Lord Taylor of Warwick
Born September 21, 1952, in Birmingham, England; son of Derief David Samuel (a professional cricket player) and Enid Maud Taylor; married Jean Katherine Binysh (a pediatrician), 1981; children: Laura, Alexandra.
Education: Received B.A. (honours) from University of Keele.
Politics: Conservative Party.
Memberships: Involved in various charitable and political organizations.
Called to the Bar, Gray’s Inn, 1978; in private practice, 1978-90; appointed special advisor to Home Secretary and Home Office Ministers, 1990-91; consultant, Lowe Bell Communications, 1991-92; producer and presenter, British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC), Radio and Television, 1994-; made Baron (life peer), for County Warwick, 1996.
British lawyer, political enthusiast, and television personality John Taylor became the first black to take a seat in the British House of Lords when he was made a baron, or life peer, in 1996. Taylor, who has long been active in Conservative Party (Tory) politics and who refers to himself as “Afro-Saxon,” also became the chamber’s youngest member as well. For a politician who cites one of his heroes as Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., it was more than just an honorary post: Taylor assumed the responsibility of his lordship with the determination that he might challenge some of his country’s archaic, racist perspectives, a legacy of its long-vanished colonial period.
Taylor was born in the English industrial city of Birmingham in 1952. Both his parents were Jamaican immigrants; Derief Taylor was a professional cricket player, while wife Enid was trained as a nurse. During this time, belonging to a minority group in England meant certain discrimination, both subtle and overt, compounded by a lack of a sense of community; when Ebony interviewed Taylor later in life, he vividly remembered reading imported copies of the magazine and the impression that African American culture made upon him. There were no comparable publications in England.
Taylor received a honors degree from the University of Keele, and began practicing law in 1978 when he was “called to the Bar” of Gray’s Inn, a British legal society, in 1978. He worked exclusively as a barrister, the British term for an attorney who is allowed to argue cases in the upper courts, for the next dozen years. He became well-known in the industrial Midlands region, of which Birmingham is the seat, and also became active in Conservative Party politics. The Tories held power in England during most of that period, after the ascension of Tory leader Margaret Thatcher to prime minister after the 1979 elections. Thatcher stepped down in 1990 and handed over power to another Tory, John Major, who promised to lead the traditional, somewhat moribund party into the future. The Tories, like the U.S. Republican party, had long represented the interests of the ruling class, and had a difficult time attracting younger constituents and the increasing number of middle-class black and Asian voters.
Taylor was named special advisor to Home Secretary and Home Office Ministers in 1990. That same year, the Conservatives selected him to stand for election in Cheltenham, a small, affluent, primarily minority-less town in England’s West Country. He would run for a seat in the House of Commons, the lower chamber of England’s Parliament; it was not necessary to reside in a district to represent it, as is the case in the United States. At this time, there were scarcely any representation from black or Asian minorities within the Tory party, and Major had vowed to change this as a part of the “classless society” platform he espoused upon taking office. Some in Cheltenham were outraged by what they felt was a political ploy–albeit a commonplace one in Britain. One resident of Cheltenham, a businessman, made racist statements that were widely reported in the press. According to the New York Times, the man had declared that there were few blacks in Cheltenham to justify Taylor’s representing it, and “not a lot of coconuts either.”
In response, the Tories rallied around Taylor. Such racist statements were “not sentiments that have any place in our party,” the New York Times quoted Prime Minister Major as saying. The mayor of Cheltenham told Tory members who opposed Taylor’s candidacy to resign from the party. According to the New York Times, Taylor was unmoved by the furor, asserting there always exists “people in society whose vision does not extend beyond the end of their noses.” The barrister and his family–in 1981 he married pediatrician Jean Katherine (Kathie) Binysh, with whom he has two daughters–received hate mail and disparaging political literature at their home during the flap. In the end, he lost the election.
Yet later, Taylor saw the political tumult as a positive event, since the extensive media exposure “gave me a chance to give interviews and to explain my vision of a multiracial, multicultural society because I believe different nationalities, cultures, and colors working together is a positive thing, not a negative thing,” he told Ebony writer Hans J. Massaquoi. The experience only solidified his commitment to politics. In 1994, he became a familiar sight in England as a television presenter with the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC). Then one fortuitous day, at a party at the Prime Minister’s residence, Taylor was approached by Major and asked his feelings about his name being submitted to the Queen for a lordship. Taylor assumed Major was speaking of this honor occurring some day far in the future, and was “gobsmacked,” according to Ebony, when the Prime Minister said he meant to do so immediately.
