UK Politics

The ex-MPs who died in 2015 - part three

Houses of Parliament at sunset

This year saw the loss of one of the most memorable figures in post-war British politics, Labour peer Lord Healey. Another formidable political character, ex-Liberal Democrat leader Charles Kennedy, died in June. But they weren't the only former MPs to pass away in 2015. Read part one and part two.


Michael Meacher, 4 November 1939 - 21 October 2015

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Michael Meacher was one of Labour's longest-serving MPs, who also held a number of roles in government.

Educated at Oxford University and the London School of Economics, Meacher first ran for Parliament in 1966 in Colchester.

Four years later he was elected in Oldham West, the area he would serve for the rest of his life. He maintained his seat with a 14,738 majority at May's general election.

Formerly a close political colleague of Tony Benn (he was once described by former Labour leader Neil Kinnock as Benn's "vicar on earth"), he stood as the left's candidate against Roy Hattersley for the deputy leadership of the Labour Party in 1983, but was soundly defeated.

Meacher contested the party leadership in 2007, stepping aside as part of an agreement with fellow left-wing Labour MP John McDonnell after failing to get enough Labour MPs backing him to be able to enter the full contest.

Meacher served as a minister under Harold Wilson, James Callaghan and Tony Blair, while during Labour's opposition years he sat in the shadow cabinet for 14 years and was tipped by some as a possible future leader.

As an environment minister he was credited as a skilled negotiator and with helping John Prescott in securing the Kyoto agreement to limit carbon emissions in 1997. But he was sacked in 2003.

The year before, he fulfilled a pledge to swim in the sea off Blackpool if it met European beach waters standard.

In recent years, he was an outspoken backbencher to the left of the party, and was very critical of the Iraq War, despite voting for it in March 2003 - something he "bitterly" regretted.

He had two sons and two daughters from his first marriage in 1962 to Molly, now crossbench peer Baroness Meacher. He wed again in 1988 to Lucianne, a charity director, who survives him.


Sir Hal Miller, 6 March 1929 - 21 March 2015

A big, doughty man who went into politics to make Britain a better place, the Times said of Sir Hal Miller. But, it adds, 18 years later he said it was his biggest mistake.

Sir Hal entered Parliament in 1974 as the Conservative MP for Bromsgrove and Redditch (which later became just Bromsgrove), a constituency he served until his retirement in 1992.

Between 1984 and 1987 he was the vice-chairman of the Conservative Party and he was also party chairman John Gummer's parliamentary private secretary. He was knighted in 1998.

Sir Hal was on the right of the Conservative Party but, as the Telegraph reported, he irked Margaret Thatcher over the Iraq "Supergun" affair.

His devotion to his constituency put him at odds with his party on certain matters, such as over his support for MG Rover employees, according to local paper, the Evesham Journal.

And in 1981 he resigned as Commons leader Francis Pym's principle private secretary over what he saw as preferential treatment by the government of state-owned British Steel, at the expense of struggling private sector firms, reported the Telegraph.

Outside of politics, he had an interest in sports, both playing and refereeing at Bromsgrove Rugby Football Club, of which he was also vice-president.

Sir Hal had two sons and two daughters from his first marriage, in 1956, to Fiona McDermid. He wed Jacqueline Roe in 1976, and the pair had a son and a daughter together.


Lord Molyneaux of Killead, 27 August 1920 - 9 March 2015

James Molyneaux once described himself as "the dull old dog of Ulster politics". In a career that spanned three decades, he was not one for "high-wire" acts or headline grabbing, he said.

Molyneaux joined the Ulster Unionist Party in 1946 and went on to become one of its longest-serving leaders, from 1979 until 1995 during the Troubles.

He was MP for South Antrim from 1970 to 1983 and for Lagan Valley from 1983 to 1997.

His style was quiet but determined, wrote the BBC's obituary. His life's work was to protect Northern Ireland's position within the United Kingdom and he viewed himself as a gatekeeper of the Union.

