Remembering Rowland Morgan

rowlandLast month, Rowland Morgan, a founding member of the Association of Liberal Democrat Engineers and Scientists, sadly passed away.

Rowland was a third-generation engineer who, after 2 years in the Royal Navy, spent most of his professional life teaching civil engineering at Bristol University where, among other projects, he was deeply involved in studies on the Severn Barrage. He, with his wife, Jane’s, encouragement joined the Welsh Liberal Party in Cardiff in 1962. Always an advocate for more engineers and scientists in politics he stood in four general elections, the first being against Neil Kinnock in Bedwellty in 1974. Subsequently he contested the seat of Somerton and Frome, now held by fellow Liberal Democrat David Heath. 

Concerned at the poverty of sound technical knowledge in debates at party conferences he, with the support of David Chidgey, Ken Cosslett, Sharon Bowles and others, was the driving force in founding Aldes. Rowland wrote our first constitution and became our first chair when the association was formally constituted at the 1991 Autumn Conference. At various times Rowland also served on the NEC and as chair of the regional Chair’s Group for the party. In the engineering profession he was an elected member of the Council of Engineering Institutions, the Engineering Assembly, and the Senate of the Engineering Council.

He was a gifted orator, speaking with authority, honesty and passion and unafraid to tell it as he saw it. David Chidgey remembers an outraged contribution from Rowland from the conference floor at the absence of technical understanding in one particular policy motion. The 1998 AGM minutes record members’ appreciation of another of Rowland’s speeches when he lambasted the party for its crop of policy motions proposing how to spend the nation’s wealth but none at all about creating that wealth in the first place.

It is fair to say that there was and, to a lesser extent, still is a powerful faction within the party whose desire for even ‘greener’ commitments has outrun what is achievable, affordable or, even, the most likely to achieve the desired objective. Following a change to the Aldes constitution Rowland was elected and re-elected chairman for almost nine years from  January 2000 to September 2008.  During that time Aldes set out to expand conference delegates’ understanding of issues on the political/technological interface as well as to convey some of the excitement of engineering and science through conference fringe meetings and briefing notes. Aldes put forward considered contributions to virtually all the party’s policy working groups and, in addition, Rowland and Richard Balmer met up with representatives of the big 3 engineering institutions to make the case that they, the institutions, needed to be much more active in offering advice directly to government rather than waiting to be asked. Aldes was pleased to see a number of initiatives taken.

Rowland was convinced that most political problems could be unravelled by the unprejudiced approach of scientists and the pragmatism of engineers. He did all he could to promote the importance of engineering and science for the country and the world’s good. His great hope would be that Aldes and our members continue to be amongst those assuming this radical role. 

Richard Balmer, Honorary Vice President, Aldes

I have been to many Federal Conferences and heard several memorable speeches but the most memorable of all was strictly unofficial. About 20 years ago the party put together a working party to formulate a science policy. After the debate accepting its policy paper, Rowland stood up in the body of the auditorium and denounced the party for assembling a policy working group containing no engineers at all (if I have remembered correctly). He was an angry man indeed, and it seems it was this that spurred him on to form the Association of Liberal Democrat Engineers and Scientists. To my regret I never got to know Rowland Morgan well: I only became active in Aldes after he had ceased to be active. He leaves a good legacy though, he made a difference.

Steve Coltman, Chair, Aldes