UK Politics

The MPs and ex-MPs who died in 2016 - part one

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Labour MP Jo Cox's death in June shocked the country. We look back at her life and those of some former MPs who also passed away this year including the last Northern Ireland representative to hold ministerial office - and a Conservative road safety campaigner who joined Twitter at the age of 87.


Robin Chichester-Clark: 10 January 1928 - 5 August 2016

Robin Chichester-Clark represented Londonderry for the Ulster Unionists from 1955 to 1974.

Educated at the Royal Naval College, Dartmouth, and Cambridge, he worked in journalism and public relations before entering politics.

He served as a shadow minister under Conservative leader Ted Heath, who made him an employment minister after the 1970 general election.

As the Belfast Telegraph noted, Mr Chichester-Clark, whose brother James was prime minister of Northern Ireland for two years, was the last Ulster Unionist MP to serve as a government minister at Westminster.

He was described as a moderate who supported moves towards gradual reform at Stormont to address the demands of nationalist human rights campaigners.

Mr Chichester-Clark was Conservative spokesman on Northern Ireland at the time.

His Guardian obituary said: "Given the traditional unionist links with the Conservative Party, Chichester-Clark was first disappointed and then disillusioned as even the moderate unionist case for gradual reform he advocated was comprehensively rejected."

But after his death, Ulster Unionist leader Mike Nesbitt described him as a role model, adding: "He abhorred extremism and was not afraid to say so, no matter what the source happened to be, and stood firm while under fire from militant nationalists and unionists alike."


Jo Cox: 22 June 1974 - 16 June 2016

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The killing of the 41-year old Labour MP in her Batley and Spen constituency shocked the entire country.

It was shortly after 13:00 BST on 16 June - a week before the EU referendum was due to be held - that reports first emerged that the MP had been caught up in an incident.

It soon transpired that she had been shot and repeatedly stabbed on her way to her constituency surgery in the West Yorkshire town and was in a critical condition.

Her death led to an outpouring of grief, with vigils held around the country, campaigning in the referendum being suspended and David Cameron and Jeremy Corbyn laying flowers together in tribute in her constituency.

Although she had been in Parliament a relatively short time, being elected in May 2015, the ex-Oxfam worker campaigned passionately for the rights of Syrian refugees.

In November, 53-year old Thomas Mair was jailed for life after being found guilty of her murder. Prosecutors said Mair, who shouted "Britain First" during the attack, was motivated by hate and the crime was an act of terrorism.

Jo's widower, Brendan, said after the verdict that her voice had been "strengthened not silenced" and that her legacy would live on.


Sir Anthony Durant: 9 January 1928 - 18 February 2016

Sir Anthony, better known as Tony Durant, persuaded the House of Commons to lower the homosexual age of consent from 21 to 18 in 1994.

He represented Reading North from 1974 to 1983 and Reading West, following a change to the constituency boundaries, from 1983 to 1997.

The Conservative MP - who was knighted in 1991 - was a regular attendee at the Reading music festival, and was described by the Daily Telegraph as "amiable, energetic and to the Right of the party".

He joined the whips' office in Margaret Thatcher's administration in 1984, where, the Telegraph said, he "won a reputation for discretion and became one of its pillars, providing the continuity so important in maintaining party discipline and morale".

Paying tribute after his death, Labour's Martin Salter, who replaced Sir Anthony as Reading West MP in 1997, described his campaign on the age of consent, as the Henley Standard reported: "He said there were only three things you were not allowed to do until you were 21 - drive an HGV, become an MP and have sex with another man.

"He wanted to change precedent and reduce discrimination. David Cameron stated marriage equality was part of his legacy but it started long before with the campaign of Tony Durant."


John Evans: 19 October 1930 - 5 March 2016

Tributes to former Labour MP John Evans in the Liverpool Echo recalled him fighting "valiantly" to protect local miners' jobs.

He represented the former constituency of Newton from 1974 until 1983, then after that seat was abolished, St Helens North until 1997.