Known as Jim, he was born into a farming family in the village of Killead, County Antrim, on 27 August 1920.

He joined the RAF at the age of 21, spending more than five years in the service during World War Two.

At the end of the war, he was among the first British troops to enter the newly liberated Belsen concentration camp in Germany, witnessing at first hand the horror of the Holocaust.

What he saw left an indelible mark on his life, and 50 years later, at the age of 81, he returned to Belsen with a documentary team to reflect on man's inhumanity.

After the war he joined the Ulster Unionists, climbing up the ranks to become MP by 1970 and leader in 1979.

He played a leading role in persuading the Labour government of James Callaghan in 1976-79 to give Northern Ireland more MPs.

Throughout the 1980s he was a member of the right-wing Conservative Monday Club, of which he later became vice-president.

Molyneaux defended the Downing Street Declaration, but the 1995 Framework Document marked the beginning of the end for his political career.

He had not been at the centre of negotiations between the British and Irish governments, which agreed on setting up cross-border bodies with executive powers.

Molyneaux survived a leadership challenge a month later, but resigned on his 75th birthday, making way for David Trimble.

After stepping down, he was knighted in 1996 and elevated to the House of Lords, becoming Lord Molyneaux of Killead.


Brian Sedgemore, 17 March 1937 - 5 May 2015

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Brian Sedgemore was a barrister who had a long career in Parliament as a Labour MP before defecting to the Liberal Democrats in 2005.

He was first elected to the Commons in February 1974, representing the constituency of Luton West.

But he lost the seat in 1979, returning in 1983 as the MP for Hackney South and Shoreditch - a constituency he served until his retirement in 2005.

Just weeks before that year's general election, he switched allegiance to the Liberal Democrats, citing his anger at the Iraq War as a key reason, writes the Daily Mail. - and urging voters to give Tony Blair, who he became increasingly critical of, a "bloody nose" at the poll.

During a parliamentary career that spanned almost three decades, the closest he came to a position in government was when he was made a parliamentary private secretary to Tony Benn, who he backed in the Labour leadership contest. But he was sacked by James Callaghan in 1978 for leaking a secret Treasury document, the Guardian reports.

Several papers, including the Daily Mail, the Independent and the Times, describe him as a maverick and plain-speaking left-wing MP.

And the Guardian says Sedgemore was a nightmare for party whips, whose job it is to make sure MPs toe the party line; he voted against the government whip 124 times in eight years. He also had few friends within the parliamentary Labour Party, says the Independent, as he was a rich source of gossip and leaks for political journalists.

He contributed to satirical magazine Private Eye, writing under the pseudonym "Justinian Forthemoney" and was valued by political journalists a rich source of gossip and leaks.

According to the Independent, Sedgemore was born in Exmouth in 1937 and studied at boys' grammar school Hele's, in Devon, and Oxford University.

He worked as a civil servant for four years, until he qualified as a barrister in 1966. He joined the Labour Party in 1970, became a councillor in Wandsworth before seeking election as an MP, it adds.

Sedgemoor married a fellow barrister, Audrey Reece, in 1964. After divorcing in 1985, they wed again in 2002. He is survived by a son and two grandchildren, says the Guardian.


Sir James Spicer, 4 October 1925 - 21 March 2015

A former vice-chairman of the Conservative Party, Sir James Spicer was the MP for West Dorset between February 1974 and his retirement at the 1997 general election.

He was also a member of the European Parliament, from 1975 to 1984, becoming the party's whip.

He contested Southampton Itchen in 1971 but was beaten by Labour candidate Bob Mitchell.

Sir James was described by the Daily Telegraph as a regular Army officer and a no-nonsense politician.

He founded the House of Commons gym and a successful fitness business, and was known as a tireless fundraiser, writes the Times and the Telegraph.

He swam the Thames from St Thomas' Hospital to the Houses of Parliament for charity.

