UK Politics

The ex-MPs who died in 2016 - part three

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This year saw the loss of two heavyweights from the Thatcher era, Cecil Parkinson and Jim Prior, who had contrasting relationships with the prime minister. But they weren't the only former MPs to pass away in 2016. Read part one and part two.


Cecil Parkinson: 1 September 1932 - 26 January 2016

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One of Margaret Thatcher's closest confidantes throughout the 1980s, Cecil Parkinson was one of the nearly men of British politics.

Tipped as a possible successor to the prime minister, the married father of three resigned from the cabinet during the Conservative conference in October 1983 after it emerged that his secretary Sarah Keays was carrying his child - a daughter, Flora, who was born in 1984.

Although he returned to government four years later and remained an influential figure in Tory circles, his chance of attaining the highest offices had gone and he left the Commons at the 1992 election - however he later took a seat in the House of Lords and returned for two years to the frontline as Conservative chairman under William Hague's leadership in 1997.

The Lancashire-born chartered accountant had entered Parliament at the age of 38, having won a by-election in 1970 triggered by the death of the then Chancellor, Ian Macleod.

Promoted repeatedly by Mrs Thatcher, he became Tory chairman in 1982 and was a member of the PM's Falklands war cabinet.

He was widely expected to become foreign secretary after the 1983 election but was given the lesser trade and industry brief.

It later emerged he had discouraged the PM from sending him to the Foreign Office after telling her that Ms Keays, with whom he had had a long affair, was pregnant.

Obituary: Cecil Parkinson


James Prior: 11 October 1927 - 12 December 2016

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The Conservative politician and farmer was an important figure in Margaret Thatcher's first tumultuous administration between 1979 and 1983, serving as secretary of state for employment and Northern Ireland.

Having been agriculture minister under Edward Heath and unsuccessfully stood against Mrs Thatcher for the party leadership in 1975, Jim Prior was given key roles by her despite openly disagreeing with many of her economic policies and seeking a more conciliatory relationship with the trade unions.

He was one of the so-called "wets" in her first cabinet, those generally hostile to proposed spending and tax cuts put forward by the PM and her Chancellor Geoffrey Howe.

Instead, he was in favour of increased spending to boost jobs at a time when unemployment levels were rising, topping more than three million in early 1982.

By that point, he had moved from employment to Northern Ireland in a reshuffle in September 1981, in which a number of leading wets were either sacked or demoted.

He served in Northern Ireland from 1981 to 1984 - a period in office marked by a number of high-profile IRA attacks in Northern Ireland and the mainland - including the 1982 Hyde Park bombing and the 1983 attack outside Harrods.

He represented the Suffolk constituencies of Lowestoft and Waveney from 1959 to 1987 - before sitting in the Lords for nearly 30 years and chairing the defence and electronics firm GEC.

Former colleague Lord Heseltine called him as a "man of integrity" and a classic "one-nation Conservative".


Ken Purchase: 8 January 1939 - 28 August 2016

The staunch left-winger, a former aerospace and car industry worker, spent 18 years as MP for Wolverhampton North East, coming into Parliament in 1992, the year of Neil Kinnock's second general election defeat as Labour leader.

With the party finally back in power in 1997, after 18 years in opposition, he was appointed parliamentary private secretary to Foreign Secretary Robin Cook.

The pair both resigned over their opposition to the Iraq War in 2003, after which Mr Purchase served on the foreign affairs select committee.

The son of a die caster, who lost an eye in an industrial accident, and a cleaner, Mr Purchase served on Wolverhampton Council for two decades before entering Parliament. He became a union activist and studied social sciences at Wolverhampton Polytechnic.

Known for his forthright views, he frequently made quips at Prime Minister's Questions. According to the Guardian, Mr Purchase liked a drink and had a love of jazz.


David Rendel: 15 April 1949 - 16 May 2016

David Rendel's parliamentary career began in 1993, providing a moment of dread for the Conservative Party.

