Who are the longest serving parliamentarians of all time?

Lord Carrington was among them but did not hold the record

July 23, 2018
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When Lord Carrington died this month the country lost one of its longest serving parliamentarians. Carrington had been around long enough to have passed Margaret Thatcher a note during her conversation with a foreign official, “The poor chap’s come 600 miles. Do let him say something,” it read—and to have got away with sarcastically telling a group of lobby hacks that “cruise missiles, Trident…” would be used to protect fishing fleets, without this joke being reported and causing a scandal as it would in today’s political climate. His span of time in public life lasted some 70 years after he took his seat in the House of Lords in 1945.

Carrington joins a worthy list of perpetual parliamentarians. The reigning champion of longevity in the House of Lords is Baron Oranmore and Browne, who made it to 72 years until he was forced from his seat during the Lords reforms of 1999. He was known for his three marriages, including to the heiress Oonaugh Guinness and the actress Sally Gray, and also for his harebrained schemes to make ends meet at Castle MacGarrett, which he owned. In 1961 he invented "armchair farming," which involved rearing pigs in the halls and bedrooms of the castle, in the hope that being raised in such a salubrious environment would increase their price. It didn’t work. Tragedy struck in 1966 when his son Tara Browne, a friend of John Lennon, drove into a lamp post. The event was memorialised in the Beatles’ song “A Day in the Life,” with the lines:

He blew his mind out in a car He didn't notice that the lights had changed A crowd of people stood and stared They'd seen his face before Nobody was really sure if he was from the House of Lords

Baron Oranmore and Browne died aged 100, and was unimpressed with his card from the Queen, which he thought had too large a photo of her on the front. “Horrible,” he remarked, putting it back in the envelope.

As for the House of Commons, Winston Churchill kept buggering on for almost 62 years, making him the longest serving MP in the 20th century. Those years were punctuated with a few gaps, his “wilderness years,” which he mostly spent flirting with bankruptcy—investing in pink silk underwear, structurally unstable houses, and American stocks just before the crash. It came as somewhat of a relief to both him and his friends whenever he returned to parliament, and perhaps explains why he did it so often.

Search back further than the 20th century and there are some even more impressive stints of service in the commons. Francis Knollys, who was elected as an MP for Oxford in 1575 and was an MP for Reading when he died in 1648, went on for 73 years, although not continuously. There were some 27 years over that time where parliament just didn’t meet at all (and to think today’s MPs can’t even get their summer holiday extended by a couple of days).

It’s certainly much better to be one of the longest serving than one of the shortest serving MPs, especially in the days before email. In 1747, Edward Legge was elected unopposed as MP for Portsmouth, only for news to arrive that he had died 87 days earlier in the West Indies.