The Telegraph says he was generally in tune with Margaret Thatcher but on Europe he believed Britain and its neighbours should have a "strong and united voice".

He was a member of Parliament's privileges and Agriculture committees and chaired the British-Turkish parliamentary group.

Born on 4 October 1925, he was educated at Latymer school and upon leaving joined the regular Army in 1943, retiring in 1957. He was knighted in 1988.

Sir James married in 1954, to Winifred Shanks, who predeceased him in 2010, and they had two daughters, says the Telegraph.


Gerry Steinberg, 20 April 1945 - 21 August 2015

A former teacher, Labour MP Gerry Steinberg represented Durham City, where he also served as a councillor for many years, from 1987 to 2005.

The Guardian says his career was profoundly affected by failing the 11-plus examination, and he was determined to speak out against deprivation.

He resigned "in disgust and outrage" as Labour's parliamentary education committee chairman after Harriet Harman decided to send her son to a selective school, said the Northern Echo. And he spoke out against the introduction of university top-up fees, it added.

Mr Steinberg was a member of the influential Public Accounts Committee in the House of Commons.

He co-led Durham City council for four years, and was made an honorary freeman in 2005 because of his role in developing the city, said the Guardian.

Born in Durham, he was educated at St Margaret's Church of England primary and Whinney Hill secondary modern, transferring to Durham Johnston grammar for A-levels.

He trained as a teacher in Sheffield and worked at several schools before becoming head teacher of Whitworth House Special school for eight years.

The Northern Echo characterised him as an independently minded, even rebellious, constituency MP, noting that he voted against Tony Blair's government nine times over a three-year period between 2001 and 2004.

He married a fellow teacher, Meg in 1969 and the couple had two children, wrote the Guardian.


Sir Jerry Wiggin, 24 February 1937 - 12 March 2015

Sir Jerry Wiggin was the MP for Weston-super-Mare from 1969 until his retirement in 1997.

The Eton and Cambridge educated son of the officer who led the last cavalry charge against enemy guns, according to the Daily Telegraph obituary, he joined the Young Conservatives in 1955, and his was knighted in 1993.

The Telegraph describes him as a right-winger and a bit of a maverick, while the Bristol Post says he was a controversial figure.

He was reprimanded by the House of Commons after he used fellow MP Sebastian Coe's name to table an amendment to a piece of legislation in which he had a financial interest. He had to apologise to the House but he was not referred to the Commons Privileges Committee.

A former Army officer he gained a reputation at Westminster for his enthusiastic promotion of the Armed Forces, wrote the Daily Telegraph. He was also a life-long supporter of capital punishment, it says.

The paper's obituary notes Sir Jerry's work in championing rural issues, including campaigning for government help to subsidise knackermen to remove fallen farm animals. And in the late 80s. he founded Sane Planning, a pressure group to fight rural development, it adds.

The MP was early crusader for compulsory seat belts, opposed attempts to tighten abortion rules and supported embryo research, said the Telegraph.

Sir Jerry was a junior minister in the agriculture department between 1979 and 1981, after which he moved to the Ministry of Defence to become a junior armed forces minister. But he was sacked from this post two years later, in 1983, after he criticised his ministerial team over the handling of the Falklands crisis.

He would later serve as chairman of Parliament's Agriculture Committee, and earned himself a place on the Commons Liaison Committee.

While known as Jerry, his full name is Alfred William Wiggin. Born in Worcester on 24 February 1937, he was educated at Eton and Trinity College, Cambridge - though he left university without taking a degree, becoming a farmer in his home county.

Sir Jerry married Rosemary Orr, in 1964, but it was later dissolved and he wed again, to Morella Bulmer, in 1991, wrote the Telegraph.

He is survived by his wife and a daughter and two sons from his first marriage, one of whom is the Conservative MP for North Herefordshire, Bill Wiggin, added the Telegraph.