In October of 1996, Taylor was made Lord (Baron) Taylor of Warwick, County Warwickshire. He became one of the youngest members in the House of Lords, whose 1,205 seats are held by Anglican prelates, hereditary peers (scions of the landowning families of Great Britain), and life peers like Taylor–those ennobled by the reigning monarch. There are no monetary perks, and only a small stipend for attending parliamentary sessions, but the prestige is immeasurable–a vestige of the day when wealthy aristocrats ruled in tandem with the king. “There is this air ifsubstantive bustling,” wrote Will Self in the New Statesman after a visit to the House of Lords, “and there is also the sheer size of the joint, everything seemingly constructed for a race of Victorian giants with dreadfully kitsch, neo-Gothic taste.”
Taylor chose Warwick as his seat because of his roots there; his father had played on its county cricket team. He remains a barrister and still appears on both BBC radio and television broadcasts. He attends to legal work in the morning, then arrives at the House of Lords in the afternoon for its daily session. The baron is also involved in charity work to help minority youths, and has said the fact that he is the only black in the upper house is “adisgrace,” he told Ebony. “Part of my vision is to start opening up all that because I really do believe that life and politics and society are not static.”
In his endeavors Taylor has been able to raise public awareness about minority issues. Jobs and employment issues are of primary importance, though the House of Lords is seen as a somewhat politically defanged institution, with no real power–nor, some say, desire–to alter the status quo. The Labor government, elected in the spring of 1997 with Tony Blair as Prime Minister, has talked of abolishing voting rights for the hereditary peers in the House of Lords. Such a change would lessen their power even more, but in favor of life peers such as Taylor who would retain voting privileges. Such a reform reflects a more egalitarian attitude under the new Labor government, England’s first in nearly two decades.
Taylor remains committed to using his prominence to make a difference in his country. “Obviously there are people who don’t like what I say, and there are people who applaud what I’m saying,” he told Massaquoi in the Ebony article, and notes that his support ranges across color lines. “And that’s unusual in this country. For as a Black politician, normally you’ve just got Black support.” Taylor has also managed to raise public consciousness through his BBC post. He eagerly debates known racists on television in an effort to publicize the ridiculousness of such attitudes. “Unless you debate with them, you can’t expose how stupid they are,” Taylor told Ebony. “I passionately believe in equality, and I want to see Black people move on. But we won’t do so unless we challenge ideas.”
- 1976 – BA (Hons) Law Degree
- 1978 – Gray’s Inn Advocacy Award winner
- 1978 – Called to the Bar, Barrister-at-Law
- 1999 – Honorary Doctorate in Law, LLD, Warwick University
- 1986-90 – Solihull Borough Councillor
- 1990-91 – Special Adviser to the Home Secretary and Ministers of State
- 1997 – Introduced and carried through the Criminal Evidence Amendment Act 1997
- 2007 – All Party Parliamentary Information Select Committee
He stood unsuccessfully for the Conservatives in the 1992 general election in Cheltenham, losing to the Liberal Democrats in a campaign influenced by the issue of race, with Taylor’sWest Indian background causing concern to some members of the local Conservative party.
TV and Radio Presenter, Crime Stalker (Carlton TV), Talk About (BBC1), The John Taylor Programme (BBC Radio2), Powerhouse (Channel 4). In September 2007 Lord Taylor of Warwick was a guest presenter for Talksport while James Whale was on holiday.
- Non-executive Director, Mottram Holdings plc
- Consultant, Kleinwort Benson Bank
- Chancellor, Bournemouth University
- Chairman, Warwick Communications Ltd
- Vice President, National Small Business Bureau
- Vice President, British Board of Film Classification
He has lived in Ealing since 1995.
Lord Taylor is divorced from Jean Katherine Binysh (a pediatrician), (married 1981); and has teenage children: Laura and Alexandra.
On 16 July 2010 Lord Taylor resigned the Tory Whip as he has been charged with six counts of false accounting, claiming more than £11,000 in overnight subsistence and mileage claims. He will appear before a Westminster magistrates’ court in August 2010.