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Enid Lakeman

Liberal Democrat History Group obituary

Born 28 November 1903, near Tonbridge, Kent; the only child of Horace Bradlaugh Lakeman (1874-1962), an excise officer, and Evereld Simpson (1867-1950); died 7 January 1995 at her home in Tunbridge Wells. She remained unmarried.

Being synonymous with the electoral reform cause for over forty years tended to obscure Enid Lakeman's lifelong commitment to the Liberal party. It was that commitment that led her to the advocacy of preferential voting, as her one book promoting the Liberal cause - When Labour Fails, published in 1946 - makes clear. Those who only knew her in later years were fascinated by the contrast between the apparently frail person and the powerful and fluent writing she consistently produced.

Enid Lakeman had a suffragist and feminist pedigree in that her grandmother, Jane Ann Simpson, was a campaigner for votes for women and in 1879 was the first "working woman" candidate for her local School Board in Brixton. After graduating from the University of London Enid worked first as a research chemist and later as a teacher. Then after four years war service as a radar operator in the WAAF she, in her own words, "forsook a scientific career for politics because of her feeling that more scientific knowledge was needed less than better government to secure its proper use."

She was planning to stand at the election due in 1940 but the war postponed her parliamentary election debut to 1945 when she contested the St Albans constituency, one of only three servicewoman candidates. She later unsuccessfully contested Brixton in 1950 and Aldershot in 1955 and 1959. Her only election success was in 1962 for a single term on the Tunbridge Wells borough council.

In 1946, after demobilisation, she joined the staff of the Proportional Representation Society (later the Electoral Reform Society), becoming its Director in 1960. The Society then had only a fraction of the income it has today but Enid performed an amazing sleight of hand in giving the public appearance of a significant lobbying organisation whilst fulfilling almost all the different roles singlehandedly.

She conducted an intensive campaign of letter writing to any newspaper that showed evidence of the iniquities of the First Past the Post system. This was accomplished by the employment of a good press cuttings agency combined with an ability rapidly to produce pertinent letters, in the knowledge that editors of newspapers in far flung corners of the country would be so impressed by a letter from an impressive sounding London campaign that they would always publish them. Enid was very ascetic and economic, labouring away in the semi-dark and usually unheated library, much to the anguish of her younger but less hardy colleagues there.

Whilst at the Electoral Reform Society she produced a number of books and pamphlets, including the standard textbook How Democracies Vote. The Society, with Enid at the forefront, played a key role in persuading the Irish Republic to adopt STV and in winning two referendums to retain it, against the wishes of the parties. Her efforts continued into Northern Ireland culminating in the reintroduction by William Whitelaw of STV there. On her retirement in 1980 she was made an OBE. She was a humanist, a vegetarian and an internationalist and fine linguist, attending international conferences well into her 80s.

The library at the Electoral Reform Society offices is named after her, and annual lectures at her old college and at the Politics Association ensure the memory of this doughty warrior.