Obituary: Lord McAlpine 1942-2014

Lord McAlpine and Lady Thatcher

Related Stories

As a member of a famous construction dynasty, Alistair McAlpine had a household name from birth.

His grandfather Sir Robert, known as "Concrete Bob", founded the firm, which remains one of the biggest builders in the UK, responsible for the London 2012 Olympic stadium among many other projects.

But Lord McAlpine, who has died aged 71, blazed a long and impressive trail of his own in public life - as an art collector, property developer, author, fund raiser and loyal political servant to Margaret Thatcher.

He hit the headlines again in 2012, when he was wrongly implicated in the sexual abuse of boys in the 1970s and 1980s.

Known as a jovial, cultured character, with a love of modern art, he was at one time one of the most powerful figures in the Conservative Party.

He was made a director of the family firm at 21, five years after dropping out of public school Stowe with three O-levels.

He went on to make a fortune of his own as a property developer in Australia. He was particularly identified with the town of Broome in Western Australia, where he won praise for developing tourism and the local pearl industry and restoring historic buildings, though he had to sell his interests in the town in the 1990s.

He was awarded the Freedom of Broome on his last visit there in 2012.

It was at a dinner party in 1975 that Lord McAlpine discovered his political vocation.

'Moral duty'

That was when he first met Margaret Thatcher, recently elected leader of the Conservative Party.

He became one of her closest and most devoted advisers and Conservative Party treasurer throughout her period in office, from 1979 to 1990.

She made him a life peer, Baron McAlpine of West Green in Hampshire, in 1984.

He is remembered as perhaps the most effective political fund raiser of his generation, helping to bankroll three successful general election campaigns.

But he also faced controversy after accepting donations from disgraced tycoon Asil Nadir's Polly Peck firm.

He later told the Daily Mail the Conservative Party should return the money.

"It is tainted money and it shames the Conservatives if they hang on to it. They have a moral duty to give it back," said the peer.

In parallel with his political career, Lord McAlpine became a leading art collector and gallery owner, with an interest in artists such as Mark Rothko, Morris Louis and Jackson Pollock.

Slow down

The peer took Lady Thatcher's rejection by her MPs in 1990 hard, remaining loyal to her in the difficult years that followed her departure from Downing Street and funding her private office.

The dedication of his book The Servant - an update of Machiavelli's The Prince - says: "To the most magnificent, Baroness Thatcher of Kesteven, Prime Minister of Great Britain 1979- 1990, from one of her many Servants, who believes she could have been better served."

Lord McAlpine Lord McAlpine - pictured here in 1998 - was a skilled political fund raiser

He turned his back on the Conservative Party at the 1997 general election, campaigning for Sir James Goldsmith's eurosceptic Referendum Party, although he returned to the fold some years later.

He was forced to slow down, and stop smoking, in 1987, after a seven hour heart bypass operation, complications from which led to him having a tracheotomy and difficulty speaking.

In recent years, he had largely disappeared from public life, opening a bed-and-breakfast in an old monastery in Puglia, Southern Italy with his third wife.

He had not sat in the House of Lords since 2010, following a change in law which meant that peers and MPs had to be tax resident and domiciled in the UK in order to remain in Parliament.

However, in 2012 he was again in the news when he was wrongly implicated by the BBC's Newsnight programme in allegations that politicians sexually abused boys in the care of the Bryn Estyn children's home in Wales in the 1970s and 1980s.

The report did not name Lord McAlpine but he was then wrongly identified on the internet.

The BBC apologised unreservedly and settled his defamation claim for £185,000.

The peer then pursued some of those who had named him on Twitter, including the wife of the Speaker of the Commons, Sally Bercow.

The High Court ruled her tweet was libellous, and she agreed to pay Lord McAlpine £15,000 in damages.

Other people who had tweeted his name avoided legal action by making donations to charity.

Lord McAlpine has three children, two from his first wife.

In a statement, they said: "It is with great sadness that the family of Lord McAlpine announce his peaceful death last night at his home in Italy."

