted to put the past behind her and work with her local party, but the Vice-Chair of the General Management Committee said he thought that was impossible as many members were unwilling to work for Colquhorn's re-election, the prospects for which he thought were not promising. [32] At the 1979 general election, she lost her seat to the Conservative Antony Marlow on an 8% swing. [33]

Later life

Following Colquhoun's defeat as an MP, she worked as an assistant to other Labour MPs in the House of Commons, and was elected to Hackney London Borough Council, serving as a member of the council from 1982 to 1990. [2] [34] She divorced her husband in 1980. [2] Babs Todd was still her partner at Todd's death on 13 February 2020. [35] [36]

Colquhoun moved to the Lake District where she was a member of the Lake District's National Park Authority between 1998 and 2006. [37] During that time, she campaigned for speed limits on Lake Windermere and argued that members of the park authority should disclose their membership of the Freemasons. [29] Colquhoun also served as a parish councillor on Lakes Parish Council standing in the Ambleside ward until May 2015, when she was de-seated in that year's elections. [38] By the time of her death, she had returned to Sussex. [39]

Her autobiography, Woman in the House, was published in 1980. [40]

Colquhoun died on 2 February 2021 at the age of 92. [1] [13]

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  1. 1 2 3 4 "Maureen Colquhoun, fearless campaigning Left-winger who was Britain's first 'out' lesbian MP – obituary". The Daily Telegraph . 3 February 2021. Retrieved 3 February 2021.
  2. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 "Centre for Advancement of Women in Politics".
  3. "Index entry". FreeBMD. ONS. Retrieved 7 February 2021.
  4. Who's Who of British Members of Parliament, Michael Stenton, Stephen Lees, Harvester Press, 1976, p. 67
  5. 1 2 "Maureen Colquhoun – first openly gay woman in Parliament". LSE History. 13 February 2019. Retrieved 3 February 2021.
  6. Trimingham, Adam (16 May 2015). "Maureen Colquhoun: A vocal revolutionary". The Argus. Retrieved 4 May 2016.
  7. "Councillor Gets Posts Back". The Times. London. 21 January 1970. p. 3. Retrieved 4 May 2016.(subscription required)
  8. "Parliamentary career for Maureen Colquhoun - MPs and Lords - UK Parliament". Retrieved 3 February 2021.
  9. 1 2 3 Parris, Matthew; Maguire, Kevin (2004). Great Parliamentary Scandals: Five Centuries of Calumny, Smear and Innuendo . London: Robson Books. p.  237.
  10. "Fund Opened For Clay Cross 10". The Times. London. 23 March 1976. p. 2. Retrieved 4 May 2016.(subscription required)
  11. "Women Call For Creche Next Year". The Times. London. 3 October 1975. p. 5. Retrieved 4 May 2016.(subscription required)
  12. "Hansard – Balance of Sexes Bill Second Reading". Hansard. 16 May 1975. Retrieved 26 June 2020.
  13. 1 2 "Maureen Colquhoun: Tributes paid to first openly lesbian MP". BBC News . 2 February 2021. Retrieved 2 February 2021.
  14. "Voices for Withdrawal". The Times. 20 February 1976. Archived from the original on 3 January 2016. Retrieved 4 April 2016 via the Troops Out Movement.
  15. 1 2 Parris & Maguire, p. 238
  16. "'Regret' by MP over Powell speech remarks". The Times. London. 5 February 1977. p. 2. Retrieved 4 May 2016.(subscription required)
  17. "Prostitutes Go To British Parliament". London: Herald-Journal. Associated Press. 7 March 1979. p. A7.
  18. Heathcote, Graham (7 March 1979). "Hookers Win One, But Don't Understand What's Happening". The Lewiston (Maine) Daily Sun. Associated Press. p. 2. Retrieved 4 April 2016.
  19. Helen J. Self (2 August 2004). Prostitution, Women and Misuse of the Law: The Fallen Daughters of Eve. Routledge. p. 261. ISBN   978-1-135-75987-2.
  20. Jeffery-Poulter, Stephen (1991). Peers, Queers, and Commons: The Struggle for Gay Law Reform from 1950 to the Present. Routledge. pp. 136–8. ISBN   0-415-05760-4.
  21. Lane, Sara Lupino (15 July 2010). "Keith Colquhoun". The Guardian. Retrieved 3 February 2021.
  22. "Index entry". FreeBMD. ONS. Retrieved 7 February 2021.
  23. McDougall, Linda (1998). Westminster Women. London: Vintage/Random House. ISBN   9781448130498.
  24. sammysturgess (18 February 2020). "Maureen Colquhoun: "an open lesbian-feminist woman" in the House of Commons". The History of Parliament. Retrieved 3 February 2021.
  25. Parris & Maguire, p.237–38
  26. "UK Politics: A history of Christmas scandal past". BBC News. 22 December 1998. Retrieved 4 April 2016.
  27. 1 2 Hills, Nicholas (25 October 1977). "Sex and politics in Britain: they don't mix if you're gay". Southam News Services. Ottawa Citizen. p. 7.
  28. Strafford, Peter; Symons, Penny (28 September 1977). "Conservative MP seeks to appease Critics: Nicholas Scott readopted; Mrs Colquhoun Narrowly Defeated". The Times. London. p. 1. Retrieved 4 May 2016.(subscription required)
  29. 1 2 3 Linford, Paul (23 April 2009). "Where are they now: Maureen Colquhoun". Total Politics. Archived from the original on 24 April 2016. Retrieved 4 April 2016.
  30. 1 2 "Heckled but happy: the graceful star of gay marriage debate". The Observer. 26 May 2013. Retrieved 4 April 2016.
  31. "MP's Advice to Homosexuals". The Times. London. 8 October 1977. p. 3. Retrieved 4 May 2016.(subscription required)
  32. 1 2 "'Dismissed' MP Wins NEC Appeal". The Times. London. 28 January 1978. p. 2. Retrieved 4 May 2016.(subscription required)
  33. "Women do badly". The Age. London. 7 May 1979. p. 7.
  34. "Tributes paid as Maureen Colquhoun, first openly lesbian MP, dies aged 92". The Independent. 2 February 2021. Retrieved 3 February 2021.
  35. "Barbara TODD". The Westmorland Gazette. Retrieved 6 February 2021.
  36. Parris & Maguire, p. 241
  37. Everything 2 article on Colquhoun, consulted 31 May 2010
  38. "Lakes Parish Council – Minutes Of Meetings". Ambleside Online.
  39. Hayward, Anthony (18 February 2021). "Maureen Colquhoun: Trailblazer for women's rights and Britain's first openly lesbian MP". The Independent . Retrieved 13 April 2021.
  40. Colquhoun, Maureen (10 November 1980). Woman in the House. Scan Publications. ISBN   0-906360-05-6.


Parliament of the United Kingdom
New constituency Member of Parliament for Northampton North
February 19741979
Succeeded by
Tony Marlow