Lord Trevor Smith: In memoriam

Posted on: 29 Apr 2021 Lord Trevor Smith

It is with great sadness that we have learnt of the death of Lord Trevor Smith, who served as a director of JRRT from 1975 until 2006, acting as Chair from 1987 until 1999.

During his tenure, the focus of the Trust was firmly turned towards issues of constitutional change and democratic reform, and it was under his leadership that the Trust changed its name from the Joseph Rowntree Social Services Trust to the Joseph Rowntree Reform Trust.  The Trust was an early supporter of Charter 88; launched in the New Statesman, the Charter advocated for a programme of institutional change and constitutional reforms in the areas of devolution, human rights, and freedom of information. A further important initiative instigated by Trevor, was the State of the Nation opinion polls, the first of which was taken in March 1991. The polls gathered information on public attitudes to constitutional reform and other Trust concerns. Trevor was also central in the establishment of Democratic Audit, a research body at Essex University, which audited the democratic performance of the British constitution.

Trevor made full use of his eloquence and powers of persuasion to engage the Trust in much more proactive political activity, including helping fund the Scottish Constitutional Convention which started the inexorable movement towards setting up the Scottish Parliament.  He was also instrumental in securing support for the New Statesman at a time when it could have gone out of existence.

Outside of the Trust, Trevor was an esteemed political scientist with academic posts at the University of Exeter, the University of Hull, and Queen Mary College at the University of London, before taking up the appointment of Vice-Chancellor of the University of Ulster (1991-1999), where he was heavily involved in the Northern Ireland peace process, taking a non-sectarian role. He was a long-standing member of the Liberal Party (and later, the Liberal Democrats). Aged 22, he contested the 1959 General Election for the Liberal Party in West Lewisham; he was the youngest candidate of any party that year.

Trevor was knighted “for services to higher education” in 1996 and became a working Liberal Democrat peer in 1997. He was spokesman in the House on Northern Ireland and constitutional affairs.

Trevor had a formidable political brain, unusually combining academic prowess with a strong grasp of practical, campaigning politics.  His steadfast dedication, deep knowledge and friendship will be sorely missed by all who knew him, as will his acerbic wit. Here at the Trust, we are all grateful for his immense contributions to our work, and our continued focus on political and democratic reform is testament to his energy and determination to make a real difference.