For over 50 years, Andrew Roth provided an insightful, mischievous and invaluable access to the workings of British Party politics and the workings of the House of Commons. Determined to expose the economic, religious, social and personal factors which compelled MPs to act and vote a certain way, he founded Parliamentary Profiles in 1953 and the newsletter Westminster Confidential two years later. They became gospel for anyone wanting to know the real stories circulating around Westminster. As Roth explained:
In the immediate wake of the outbreak of the Korean War, a foreign correspondent sat in the Press Gallery irritated by his ignorance about the political personalities deployed before his eyes, apart from the internationally-known figures on the two front benches.
The trigger-figure was the late Richard Stokes, a maverick Labour MP for Ipswich. Having worked in the Arab world, I found it puzzling that he should have made a pro-Arab speech when almost all the rest of his party colleagues were pro-Zionist. Why? An adequate explanation took three days to put together. This included his dissident behaviour during the war (opposition to the bombing of Dresden) and his economic stake as the Managing Director of Ransome and Rapier, which made heavy machinery for the oilfields of the Middle East.
It struck me that the self-limiting data in the existing reference books were not adequate to answer the ‘why’ questions. They underplayed political history, economic stakes, individual psychology, personal idiosyncrasies, the pull of religion and many of the questions that any good biographer would want to have answered to explain what made an individual politician tick. Without such information, I felt, you might as well stop listening once the front-benchers had delivered their speeches.
The difficulty was to convince any reputable publisher that it was a commercial proposition to go into competition with The Times House of Commons book of DODs’. Being stubborn, I decided to set up Parliamentary Profiles Services Ltd as a small research and publishing house to produce the information desired.
Roth produced a shelf-full of books, cheerfully challenging the vested interests and numerous personalities that he observed at Westminster. These included numerous political biographies and the regular produced directory of MPs, appearing first as MPs Chart and then Parliamentary Profiles. The brief sketches of MPs are famed for their pithy and often extremely funny characterisations, along with encyclopedic details of voting habits, biographical details, ideological viewpoints and cartoons by Roth’s daughter, Terry, and others. Roth’s profiles became a pillar of the parliamentary system and essential reading for anyone wanting to know the real details about a Member of Parliament.
Roth’s books include:
MPs Chart/Parliamentary Profiles (eight editions)
The Business Background of MPs (seven editions, 1959-80)
Enoch Powell, Tory Tribune (1970)
Lord On the Board (1972)
Heath and the Heathmen (1972)
Sir Harold Wilson: Yorkshire Walter Mitty (1977)
The Parliamentary Profiles Archive is available for anyone to research.