In its obituary, the Guardian said Evans had been known for putting others' interests before his own.

"The consequence of this highly untypical trait in any politician was that he was never a well-known figure on the national stage, nor given the credit he deserved for helping to rescue and restore Labour's fortunes when its self-destructive lurch to the left after 1979 condemned the party to a generation out of government," it said.

It credited him with "unseen groundwork" to get Labour in a position to win its 1997 general election landslide.

At this point, he joined the House of Lords.

A former chairman of the Labour Party - in a period including its 1992 general election defeat - he also served on the party's National Executive Committee.


Mildred Gordon: 24 August 1923 - 8 April 2016

After entering Parliament in 1987 at the relatively late age of 63, Mildred Gordon represented Bow and Poplar in East London for 10 years.

Raised in the East End, she was a teacher for 40 years, having previously been an air-raid warden during the Second World War, the Guardian noted in its obituary - describing her as an "an unapologetic member of the left of the party".

The Telegraph said she was a "life-long class warrior who in her sixties became an effective, though hard-line, East End Labour MP".

During her time in Parliament she championed women's rights and served on the Commons education, science and arts committee.

One of her friends was Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, who during a Commons speech recounted her meeting with the Queen at the opening of the Docklands Light Railway.

"The Queen asked Mildred how she was getting on as a newly elected MP," he said, "and Mildred replied, with the devastating honesty with which she replied to everything, by saying that she felt she had very little power to help her constituents.

"The Queen took her on one side and said, with her customary wit: 'Once they find out you lot can't help them, they all write to me.'"


Sir Anthony Grant: 29 May 1925 - 9 October 2016

Sir Anthony Grant represented Harrow Central from 1964 until 1973, and South West Cambridgeshire from 1983 until 1997.

He served as a trade minister under Edward Heath, and was also the vice-chairman of the Conservative Party.

Educated at Oxford, he was a solicitor before entering Parliament, serving in the whips' office in opposition, describing his four years there as his "happiest time in Parliament", the Guardian said.

He did not see eye-to-eye with Margaret Thatcher, who replaced Mr Heath as Conservative leader, although she retained him as vice-chairman until 1976.

Sir Anthony was a long-serving president of the Guild of Experienced Motorists, and campaigned for road safety.


Harry Harpham: 21 February 1954 - 4 February 2016

Image copyright Harry Harpham

Harry Harpham served only nine months in Parliament, dying from cancer in February, but he had a long career in local government.

The Labour MP, a former miner, was deputy leader of Sheffield Council before taking over former Home Secretary David Blunkett's old seat of Sheffield Brightside and Hillsborough.

He last spoke in Parliament a couple of weeks before his death, castigating the then Prime Minister, David Cameron, over his handling of the crisis in the UK steel industry.

Mr Harpham's wife, Gill Furniss, won Sheffield Brightside and Hillsborough in the by-election resulting from his death.


Patrick Jenkin: 7 September 1926 - 20 December 2016

Patrick Jenkin was one of the most well-known figures of the Thatcher era, serving as a secretary of state for social services, industry and the environment during the 1980s.

He was first elected to the House of Commons in 1964, taking the Wanstead and Woodford seat, following in the footsteps of Sir Winston Churchill, who had held the constituency before its boundaries were changed.

He went on to hold a number of different government roles, but faced some tricky headlines when, as energy minister during the three-day week in the 1970s, he urged the nation to clean its teeth in the dark to save electricity.

Then it was discovered that he used an electric toothbrush, and his north London home was photographed during this power crisis with every single light blazing.

During the Thatcher era, he went head to head with Ken Livingstone as he led the controversial abolition of the Greater London Council.

After nearly a quarter of a century serving in the House of Commons he moved to the House of Lords in 1987, where he later championed David Cameron's same-sex marriage reforms at a time when they were causing deep divisions within the Tory party.

Two years ago he retired from the House of Lords, urging other peers to follow his lead to make way for a new generation in the upper chamber.

His son is Bernard Jenkin, the Conservative MP for Harwich and North Essex.