Anthony Michael Whittaker – an appreciation

Anthony Michael Whittaker – an appreciation
A tribute to PEOPLE movement founder Anthony Michael Whittaker, who passed away in April

Anthony (Tony) Michael Whittaker, one of the founders of the PEOPLE movement, which grew into the Green Party, passed away on Friday, 1 April, peacefully, and after a long illness. He was 83. 

Tony was born in Coventry, the only son of Mary and Arthur Whittaker, who had moved there from Blackpool. In 1939, when WWII was declared, Tony was seven years old. In 1941, he watched Coventry burn in the November blitz. 

He attended Warwick School, and studied Law at Birmingham University. He served Articles of Clerkship as a solicitor in Coventry and later became a partner in three firms, two of which he established. The last, Whittakers, had just two partners: Tony and his wife Lesley. It was from the office of Whittakers that PEOPLE was established in 1973 alongside Michael Benfield and his then associate, and later wife, Freda, who were in business just round the corner. 

Tony became the chairman, while Lesley acted as national secretary, Michael dealt with campaigns and Freda was treasurer. Tony chaired the early conferences, at which the first manifestos were established and adopted. 

In the general election of February 1974, Tony acted as his wife’s agent and also for Alan Pickard, a second candidate in Coventry. In October 1974, the party fielded three candidates, all coincidentally women aged 30, including Lesley. 

Lesley commented: “In those early days, we all travelled thousands of miles addressing meetings in village halls, conference rooms, Cambridge colleges, and private houses, trying to establish the new party. Before long, we had 40 branches from Cornwall to Caithness, including in the cities of Leeds, Liverpool and Coventry. The secretaries in our legal office became accustomed to using words that most of the population had not yet heard, such as ecology and ozone depletion.” 

In 1975, the Whittakers sold their legal practice and moved to Devon, becoming self-sufficient smallholders on Exmoor. 

In May 1979, after the birth of their daughter, Charlotte, Tony stood as the Ecology Party (which PEOPLE had become in 1975) candidate in the North Devon Constituency, then held by former Liberal Party leader Jeremy Thorpe, who lost his seat. 

Lesley remembers the period fondly: “Because of the notoriety of the candidate, the world’s press covered the event, and all had to come to our remote home to interview Tony, in the interest of political balance. It was very useful publicity for the party. Charlotte campaigned... with Ecology Party posters on her pram – possibly the first party supporter to do that, but I am sure, not the last!”

Lesley also remembers how the growth of the Greens always heartened Tony: “Neither Tony nor the other three of us could have envisaged the way that Green politics have influenced global laws and regulations, and I am grateful for the sense of achievement this gave my husband in his later years.” 

Paying tribute to Tony, Caroline Lucas MP, who joined the Green Party in 1986, said: “Without his work, and that of the other three co-founders, the Green Party may never have existed. Tony’s legacy – a party with thousands of members and Green politics going from strength to strength – lives on. I hope that we can honour Tony through our continued work to protect our planet and build a fairer society.” 

Jean Lambert, Green MEP for London, also paid tribute: “I remember with great affection the very kind letter Tony sent me after Caroline Lucas and I were elected in 1999 as the UK’s first Green MEPs. He wrote of the need for staying power, maintaining an ideal in tough times but also what joy it gave him to see green politics make progress. The party owes him a great deal.” 

Clive Lord, one of the longest-standing active members of the Green Party, was also greatly influenced by Tony, who inspired him to join the party. He said: “Tony readily accepted my proposal that the drastically redistributive citizen’s basic income would be a core policy, a prediction which has yet to come true.

But Tony... realised it was fairer than the existing system [and] would enable whole societies to live within ecological limits. That aspiration, now embodied in the Paris climate change agreement, was the Green Party’s original raison d’être.” 

Tony leaves three daughters from his first marriage, and one from his second. Seven grandchildren survive him.