The Prime Minister, David Cameron, said his thoughts were with the family and he praised Lord McAlpine's dedication to Margaret Thatcher and the Conservative party.

More on This Story

Related Stories

More Politics stories


Politics Live

    08:40: Controversial Churchill

    For some, Sir Winston Churchill remains an intensely controversial figure. The BBC's Tom Heyden writes about the 10 greatest controversies of Churchill's career.

    Churchill statue, Westerham
    08:31: Churchill's place in history BBC Radio 4

    Historians Simon Heffer and Andrew Roberts have been discussing Sir Winston Churchill's place in history on Today and considering how he would have adapted to contemporary politics. They agree it is "completely impossible" to compare him with today's leaders as they face lesser challenges and "you need the crisis to create the statesman". Simon Heffer says Churchill would have struggled with modern media scrutiny given his fondness for whisky first thing in the morning and his "dictatorial" style. But Andrew Roberts says Churchill never over-ruled his generals and the "granite" he showed in 1940 and 1941 undisputedly make him the greatest occupant of No 10.

    08:15: NHS row BBC Radio 5 live

    Labour's shadow health minister Liz Kendall tells BBC 5 live Breakfast that former Labour health minister Lord Darzi is "wrong" for thinking that using the private sector is the way to make "the big changes we need" to public services like the NHS. "I just don't think that that's the case," she says. It comes after Lord Darzi told the BBC the NHS should prefer providers who deliver the highest quality care - whether they are "public, private or not-for-profit".

    08:02: 'Million-strong crowd' BBC Breakfast

    The BBC's Duncan Kennedy, outside St. Paul's Cathedral in central London, tells BBC Breakfast a million-strong crowd gathered between the cathedral and Westminster Abbey for Sir Winston Churchill's funeral 50 years ago. "In many places it was 20-people deep as many regarded him as the greatest Englishman who ever lived... he's one of those rare leaders that is remembered in life and in death, however history ultimately judges him," he says.

    07:51: Churchill's funeral BBC Radio 4

    Broadcaster Jonathan Dimbleby tells Today he will be watching the replay of Sir Winston Churchill's funeral on BBC Parliament this morning. It will be poignant for him, he says, since his father Richard - whose commentary on the event has lived so long in the memory - also died 50 years ago.

    @BBCBenThompson 07:41: Housing shortage

    BBC business correspondent Ben Thompson tweets: 150,000 new homes built across UK last year but is it enough if demand still outstripping supply? @CountrysideProp boss - 0750 @BBCBreakfast

    07:37: Behind the scenes at Westminster

    Parliament is not sitting today due to events marking the 50th anniversary of Sir Winston Churchill's funeral. But those wanting a different insight into how the famous institution works might like to read about a new BBC documentary - Inside the Commons - to be broadcast next week. Michael Cockerell and his team have been behind the scenes at Westminster and not all MPs have been happy about it.

    Documentary-maker Michael Cockerell
    @BBCr4today 07:28: Medical training BBC Radio 4

    tweets: Plan to reduce length of medical training will lead to "lower standard of expertise" @thomasdolphin, @TheBMA #r4today

    07:20: 'Dirtiest campaign' The Independent

    Ukip leader Nigel Farage says this general election could be the "dirtiest" campaign in British history. Writing in the Independent, he accused the Conservatives and Labour of employing "attack-campaign" election strategists and "hurling hundreds of thousands of pounds at Facebook and twitter".

    07:07: Funeral film BBC Radio 4

    The TV pictures of Sir Winston Churchill's funeral remain "compelling viewing" 50 years on, James Rowland from BBC Archive says. There was a "little bit of damage" on the original film and dirt that had to be cleaned off, he tells Radio 4's Today, prior to its rebroadcast on BBC Parliament today. He reflects on the fairly rudimentary camerawork used in 1965, compared to today's standards, remarking that the pictures seem "slightly twitchy".

