Maureen Colquhoun remembered as 'political fighter for justice and truth'
- Credit: PA
A former Hackney councillor who “paved the way” as the first openly gay MP in the UK passed away this month aged 92.
Maureen Colquhoun, Labour MP for Northampton North from 1974 to 1979, leaves behind a legacy of battling injustice in the face of adversity, having had to deal with an intrusive and often hostile tabloid press, antagonism within her own Labour Party and losing her seat in a general election after coming out as a lesbian.
Maureen told Gay News in 1977: “There is nothing about being gay that makes you incapable of doing a job.”
Her step-daughter, Mairi Todd, however, remembers Maureen as so much more than a politician: “She was warm, she was loving, she was funny, she had a fabulous laugh – a ringing laugh - it was fantastic.”
After losing her parliamentary seat, Maureen was elected as a Hackney councillor for Wenlock in Shoreditch, now known as Hoxton West ward, and served from 1982 to 1990.
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A spokesperson for Hackney Labour said Maureen was a "tough political fighter for justice and truth", even when that meant "paying a personal price" and "despite the moral attitudes of some 40 years ago".
They added: “She took on what was then a tough area in Shoreditch and twice won in Wenlock ward at a time when Labour’s values were not as enthusiastically embraced as they are now.
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“Sometimes we can forget that the rights and privileges we now have were hard fought for by pioneers like Maureen."
Maureen was born on August 12, 1928 and joined the Labour Party at 18. She studied economics at the London School of Economics and served as a councillor in Shoreham-by-Sea in West Sussex from 1971 to 1974.
Mairi said Maureen was always a feminist and a socialist, speaking for those values throughout her career and even in the face of 570 “braying boys” in the House of Commons.
She said: “You imagine when Maureen walked in there, she was one of only 30 women MPs. What must it have been like?
“You have to be strong to get through that and to still talk about what you believe in."
Mairi remembers when Maureen and her mother, gay rights campaigner Babs Todd, lived just off Victoria Park in Hackney.
The women’s relationship was ridiculed in the press and Mairi said reporters followed her and her sister on buses, using long-lens cameras to take photos of her mother and Maureen.
One had Babs bending over to plant a bulb.
“It was absolutely horrendous,” Mairi said, remembering a headline: “This is what MP Maureen likes."
Maureen made a complaint to the Press Council, a voluntary press regulator at the time, for invasion of privacy but it was deemed a matter of public interest, despite the former MP declaring the decision contrary to the Sex Discrimination Act.
Nevertheless, Mairi said: “Maureen had the personality which allowed her to just put one foot in front of the other and get on with the job.”
The “principled" politician would carry on working in politics and for the single parents’ charity Gingerbread.
Mairi said her step-mother “was never shy of saying what she believed”, which included fighting to improve the treatment of deaf children in the 1950s after her youngest son, Eddie, was born deaf.
Being gay herself, Mairi also grieves for the pioneer who “paved the way” and the example Maureen set as someone unabashedly open about who she was and who she loved.
“Watching their love was something else – I mean they adored each other," Mairi said of her mother and Maureen.
Maureen passed away on February 2.