HEFFER, Eric Samuel  [1922 - 1991]

Serving with the RAF during the Second World War Eric Heffer was posted to a maintenance unit at Fazakerley and as a Communist Party member he got in touch with his local comrades and was asked to speak at a Young Communists League meeting above a party bookshop in Fazakerley. Having spoken for nearly an hour he asked the audience if anyone had a question, at which point a young man stood up and asked “Who wants chips ?”. As the meeting concentrated on its nutritional requirements the despondent Heffer caught sight  of a young girl “with masses of curly hair”. This was Doris Murray and the two were to marry and become inseparable companions on his political journey, in the process Heffer passionately adopting Liverpool and its people as his own.

Eric Samuel Heffer was born on 12th January 1922 to a working class family in Hertford. After leaving school and trying various apprenticeships he became a joiner, involved from his earliest days in the Amalgamated Society of Woodworkers he had a driving passion to make up for his departure from school at 14 by reading and attending lectures with the Workers Educational Association.

He and Doris were married in December 1945, he was 24, she was 19,  and they initially went to live with his parents in Hertford. After his father’s death in March 1947 they moved to Liverpool, living with Doris’s aunt and uncle in Huyton. After about six months (during which Heffer was expelled from the Communist Party) they moved to Toxteth in two unfurnished rooms at 24 Newstead Road L8, the home of a tailor called Goldstein and his wife. They remained there for about 6 years until 1953 when they had put aside enough money to buy a small terraced house in Wavertree at 54 Avondale Road L15.

Heffer worked in many firms across Liverpool and on building sites and in shipyards, all the time his standing rising in Labour and trades union circles. In 1960 he was elected to Liverpool City Council, by 15 votes, to represent Pirrie ward. He became chair of the Direct Works Department in the early 1960’s, the time at which planners and bulldozers descended upon the city. In his autobiography he recalls how he and Bill Sefton welcomed the planners ‘new broom’ while Jack Braddock (husband of Bessie) did not. An honest man, he subsequently acknowledged Braddock’s reticence as wisdom.

Somewhat to his surprise in 1964 he was chosen as Labour candidate for Walton and succeeded in overturning a Conservative majority of over 5,034 to win by 2,906 votes. In the election campaign his press agent was Bernard Falk and he drove around in a Ford Cortina he had purchased from his doctor, Cyril Taylor.

Heffer was to remain the constituency’s MP until his death in 1991. Whilst he was to serve as a Minister of State (Department of Industry 1974) he is predominantly remembered as a rebellious voice from the left. He had a strong backing within the Labour Party, evidenced by his serving as Chairman (1983-84) and NEC Member (1975-86). Not himself a member of Militant he lent his support to Liverpool council in 1985, famously walking off the platform when Neil Kinnock denounced their actions.

By the time of the 1987 general election Heffer had established the largest Labour vote in the country in his Walton constituency with a massive 23,000 majority. He stood against Roy Hattersley for Deputy Leader of the Labour Party but managed to gain only 9% of the vote. Diagnosed with terminal cancer he announced that he would not stand at the next election. His last speech in the commons was in September 1990 when he urged the government not to go to war following the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait. He attended the Commons to vote against the Gulf War in January 1991. In March 1991 he was awarded the freedom of the city of Liverpool but was too ill to attend the ceremony. He died on 27th May in London aged 69.


Heffer's autobiography Never A Yes Man [Verso 1991] is a comprehensive account of his political life. It provides a wealth of detail about local Liverpool politics and trade union activity in the 1950's and 60's. There is an entry for Eric Heffer in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. The Wikipedia entry is quite detailed. There is an obituary of Doris Heffer written by Tam Dalyell in the Independent.