    07:06: Churchill event timings

    Here are some of the 50th anniversary timings if you want to plan your day:

    • The Houses of Parliament will host a remembrance service and wreath-laying ceremony at 09:00 GMT
    • BBC Parliament is re-broadcasting the state funeral, which runs for a little over four hours, at 09:15 GMT.
    • Tower Bridge will be raised at 12:45 GMT as the Havengore repeats its 1965 journey from the Tower of London to Westminster
    • Westminster Abbey will host a ceremony from 18:00 GMT, with flowers laid at the green marble stone placed there in memorial to Churchill.
    06:58: Churchill anniversary
    The Havengore carrying Sir Winston Churchill's coffiin along the Thames

    A bit more about what's happening in London later to mark the 50th anniversary of the state funeral of Sir Winston Churchill. The Houses of Parliament and Westminster Abbey will both host remembrance services, and there'll be a ceremony recreating the flotilla which carried Churchill's coffin along the Thames from the Tower of London to Westminster Pier. Members of Churchill's family will travel along the Thames on the Havengore, which carried his coffin 50 years ago.

    06:51: 'Three parent baby law'
    Daily Telegraph

    And the Daily Telegraph's lead is on concern from the Church of England that legislation is being rushed through to allow children to be born with three genetic "parents". The technique - mitrochondrial DNA transfer - is being promoted as a way to combat a series of inherited medical conditions.

    06:45: 'Religious slaughter of animals'
    The Times

    Meanwhile, the Times leads on a big rise in the number of food animals slaughtered without stunning. The British Veterinary Association - which wants the practice banned from Britain - says the number of animals killed in this way has risen by 60%. The paper says this is because of campaigning by Muslims for traditional slaughter methods.

    06:41: 'Migrant voting power'
    The i

    Migration is the focus of the i newspaper. It says immigrants could decide the result in 70 marginal seats, and Conservatives fear "migrant voting power" could cost them the election.

    06:36: 'Gas bill rip-off'
    Daily Express

    It's a "gas bill rip-off" for the Daily Express, which says figures show the big six energy suppliers are enjoying bumper profits, as temperatures plummet. The paper says the big firms will pocket an extra £114 per household in the coming year.

    06:34: The newspapers
    The Guardian

    A quick look at what's making the headlines in the newspapers. Energy prices take a prominent place in a few, with the Guardian saying real take-home pay is less now than it was in 2001, according to research by the Institute for Fiscal Studies. Men and young workers have noticed the greatest fall in spending power, the paper adds.

    06:28: Missed Newsnight and This Week?

    Don't worry if you weren't glued to your telly seven hours ago - you can catch up with the full editions of Question Time and This Week by clicking on the 'Live Coverage' tab on this page.

    06:24: Cameron tribute to Churchill
    Winston Churchill statue outside parliament

    Last night Downing Street released the text of the message on the wreath David Cameron will lay at the statue of Winston Churchill, which stands just outside the Commons chamber. The PM has written: "Britain was so incredibly fortunate that in our hour of greatest need there came forward one of our greatest ever statesmen. 50 years on the light has not dimmed. David Cameron."

    06:22: Churchill anniversary
    Richard Dimbleby Richard Dimbleby commentating on Sir Winston Churchill's state funeral for the BBC

    Fifty years to the day, BBC Parliament is re-broadcasting the state funeral of the UK's wartime leader Sir Winston Churchill. Introduced by Sir Winston's grandson, Sir Nicholas Soames, the historic broadcast runs for a little over four hours. Fourteen reels of film, complete with impeccable commentary by Richard Dimbleby, have been restored, joined and re-mastered. The showing starts at 09:15 GMT.

    06:20: Good morning Alex Hunt Politics editor, BBC News Online

    Hello and welcome to a fresh day's coverage of political developments ahead of the 7 May General Election - yes there's just 97 days to go now. You'll be able to listen or watch all the BBC's political output today on this page and we'll be bringing you all the best clips, quotes, analysis, reaction and breaking political news throughout the day. If you want to see what to expect, here's yesterday's campaign countdown.



Copyright © 2015 BBC. The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.