Michael Steed

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Michael Steed in 2012
Michael Steed (1940-2023) was a psephologist, political scientist, broadcaster, activist and Liberal Democrat politician. He wrote extensively on parties and elections.

Early life

Michael Steed was born in Kent, where his father was a farmer. He was educated at St Lawrence College, Ramsgate and at Corpus Christi College, Cambridge. In 1960 the South African authorities refused him entry to Sharpeville to deliver food aid to victims of the Sharpeville shootings.[1]

From 1963 to 1965 he undertook postgraduate research at Nuffield College, Oxford, under Dr David Butler. At the same time he was active in the Young Liberals, particularly on the issue of apartheid in South Africa.[2] He became national Vice-Chairman of the Young Liberals.

Academic career

In 1966 he became Lecturer in Government at Manchester University, a post he held for many years until taking early retirement through ill health. As a psephologist he became a specialist in the detailed analysis of election results from a sociological point of view, for many years providing media such as The Observer and The Economist with texts making such complexities as "percentage swing" accessible to the lay reader.[3] In the later 1960s and throughout the 1970s he made regular television appearances on "election night" programmes, often at the side of Bob McKenzie, who popularised the "swingometer" based on the concept of swing devised by David Butler.[4] Steed was to develop a more complex formula for calculating swing, sometimes known among psephologists as "Steed swing" to differentiate it from "Butler swing".

From 1964 until 2005, Steed - latterly in conjunction with John Curtice - was responsible for the statistical analysis in David Butler's regular Nuffield election studies entitled "The British General Election of ...".[5][6]

In 1989 Steed moved back to his native Kent where he was appointed Honorary Lecturer in Politics and International Relations at the University of Kent. He has also been Senior Research Fellow of the Federal Trust. He was a Trustee of the Arthur McDougall Fund and of the Canterbury Commemoration Society, and a Vice-President of the Electoral Reform Society.

Political career

Steed was a leading member of the "radical" wing of the Liberal Party which in the late 1960s and 1970s found itself at odds with the parliamentary party and its leader Jeremy Thorpe over a number of issues. In particular, Steed and his colleagues felt that "the party must shift attention away from personalities to a wide-ranging debate about ideology, principles and policies".[7][8] He contributed several articles to the radical monthly, New Outlook. For a time he was an elected member of the Party's national executive.
By-election communication card 1967

Michael Steed has always been an ardent pro-European, and his study of parties and elections soon came to embrace continental as well as UK politics. [9] In 1969 he called for a common European currency.[10]

At the 1971 Liberal Assembly, he successfully moved the major pro-European resolution, noting however that the then EEC, in which decisions were taken by "a secret cabal", must be made more democratic. National sovereignty, he argued, would "die away as a European democracy of widely diffused power was created and exercised at all levels" in "a close political union of the people of Europe".[11] [12]

Michael Steed consistently called for wide-ranging constitutional reform, including devolution all round, with elected regional governments, a more proportional election system, and the abolition of a Prime Minister's right to dissolve Parliament on a whim.[13] The last of this list of objectives was finally achieved by the Fixed Term Parliament Act passed in 2011.[14]

He stood as Liberal Party candidate in the 1967 Brierley Hill by-election[15] and the 1973 Manchester Exchange by-election, in which he pushed the Conservatives into a poor third place.[16] [17]. In the 1970 general election he was the party's candidate for Truro. In the February 1974 general election he stood in Manchester Central.[18] In the 1979 European elections, he was the Liberal candidate for Greater Manchester North, where he was defeated by Barbara Castle.[19] In the 1983 general election he was the party's candidate in Burnley.
Election address 1967 Brierley Hill by-election

In 1975, with his former CHE colleague Paul Temperton, he founded Northern Democrat, a magazine calling for democratic regional government.[20][21] This later developed into the Campaign for the North, an all-party group pressing for devolution for the English regions as well as Scotland and Wales, with Steed as Chairman and Temperton as Director, using funding from the Rowntree Trust.[22] [23]

In 1976 Michael Steed designed the new system for the election of the Leader of the Liberal Party.[24]

Steed was elected President of the Liberal Party for 1978-79.[25]

In retirement, Michael Steed returned to his native East Kent, where he was active in local Liberal Democrat politics. In July 2008 he was elected to Canterbury City Council.

