A former Cornish MP has brought to an end a political career which has lasted more than six decades and could have changed the course of history for former Prime Minister Tony Blair.

Paul Tyler recently gave his final speech in the House of Lords bringing to an end a career which started in 1964 and saw him serve as a Cornish MP for 13 years.

But one, potentially significant, event in his time in politics came in 1982 when he contested the Beaconsfield by-election and, among his opponents, was a young Tony Blair.

Mr Tyler did not emerge victorious but did push Mr Blair back into third place – a result he says could have changed the future fortunes for the Labour politician.

“Some people have all the luck,” he says referring to Blair’s eventual election as Prime Minister.

“I have spoken about Tony Blair since that if he had won that election it would almost have been the end of his career. In the following election he would have lost that.

“The fact that he lost the by-election and went on to get a safe seat in the north (Sedgefield) which then helped his political career progress, so then subsequently he became Prime Minister.”

The politician first entered politics for the Liberal Party in 1964 when he was elected to Devon County Council and became Britain’s youngest county councillor.

He explains: “I was elected in Devon where my family was living in 1964, I had only come away from university the year before and I was the youngest county councillor.

“However the ambition was always to be in Cornwall – my mother’s family were in St Kew in 1066 and we were descended from Bishop Trelawny.

“My mother would take us back to Cornwall every year to maintain appreciation of our special roots there.”

Mr Tyler first stood in a Parliamentary election in 1966 in Totnes where he came third before being re-elected to Devon County Council in 1967.

He came to live in Cornwall in 1968 and his second bid to enter the House of Commons came in 1970 when he stood for election in Bodmin but lost out to Conservative Robert Hicks.

However at the February 1974 election Mr Tyler was elected to the Bodmin seat, defeating Hicks at the second attempt.

“It was an amazing election,” recalls Mr Tyler. “It was the last day of February and it was snowing gently on Bodmin Moor, there were concerns that this would affect the turnout but in the event it was an 83% turnout which was the biggest ever in Cornwall.

“We won, but only with a majority of nine votes after six recounts, it was a bit of a nailbiter.

“People say that the important thing about elections is the message you put out there. It (the election) was the aftermath of growing problems with power cuts and coal strikes, there was a feeling in Cornwall of ‘we won’t put up with that’.

“When people on that side of the Tamar have a very strong feeling and are very affected by something they don’t hold back in letting you know.”

That memorable election also resulted in one of the best anecdotes that Mr Tyler shared with me during our chat.

“I went, as candidate, on polling day to a caravan at Temple on Bodmin Moor which was being used as the polling station.

“I went at 11am and there was sleet falling and I got there and I asked how it was going. They told me that 17 of the 18 electors had already voted and there was one man left on the register. I said ‘shall I go and get him’ so that they could then pack up and not have to wait in a caravan all day.

“They replied that it would be difficult as he had died! But as he was still on the register they couldn’t pack up until 10pm at night when polling closed. They had to sit there knowing that nobody else was going to come!”

Mr Tyler’s first term as an MP was going to prove very short as a second General Election was called just a few months later in October.

And while Mr Tyler increased his votes he lost out to Mr Hicks who took the seat back, this time with a majority of 665.

Looking back now Mr Tyler says: “It was very shortlived. Interestingly in terms of where we are now Robert Hicks was MP in 1970, we successfully fought the 1974 election and he won it back in the autumn. But when I have been looking back at this I realise that he and I were much closer together. When I was MP in North Cornwall for the first time he was in South East Cornwall and we did work together, our areas were next to each other so we had common ground. We had different parties but that didn’t stop us working together.”

“That can’t happen any longer, that degree of co-operation can really help but it has been lost. Boris Johnson has made the Conservatives so un-conservative it makes it impossible to work with them and I find that very sad.”

Mr Tyler stood against Hicks for a third time in 1979 but lost with the Conservative candidate winning a big majority in line with a national trend of voters going from Liberal and Labour to vote Conservative.

