Stephen Tindale Eulogy by Nick Butler

When I was asked by Helen to deliver a eulogy today, I couldn’t help wondering what Stephen himself would have thought if we had told him there was going to be a memorial meeting in his honour.

I think he would have been surprised and would have said that he wasn’t the sort of person who deserved a memorial meeting. He was a master of self deprecation.

Then I think he would have asked if he could come – since he could never resist a meeting.

If we had then told him there were going to be speeches I think from his long experience of the warm and friendly comradeship of the Labour Party and the green movement – he would have asked who would be speaking against.

And then he would have said – but you can’t hold it on a Saturday afternoon – people will have better things to do. They’ll want to be watching Spurs.

And to that we would have been able to say that there no Premiership Games today and therefore no one will be missing Spurs very very nearly winning.

 

I first met Stephen in the spring of 1990 when Simon Crine and I interviewed him for the job of AGS of the Fabian Society.

My first impression, which didn’t change as I got to know him, was that he was a Golden Boy.

He had all the key attributes. He could speak and write and he could charm people – not by calculation but naturally.

He was warm and easy, obviously clever, with a world view and with the ability to do the detailed work to substantiate everything he said or wrote.

And he had a hinterland – he could talk about all sorts of things from football to mountain climbing and most important of all to him -about his family.

He was selfless and generous to others. As Gerry Holtham told me if you made a few quite minor amendments to something he had written he would want to make you a coauthor.

 

He introduced the Fabian Society to the environmental agenda and worked with Michael Jacobs on what was then a new concept called sustainable development.

As Simon Crine who was his boss as General Secretary and who sadly can’t be here says – he was a great colleague who became a great friend.

We were both sure that Stephen could in due course have been General Secretary of the Fabians.

And of course that wouldn’t have been the limit. I thought that he was one of the rare people with the talent and ability to do anything – to be an MP and then a Minister or a senior civil servant, or a serious academic.

 

But he consciously chose a different path.   And by doing so he achieved something rare and special.

He and quite a small group of other people helped to make environmental issues part of the mainstream of British politics. That was a very significant shift at the time.

 

It is perhaps hard to remember how different the world was before the 1990s. The Department of the Environment was concerned with building houses and roads and managing planning issues.  The Ministry of Agriculture worked for the Farmers, and the Department of Energy was concerned with managing the coal industry and developing the North Sea.

The concept of environmentalism as we now know it had no place in Government.

And it didn’t have much place in the Labour Party either. Labour’s energy policy as set out in the manifesto for the elections in 1983, 1987 and 1992 was to build or rebuild the strength of the coal industry.

 

Stephen was one of the people who changed all that.

He moved on from the Fabians to work for other think tanks and then for Michael Meacher and Chris Smith and then in 2000 he became the Director of Greenpeace in the U.K.

That surprised me and many others. We took Greenpeace to be a protest movement. Very effective in raising issues and getting publicity but not quite the serious analysts who wrote the detailed lines of policy – which seemed to me to be Stephen’s core strength.

I asked him why he had made that move. And he said that in his view changing policy wasn’t just about writing pamphlets or advising Ministers or even being a Minister. It was about changing the intellectual climate. Raising people’s awareness of what was happening and what could be done about it.

And if raising awareness required climbing the Shard or chaining yourself to railings and being arrested to get publicity that was an essential part of the process of bringing about change. It wasn’t the whole process but in drawing attention to new and difficult issues it was probably an indispensable part.

He said that politics was about images, pictures which embed themselves in your mind, not just words and numbers.

 

It was brave to step away from the mainstream career ladders and brave too to support solutions which didn’t always match the prevailing wisdom of those he was working with. He was a pragmatist – looking for incremental progress rather than revolutionary change.

That is a natural and common approach in the Fabians and in the political world. It wasn’t such a common approach in the environmental movement. It required a continuous balancing act, bringing the two approaches together – those who believed in protest, and those who wanted to see practical change. It required continuous debate and at times the conflicts were harsh. It was not a world for the thin skinned.

But Stephen working with others did change the agenda and did put the cause of environmentalism on the political map.  And of course he went further, proposing detailed solutions, many of which eventually became policy. Those solutions were based on his detailed knowledge of the science and technology. Some were small steps, some much bigger but they were all steps in a common direction.

