Peter Griffiths

For other people named Peter Griffiths, see Peter Griffiths (disambiguation).
Peter Griffiths
Member of Parliament
for Portsmouth North
In office
3 May 1979  1 May 1997
Preceded by Frank Judd
Succeeded by Syd Rapson
Member of Parliament
for Smethwick
In office
15 October 1964  31 March 1966
Preceded by Patrick Gordon Walker
Succeeded by Andrew Faulds
Personal details
Born (1928-05-24)24 May 1928
West Bromwich, Staffordshire, England, UK
Died 20 November 2013(2013-11-20) (aged 85)
Southsea, Portsmouth, Hampshire, England, UK
Citizenship British
Political party Conservative
Residence United Kingdom

Peter Harry Steve Griffiths (24 May 1928 – 20 November 2013) was a British Conservative politician best known for gaining the Smethwick seat by defeating the Shadow Foreign Secretary Patrick Gordon Walker in the 1964 general election against the national trend.

Early life

Griffiths was born in West Bromwich, Staffordshire, and attended West Bromwich Grammar School. He was educated at Leeds Teacher Training College and, after his National Service, studied for an external London University Economics degree and a Masters in Education at Birmingham University, while teaching in West Bromwich.[1] From 1962, he was the head of Hall Green Road primary school, West Bromwich.[1]

Griffiths was elected to Smethwick County Borough Council in 1955.[2] At the 1959 election, he stood against the Smethwick's sitting Member of Parliament (MP) Patrick Gordon Walker for the first time, and succeeded in reducing Walker's majority from 6,495 to 3,544. Griffiths became leader of the council's Conservative group in 1960,[1] serving as a local councillor until 1963 when he resigned to stand again for the Smethwick parliamentary seat in the forthcoming general election.

Elected MP for Smethwick

Labour's victory in the 1964 election had been predicted, and Patrick Gordon Walker, who had been Shadow Foreign Secretary for 18 months, was expected to hold on to his seat.[3] Instead, Peter Griffiths gained the seat for the Conservatives on a 7% swing in a county borough had the highest percentage of recent immigrants to England.[4] Racial discrimination was common in the constituency and nationally; the local Labour club operated a colour bar.[5][6]

In what Labour Prime Minister Harold Wilson later described as an "utterly squalid" campaign,[1] the Conservatives used the slogan "If you want a nigger for a neighbour, vote Liberal or Labour".[7][8] Although Griffiths himself did not coin the phrase or approve its use,[9] he refused to disown it.[6] "I would not condemn any man who said that", The Times quoted him as saying. "I regard it as a manifestation of popular feeling".[6] He denied that there was any "resentment in Smethwick on the grounds of race or colour".[1]

Griffiths' defeat of Gordon Walker resulted in Harold Wilson claiming in the House of Commons that Griffiths should "serve his term here as a parliamentary leper".[10] Conservatives urged the Speaker, Harry Hylton-Foster, to force Wilson to withdraw the comment. While the Speaker objected to such language, he refused to censure the Prime Minister, and order in the Commons chamber was not restored for ten minutes.[1] In his maiden speech in the Commons, Griffiths pointed out the problems faced by local industry and drew attention to the fact that 4,000 families were awaiting local authority accommodation.[11] However, Griffiths remained an alderman in Smethwick until 1966. He both supported and arranged for Smethwick council to purchase a row of houses with the intention of letting them exclusively to white families.[1][5] The government's Housing minister, Richard Crossman, was able to block this proposal by refusing the council permission to borrow the money required.[1]

Griffiths was defeated by the actor and Labour candidate Andrew Faulds in the 1966 general election.[10] Griffiths wrote his own account of his election in 1964. In A Question of Colour (1966), he asserted that he had "no colour prejudice".[10] In his opinion, South Africa was "a model of Parliamentary democracy" and that "Apartheid, if it could be separated from racialism, could well be an alternative to integration". Griffiths also blamed immigration from the Caribbean for the spread of disease.[1][6]

Later life and career

In 1967, he became a lecturer in Economics at Portsmouth College of Technology.[10] After a year as an exchange professor in California, he returned to what became Portsmouth Polytechnic, until he returned to Parliament in 1979.[1]

He unsuccessfully stood for Portsmouth North constituency in the February 1974 general election, but was elected for the seat at the 1979 general election. He held the constituency until the Labour landslide at the 1997 election.[10]

He was married to Jeannette, née Rubery, and the couple had one son and one daughter.[2]

He died on 20 November 2013.[10]


  1. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 "Peter Griffiths - obituary". Daily Telegraph. 27 November 2013. Archived from the original on 12 April 2016. Retrieved 27 November 2013.
  2. 1 2 Who's Who 2007
  3. Brown, Derek (27 April 2001). "A new language of racism in politics". The Guardian. Retrieved 6 May 2016.
  4. Wigmore, Tim (15 October 2014). "Fifty years on, the Conservative party's race problem remains". New Statesman. Retrieved 6 May 2016.
  5. 1 2 Stanley, Tim (28 November 2013). "Peter Griffiths and the ugly Tory racism of the 1960s killed rational debate about immigration". The Telegraph. Retrieved 6 May 2016.
  6. 1 2 3 4 Jeffries, Stuart (15 October 2014). "Britain's most racist election: the story of Smethwick, 50 years on". The Guardian. Retrieved 17 March 2015.
  7. Childs, P., Storry, M. (1999) Encyclopaedia of contemporary British culture, London: Routledge p. 13
  8. Geddes, A. (2003) The politics of migration and immigration in Europe, London: Sage Publications, p. 34
  9. Foot, Paul (30 November 1995). "Tearing up the Race Card". London Review of Books (17:23). Retrieved 6 May 2016. (subscription required)
  10. 1 2 3 4 5 6 "Peter Griffiths". The Times. 11 December 2014. Retrieved 6 May 2016.(subscription required)
  11. Hansard, 1964


Parliament of the United Kingdom
Preceded by
Patrick Gordon Walker
Member of Parliament for Smethwick
Succeeded by
Andrew Faulds
Preceded by
Frank Judd
Member of Parliament for Portsmouth North
Succeeded by
Syd Rapson
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