The previous MP for Newbury, Berkshire, Judith Chaplin, died only a year into the job, prompting a by-election.

Mr Rendel, an old Etonian and Oxford rowing Blue, ran for the Liberal Democrats and took the previously safe Tory seat with a 22,000-vote majority. It was seen by many at the time as a harbinger of difficult times for the Conservatives, who fell to a massive defeat in the general election four years later.

Mr Rendel, who worked in the computer and finance departments for several oil firms, ran for Parliament four times before his eventual success.

"Thoughtful and hard-working", according to the Telegraph, he served as Lib Dem local government spokesman from 1993 to 1997 and higher education spokesman from 2001 to 2005.

When Paddy Ashdown stood down as party leader in 1999, Mr Rendel was among those who ran. He came fifth, Charles Kennedy the winner.

He lost his parliamentary seat at the 2005 general election, and was defeated again when he tried to take it back in 2010. Nominated for Lib Dem-held seat of Somerton and Frome in 2015, he lost once again.

Out of the Commons, Mr Rendel served on West Berkshire Council from 2007 to 2015.


John Roper: 10 September 1935 - 29 January 2016

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The Social Democratic Party started in 1981 with the "Gang of Four" senior Labour politicians - Shirley Williams, Roy Jenkins, David Owen and Bill Rodgers - declaring a break with their old party.

But there were other, less well-known, MPs who made the same move. Among them was the 45-year-old John Roper.

Elected as MP for Farnwsorth, Lancashire in 1970, he had been active in politics since his days as an Oxford student in the 1950s.

Born the eldest of six children of a vicar, Mr Roper also studied at the University of Chicago, before becoming an economics lecturer at Manchester University.

Mr Roper was a keen supporter of the UK joining the European Economic Community, helping marshal support in Parliament.

In 1983, his parliamentary seat was abolished and he ran unsuccessfully for the SDP in Worsley, Greater Manchester.

He joined the Royal Institute of International Affairs (Chatham House) as an editor. His work there led to media reports in 2003 that he had unwittingly employed an undercover agent for East Germany's Stasi as a research fellow.

In 2000, Mr Roper he became a life peer, serving as chief whip for the Liberal Democrats from 2001 to 2005. He became a member of the Privy Council in 2005.


Sir Dudley Smith: 14 November 1926 - 14 December 2016

Sir Dudley Smith was first elected to the House of Commons, to represent Brentford and Chiswick, in 1959, a general election won by Harold Macmillan's Conservatives.

Educated at Chichester High School, Sir Dudley had worked as a newspaper journalist and had an unsuccessful attempt in Peckham in 1955.

After publishing a "critical biography" of Harold Wilson in 1964, he lost his seat to Wilson's Labour in 1966. Two years later he was elected as Warwick and Leamington in 1968, going on to represent the Midlands constituency for almost 30 years.

He served as a junior minister in the defence and employment departments under Edward Heath, before again losing his seat to Labour, this time in the 1997 landslide.

In its obituary, the Daily Telegraph said the former Sunday Express journalist had championed the free press during his time in Parliament, and also campaigned for tighter controls on pornography.

It also recalled his campaigning in 1963 against the extradition of pro-democracy campaigner Chief Anthony Enahoro, who had been arrested in his constituency, to Nigeria.

Warwick and Leamington Conservative Association said Sir Dudley had been "a distinguished member of Parliament" in "a very different political environment to what we have now".


Allan Stewart: 1 June 1942 - 7 December 2016

Allan Stewart began his career in Parliament when Margaret Thatcher came to power in 1979, staying there until John Major's departure from Downing Street in 1997.

The Conservative MP was never in opposition and served as under-secretary of state for Scotland from 1981 to 1986 and 1990 to 1995.

He represented East Renfrewshire until the constituency was abolished in 1983, when he became MP for its successor seat of Eastwood.

Perhaps the most distinctive moment in his political life came in 1995 when, he was fined £200 for waving a pickaxe at demonstrators protesting against the M77 motorway in Glasgow. He resigned from the government following the incident.