In 2012, Michael Steed was elected to the Council of the Social Liberal Forum.[26]

Michael Steed died in 2023. Some of his research papers were transferred to Bristol University Archives.

Gay campaigning

For many years Michael Steed was a leading light in the Campaign for Homosexual Equality. He became chairman of the organisation in succession to Allan Horsfall, and subsequently had other roles on the Executive Committee, including Treasurer. At a time when there was still great hostility to gay rights, he spoke out at public meetings, including an acrimonious one in Burnley in 1971 over the proposed establishment of a gay club, at which he shared the platform with Ray Gosling. This meeting has come to be seen as a watershed in the emergence of a national grass-roots gay rights movement in Britain.[27] Steed retired from being Chair of CHE after the 1974 Malvern Conference and was succeeded by Barrie Kenyon [28].


Based on the Wikipedia article of the same name.

Authority control: VIAF=35908302

  1. "Not allowed in Sharpeville: Cambridge student barred", The Guardian, London, 23 August 1960.
  2. "Young Liberals protest to Home Secretary", The Guardian, London, 30 March 1964
  3. E.g. Peter Pulzer and Michael Steed, "What your votes foretell", The Observer, London, 12 April 1964.
  4. Eg "The Night of the Machines: Clive James on the BBC's great election spectacular", The Observer, 13 October 1974.
  5. Richard Rose, "The Nuffield election studies come of age", The Times, 27 October 1966, p 13
  6. David McKie, "A man with a franchise to unlock the secret of the ballot", The Guardian, London, 15 April 1988
  7. "Liberal calls to end 'slanging': Leader will face his critics", The Times, 17 June 1968, p.2.
  8. "Renewed challenge to Thorpe leadership", The Guardian, London, 15 September 1969.
  9. E.g. Michael Steed, "De Gaulle no longer a 'national' leader", The Guardian, 23 December 1965
  10. "Flexible pound urged", The Times, 20 September 1969, page 15
  11. "Common Market poll rejected", The Guardian, 18 September 1971
  12. "Goal of unity in EEC", The Times, 18 September 1971, page 23
  13. See e.g. Michael Steed, "Changing the rules of the general election game", The Times, 19 June 1975, p.14.
  14. http://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/2011/14/contents/enacted Fixed-term Parliaments Act 2011
  15. "Liberal choice is lecturer", The Guardian, 8 April 1967
  16. John Chartres, "Domestic issues dominate by-election", The Times, 14 June 1973, page 3
  17. Manchester Exchange by election was held on a Wednesday- the last time a parliamentary election has been held on any day other than a Thursday
  18. The Times, 14 February 1974, page 7
  19. http://www.election.demon.co.uk/ "David Boothroyd's United Kingdom Election Results"
  20. "Power to the North urged", The Guardian, 7 February 1975
  21. "Growing concern in North at devolution proposals", The Times, 4 November 1976, page 4
  22. John Chartres, "Northern campaign against 'London chauvinism'", The Times, London, 30 August 1977, p.3.
  23. James Lewis, "Crying halt to South-east oligarchy: Northern grass roots movement seeks an end to 'over-centralisation'", The Guardian, 23 May 1978
  24. "As Thorpe storm rises Steel says 'I'm staying'", The Observer, 7 March 1976
  25. "Next Liberal president", The Guardian, 7 October 1977
  26. http://socialliberal.net/2012/09/09/social-liberal-forum-announce-newly-elected-council/ Social Liberal Forum 9 September 2012 "Social Liberal Forum announce newly elected Council"
  27. "Tempers fly at 'club' meeting", Burnley Express, 3 August 1971.
  28. Gay News Issue 51 1974