After the 1982 by-election involving Tony Blair Mr Tyler moved away from standing as a candidate and instead worked as a campaigner for the Liberal Party before then standing as a Liberal Democrat candidate for Cornwall and Plymouth in the European Parliament elections in 1989.

Then in 1992 he stood as a candidate in the General Election for North Cornwall and he was elected and continued as MP for the area until 2005 when he retired from the House of Commons.

During his time as MP he was a member of the Liberal Democrats’ shadow cabinet and on retirement was made a life peer in the House of Lords.

Recalling his election to serve North Cornwall in 1992 he said: “That was amazing, I had a rather large majority that made it more comfortable.

“I have dedicated myself to that part of Cornwall as it was such an important part of my whole upbringing.

“I was disappointed when defeated in 1974 but when I came back, a bit older and wise, I was a better MP in the constituency. What has wrong recently is that there are far too many MPs who have very little experience. They have been political assistants or advisors or party consultants but they have come to the House of Commons without the same degree of experience of looking after people. I was a better MP when I came back in 1992.”

Mr Tyler said that he was disappointed that issues that he had been highlighting in 1992 were still causing problems for people in Cornwall, namely second homes.

“Right from 1992 I argued that more should be done to allow communities and parish and towns to have the opportunity to say enough is enough in terms of second homes, that any building previously occupied as a full time residence should not be allowed to become a part time second home or holiday home unless the local community says it is permissible.

“Changing the planning law would have done that and it wouldn’t have been difficult but successive governments have failed to. Sadly most governments are city centric and London centric. They are more interested in what happens in Manchester than in Newquay or Padstow.

“This was an issue in 1992 and is even worse in 2021 and I very much regret that we didn’t solve that one.”

However Mr Tyler said there were also a number of achievements – securing European funding for Cornwall to help deliver the likes of a university and the Eden Project in Cornwall.

And he highlights the work to get a bypass for Wadebridge and other road schemes which have improved safety on Cornish roads.

One of the key things for Cornish politicians over the years has been the need to speak up for Cornwall and ensure that those making decisions in Whitehall know about what is needed here.

But Mr Tyler adds: “It is sadly true that the way our political system works if you are an MP representing the governing party in any more remote parts of the UK you have to spend a lot of time defending the government in your constituency rather than speak up for your constituency.

“I never regret that I never became a minister, from my point of view I always wanted to speak up for neglected parts of the UK and for my constituency so, even if I had been offered the opportunity, I would have said thank you very much but no thanks.”

Mr Tyler said that this was a difficult thing for all parties but said that he believed that MPs should look after their constituencies first.

“When Blair first came to the Eden Project he said that he was grateful to (then Labour MP for Falmouth) Candy Atherton and Paul Tyler and I thought ‘what for, what have I done now’, but he said for keeping him briefed about what people in Cornwall wanted to happen.

“That was because I was speaking up for Cornwall in the House of Commons and I wanted to make sure that people there knew about the issues which matter in Cornwall.”

Mr Tyler made his final speech in the House of Lords in October and took the opportunity to highlight another Cornish issue – the geographical protection for foods such as the Cornish pasty and clotted cream.

He says now that his time in the Lords was “very interesting” and gave more opportunity for the collaborative working that he cherishes.

But he admits that he does regret being unable to bring reform to the House of Lords and make it “more effective”.

“I am not a person that thinks I have all the right answers and everyone else is wrong, but having said that I spent a long time trying to make the Lords a much more effective chamber.

“I wanted to make the Lords a majority elected chamber and I did that (campaigning) with the Labour government and coalition government but sadly we did not manage to make changes.

“It looks more unlikely now as the administration is more interested in packing it with friends and donors than making it more effective. It will never be as effective as it could be unless it has a mandate to the voters of this country.”

As Mr Tyler, who recently turned 80, brings to an end a long and eventful political career he says that he will always cherish his time representing North Cornwall.

“I must say I campaigned all over the country and working in campaigning in Cornwall is much more interesting, thought provoking and fun than anywhere else in the country.”