 

Two people who were also very much part of that process have asked me to read out messages today.

 

Here is the first.

I am very sorry I cannot be with you on 2 September. You have a very difficult task summing up Stephen’s life.  I am reminded of what Chris Patten said about Anna Lindh – you don’t judge the quality of a symphony by its length.  And of course some of the most beautiful symphonies are unfinished.

I first got to know Stephen in the 1990s when we were all trying to figure out how to make a difference in a cold climate.  We need Stephen now.  He was  creative, passionate, insightful, committed, gentle.  He always had immense intellect, wry charm, and strong principles.  He understood ahead of his time the way environmental challenges needed to reshape economy and society, and was open and inquiring about how to put his insights into practice.  Perhaps my deepest reflection is that I learnt a lot from him but wish I had the time to learn more.  We are all poorer for Stephen’s passing.

That was from David Miliband in New York.   And of course Stephen had worked with David in the early 1990s when they wrote a paper on the need for a federal European constitution after Maastricht.

And this is the second message

Stephen was a lovely, warm, decent, principled man. I feel privileged to have known and worked with him.

I got to know him first in the 1990s through the Labour Party and was always struck by his warmth, intelligence and deep integrity. He will be remembered for his work in the run up to and during the 1997 government — a major contribution to the environmental legacy of those years. I saw at first hand the way that work shaped the opportunity for action.

It was in 2015, however, when our paths crossed again that I had the opportunity to work most closely with him —-on a project seeking to persuade the UK government to enshrine a zero emissions target into UK law.

I am so pleased to have had that chance. I got to see up close Stephen’s passionate and hard headed environmentalism, undimmed, his political acumen and his willingness to fight for a cause even as others thought it was too long a shot to even try. He wrote a report eloquently making the case and a few months later the UK government said it would act.

We are still waiting for that to happen, but what I saw in Stephen during that period was the unusual combination of a determination to make change happen and a sense of how we might act together to make it more likely to happen. He understood politics…and in a good way. And he tied that to his deep environmental principles.

Above all, what I will remember is Stephen’s essential decency and goodness. Decent and good in his interactions with others, his convictions and his commitment to the twin causes of environmental and social justice, to which he devoted his professional life. All that will be sorely missed. The world is a poorer place for his passing. But that decency and goodness influenced all who knew him. I am proud to have been one of those people.

 

That is from Ed Miliband.

 

To change the political agenda – indeed the philosophy – of a major party is a significant achievement. To have helped that change spread beyond a single party – to make it part of the national and international political debate is even more impressive.

I hope Stephen was proud of what he achieved even though I know that he would always have said that there was more to do.

 

But politics isn’t everything and Stephen as I said had a broad range of interests many of which are reflected in the. Facebook page which has been created in his memory.

The self description on his Twitter page says that Stephen was an environmentalist and campaigner. It says who he worked for and then it says he was a supporter of Tottenham Hotspur and finally there is one word. Optimist.

Well, of course, that goes with being a Spurs supporter.

But it goes wider. Stephen believed that change and progress was possible and he showed through what he did, often in very difficult circumstances, that progress is indeed possible and that it can be achieved by good people often working in quiet ways.

 

Today is a day for his children. To remember their father and also to understand just how much he meant to the people who knew him.

Stephen was very proud of his children and they should be very proud of him.

 

One part of Stephen’s hinterland was his love of poetry and I’d like to finish by reading a short poem by Louis MacNiece – a poet who wrote about the complexities of individuals caught up in difficult times.

 

The sunlight on the garden

Hardens and grows cold,

We cannot cage the minute

Within its nets of gold,

When all is told

We cannot beg for pardon

 

Our freedom as free lances

Advances towards its end;

The earth compels, upon it

Sonnets and birds descend

And soon, my friend,

We shall have no time for dances.

 

The sky was good for flying

Defying the church bells

And every evil iron

Siren and what it tells:

The earth compels,

We are dying, Egypt, dying

 

And not expecting pardon

Hardened in heart anew

But glad to have sat under

Thunder and rain with you,

And grateful too

For sunlight on the garden.

 

And I think that is how we should remember Stephen – just as the picture in the booklet shows him – in the sunlight, in the garden. 

 

 

 

 

 

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