Tony Whittaker - Obituary

Anthony (Tony) Michael Whittaker
04/05/1932 — 01/04/2016

Anthony (Tony) Michael Whittaker, one of the founders of the Green Party, passed away on Friday 1 April 2016, peacefully, and after a recent illness. He was 83.

Tony was born in Coventry, the only son of Mary and Arthur Whittaker, who had moved there from Blackpool. In 1939 when WW2 was declared, Tony was seven years old. In 1941, he watched Coventry burn in the November blitz. 

He attended Warwick School, and studied Law at Birmingham University. He served Articles of Clerkship as a solicitor in Coventry and later became a partner in three firms, two of which he established. The last, Whittakers, had just two partners; Tony and his wife Lesley. It was from the office of Whittakers that PEOPLE, what was to become the Green Party, was established in 1973. The Whittakers helped set up PEOPLE alongside Michael Benfield and his then associate, and later wife, Freda, who were in business just round the corner in the city centre. The Whittakers and Benfields remain the closest of friends.

Tony became the Chairman, while Lesley acted as National Secretary. Michael dealt with Campaigns and Freda was the Treasurer. Tony chaired the early Party Conferences, at which the first manifestos were established and adopted. 

In the General Election of February 1974, Tony acted as his wife’s agent and also for Alan Pickard, a second candidate in Coventry. In October 1974 the Party fielded three candidates, all by coincidence, women aged 30, including Lesley. 

Lesley commented:

“In those early days, we all travelled thousands of miles addressing meetings in village halls, conference rooms, Cambridge Colleges, and private houses, trying to establish the new party. Before long, we had 40 branches from Cornwall to Caithness, including in the cities of Leeds, Liverpool and Coventry. The secretaries in our legal office became accustomed to using words that most of the population had not yet heard, such as ecology and ozone depletion.” 

In 1975, the Whittakers sold their legal practice and left Coventry to move to Devon. They became self-sufficient small-holders on Exmoor. 

In May 1979, after the birth of their daughter, Charlotte, Tony stood as the Ecology Party candidate in the North Devon Constituency, then held by Jeremy Thorpe, the former Leader of the Liberal Party. Thorpe lost his seat.

Lesley remembers the period fondly:

“Because of the notoriety of the candidate, the world’s press covered the event and all had to come to our remote home to interview Tony, in the interest of political balance. It was very useful publicity for the party. Charlotte campaigned around our village and, eventually, in Barnstaple with Ecology Party posters on her pram, possibly the first party supporter to do that, but I am sure, not the last!”  

Tony attended many Green Party Conferences over the years. He always supported local Greens in elections and followed the Party’s progress with great interest.  

Lesley remembers how the growth of the Greens always heartened Tony:

“Neither Tony nor the other three of us could have envisaged the way that Green politics have influenced global laws and regulations and I am grateful for the sense of achievement this gave my husband in his later years.” 

Paying tribute to Whittaker, Caroline Lucas MP, who joined the Green Party in 1986 and went on to lead the party between 2008-2012, said: 

“It was with great sadness that I heard the news about Tony. He was a hugely important figure in our movement – travelling the length and breadth of the country to building up a political part from scratch. Without his work, and that of the other three co-founders, the Green Party may never have existed. Tony’s legacy – a party with thousands of members and Green politics going from strength to strength – lives on. I hope that we can honour Tony through our continued work to protect our planet and build a fairer society. My thoughts are with his family and friends.” 

Jean Lambert, Green MEP for London, has also paid tribute to Tony: 

"The vision shown by Tony and his friends in starting a completely new movement from scratch was amazing and just goes to show what a small number of committed people can achieve. 

“His achievement is all the greater when you consider the Green movement as a whole - so this energy and dedication was not only important for the UK but across Europe and beyond. 

“I remember with great affection the very kind letter Tony sent me after Caroline Lucas and I were elected in 1999 as the UK's first Green MEPs. He wrote of the need for staying power, maintaining an ideal in tough times but also what joy it gave him to see green politics make progress. The Party owes him a great deal. Thank you, Tony.”

Clive Lord, one of the longest-standing active members of the Green Party, was greatly influenced by Tony:  

“I attended a meeting in March 1973, about two months after formation, and I joined on the spot after hearing what Tony had to say. It is an understatement to say he changed my life, as the Green Party has been central to it ever since. Tony himself ceased to take an active part circa 1980, by which time the Party had achieved a national presence, though he remained a life-long supporter. 

“Tony readily accepted my proposal that the drastically redistributive Citizens' Basic Income would be a core policy, a prediction which has yet to come true. But Tony's acceptance of the Basic Income is for me important. As a well-heeled solicitor, he would have paid far more in tax than the Basic income was worth to him. He realised it was fairer than the existing system, but above all it would enable whole societies to live within ecological limits. That aspiration, now embodied in the Paris climate change agreement, was the Green Party's original raison d'etre. To Tony, redistribution was a price worth paying, and he is typical of millions who will one day take the same view.”

He leaves three daughters from his first marriage, and one from his second. Seven grandchildren survive him. 

Appreciation written by Archie Thomas, GPEW National Press & Communications Manager with much assistance and input from Lesley Whittaker

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