A VETERAN councillor who has represented communities across Swindon for almost 40 years has announced he will be standing down next year.

Labour’s Derique Montaut was first elected to what was then Thamesdown Council in 1980 by the voters of Walcot.

Since then he has led his party, served in front bench roles in the administration and in opposition and taken his turn as mayor.

Outside of the formal political arena he spent more than a quarter of a century as a senior trade union leader at Swindon’s Pressed Steel motor plant.

The great grandson of a French captain shipwrecked off the coast of India, Derique spent his childhood living in privileged surroundings during the decline of the Raj before moving to London.

“I came down to Swindon in the 1960s looking for housing and employment,” said Derique. “I had been working in a lab until then, I was quite privileged and not at all political.

“Going from a white-collar background to a manual role at Pressed Steel was a huge transition.”

The plant was a closed shop so, despite his political ambivalence, Derique dutifully signed up with the National Union of Vehicle Builders, an early pre-cursor to Unite.

His involvement would develop quickly, leading to a far greater role when he became a shop steward at the age of just 22 or 23.

“I was probably the youngest senior rep in the country,” he said. “I was fighting for thousands of workers.

“It was a difficult time - every item on the production process had to be negotiated and industrial action was inevitable.

“It is hard to believe but I probably led more small scale strikes than Arthur Scargill.

“It was a different world back then – it was night and day – you could be called in at any time to resolve disputes.

"But by using industry muscle in a clever way, the semi-skilled workers at Pressed Steel were some of the best paid in the country.

“It was a difficult job, people would get angry with me asking how they were supposed to feed their kids if we kept going out on strike. At times like that I needed the heavies around.

“We would have vagrants turn up to meetings, except they weren’t vagrants they were Special Branch officers.

“We went to London to help confront the National Front in the streets. We sent food to miners during the miners’ strike.”

Derique would spend 26 years as a shop steward at Pressed Steel and longer still as a senior representative.

“I’ve got no idea how I held on for so long because there were always competing factions trying to be in control,” he recalled.

Experience on the front lines of the trade union movement initially saw him invited to join the Trotskyist Socialist Labour League but it was in the mainstream Labour Party that he would ultimately find his political home.

“I joined the party as a member in the mid to late 70s,” he said. “I did some work in the background but then I started getting calls to stand as a councillor.

“At first I didn’t want to. If I could have done anything to get out of it I would. But a lot changed and almost 40 years later I’m still here.

Over the decades, Derique has represented the wards of Walcot, Moredon, Central and most recently, Liden, Eldene and Park South.

From 1990 to 1991 he was the mayor of Thamesdown and from 2009, for two years, he served as the leader of the Labour group in opposition.

Among his highlights was being sent to Nicaragua as part of the twinning arrangements between Swindon and Ocotal and then leading the impressive fundraising response when the country was devastated by Hurricane Mitch in 1998.

One of Derique’s earliest major roles on the council was as chairman of housing. Late one afternoon he was called into the office and told that the council had been asked to house a high-level IRA informer.

The request came from Special Branch and it was all top-secret so there was horror when it was splashed across the national papers just days later.

Derique panicked as the council scrambled to figure out what had happened, only to discover that far from there being a security breach, the IRA had in fact just followed the removal van all the way here.

There were other notable achievements too, among them playing a key role in the deal that heralded the creation of Stanton Country Park.

The alternative would have seen the hidden gem bought by Honda for industrial development.

“It is one of the things I’m most proud of,” said Derique. “I can honestly say that is one of the few real achievements I had in my time in Swindon.”

Other memories include the introduction of the council’s Homeline service which celebrated its 30th anniversary this year and the poll tax vote which saw hordes of protestors storm the chamber as anarchy came to Euclid Street.

Then there was the time Neil Kinnock came to visit for a Labour event – not one to stand on ceremony, Derique set about telling him his views on Arthur Scargill.

Kinnock did not agree and it wasn’t long before the bust up saw him take his sandwiches and head somewhere else to eat his lunch.

Over the decades there were serious times and there were light hearted times, but as the years have gone on Derique has come to realise that none of it was easy on his family.

Now 76, he thinks his priorities need to change. He plans to step down from the political frontline to spend more time with his family and to write the memoirs he has been penning in his mind for so long.

“My family have paid a heavy price for my involvement in politics for all these years," he reflected.

“My wife is a political widow, it puts all sorts of strains on the marriage.

“From an early age my children were taken to protests and were involved – they remember painting sheets for banners in the living room. But none of them are political now, they had enough of that.

“I had been leader of the Labour group for two years when my wife became seriously ill. I made a promise to her that I would step down as leader and as a councillor. I didn’t honour that promise then but I want to do it now.

“It has been the greatest privilege to serve my community. I love this town and I hope I have made it a better place to work, live and play in.

“While people might have a love-hate relationship with me I hope they feel I’ve served the residents well.

“It’s been an honour to do so.”