"I picked up the pickaxe, first of all to avoid anybody else picking it up and secondly in possible self-defence," The Herald reported. "There was then a robust discussion. I felt scared. The situation was extremely unpleasant."

He stood down from Parliament, aged just 54, amid reports of ill health.

During a spell living in London during the 1960s, he met Mr Major, who became a lifelong friend.

Mr Stewart was also a member of the British Hedgehog Preservation Society.


George Thompson: 11 September 1928 - 23 December 2016

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Ten years after losing his seat, George Thompson (second from right in the picture above) was ordained as a priest.

When he was elected as the SNP MP for Galloway in 1974, one of 11 successes for the party, the Glasgow Herald described the result as "spectacular". Mr Thompson, a former teacher, took the previously Conservative-held seat by just 30 votes, overturning a Tory majority of 4,008.

During his time in Parliament, he pushed the Labour government to hold a referendum on Scottish devolution, which it did in 1979. He was, however, defeated by Conservative Ian Lang in the general election of that year.

In 1989 Mr Thompson became a priest in the Diocese of Galloway, serving in Dumfries and Dalbeattie. He retired in 2005.

After Father Thompson's death, former Scottish First Minister Alex Salmond said: "George will be missed by all who value decency and life in politics."

Bishop William Nolan, Bishop of Galloway, told the Independent Catholic News: "Father George Thompson was a man whose life was inspired and motivated by a deep faith in Jesus Christ. A faith he put into practice by embracing three vocations: teaching, politics and the priesthood. In each of these he sought to serve God and to serve others. We give thanks to God for all the good that he did throughout his life."


John Watts: 18 April 1947 - 8 September 2016

Best-remembered as the minister who, in John Major's Conservative government, helped drive through rail privatisation, John Watts was a keen supporter of Margaret Thatcher's free-market philosophy.

Serving for 14 years as MP for Slough, in Berkshire, he was, according to the Daily Telegraph, a "tough, astute and popular" parliamentarian.

Mr Watts, born in Hillingdon, Middlesex, was the son of a piano tuner and a shop assistant.

After graduating from Cambridge University, he became a chartered accountant. He was elected to Hillingdon Council, progressing to leader, in which role he drove through spending cuts.

He was selected to run for Parliament in Slough at the 1983 general election and went on to beat the Labour incumbent, part of the Tories' landslide victory.

Mr Watts carried out several Conservative and parliamentary jobs - including Tory chief financial officer and Treasury and Civil Service Committee chairman - before Mr Major made him a transport minister in 1994.

An opponent of abortion and of lowering the age of consent for homosexuals, he was seen as on the socially conservative side of his party.

"A confident and energetic man of strident views," the Times said, "he did not take himself or his politics lightly."

Mr Watts lost his seat at the 1997 general election and suffered a brain haemorrhage soon afterwards, aged just 51. He was diagnosed with multiple myeloma in 2002 and retired to Pembrokeshire.


Brian White: 5 May 1957 - 5 July 2016

Brian White was one of the many Labour activists who must have found themselves at least mildly surprised to win a parliamentary seat in 1997. As Tony Blair's landslide victory unfolded, he took Milton Keynes North East from the Conservatives with a majority of just 240.

He managed to hold on to the seat, home of the Open University, in 2001.

Perhaps his most-remembered parliamentary moment was campaigning successfully for laws to be continued to be printed on vellum, or goat skin. The last remaining vellum printing firm in the UK was in his constituency.

Mr White's professional background was altogether more modern. He started work for Customs and Excise and, while there, developed computing systems to combat fraud. He was employed by Abbey National before entering Parliament.

In 2005, as Labour held power but lost seats to the Conservatives, Mr White was beaten in Milton Keynes North East. He returned to Milton Keynes Council and was mayor from 2013 to 2014.

After he was diagnosed with inoperable cancer of the oesophagus, he told the Milton Keynes Citizen: "I can't change it so I refuse to worry about it. Only one thing is for sure - none of us get out of this world alive."