UK Politics

The ex-MPs who died in 2014 - part one

The Houses of Parliament at dawn Image copyright PA

This year saw the passing of two political heavyweights: former Labour MP and firebrand politician Tony Benn and ex-Democratic Unionist Party leader Ian Paisley. Their deaths marked the end of an era, but they weren't the only former MPs to pass away in 2014.

Lord Barnett, 4 October 1923 - 1 November 2014

Image caption Lord Barnett is most well known for devising the public spending formula for Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland

A diminutive 5ft 4in, with a puckish smile and twinkling eyes, Baron Barnett, born Joel Barnett, was a moderate socialist and a passionate pro-European, his Daily Telegraph obituary reported.

He was most famous for devising the so-called Barnett formula that sets public spending levels in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

It was intended to be a temporary fix but it is still used today; and it remains controversial as it often leads to higher public spending per head in Scotland than England.

Born in Manchester, Barnett attended a Jewish elementary school and won a scholarship to Manchester central high school. But he left at 14 to help the family finances, according to the Telegraph.

Barnett's introduction to Labour politics came though his future wife, Lilian, whom he met at the Maccabi Club in north Manchester, said the Telegraph.

His first attempt to stand for Parliament in the Runcorn seat in 1959 was unsuccessful but he would go on to serve as the MP for Heywood and Royton from 1964 and 1983.

Boundary changes resulted in his seat being abolished in 1983, and the following year he was elevated to the House of Lords.

In addition to his Treasury brief in the Labour governments of 1974-79, Barnett's Commons career also included chairing the Public Accounts Committee following Labour's defeat in 1979.

During his tenure in the Lords, he served on the European Union and Economic Affairs Committees, and the Monetary Policy Committee of the Bank of England.

In 1986, Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, who warmed to his hard-headedness, appointed him vice-chairman of the BBC board of governors, recalled The Guardian.

Barnett authored a book, Inside the Treasury, recalling his experience as chief secretary, which the Guardian said created controversy and embarrassed Labour. It revealed bruising battles to persuade colleagues and union leaders to recognise the economic facts of life, and was eagerly quoted by the Tories, it added.

His public appointments included chairing the Hansard Society, serving as a trustee of the V&A and the Open University Fund, and supporting the Hallé Orchestra in Manchester, according to the Guardian.


Tony Benn, 3 April 1925 - 14 March 2014

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The former cabinet minister and veteran left-wing campaigner became an MP in November 1950 and served in the cabinet under Harold Wilson and James Callaghan.

His BBC obituary called him "one of the few British politicians who became more left-wing after having actually served in government".

"He became the authentic voice of the radical left with the press coining the term Bennite to describe the policies espoused by those resisting attempts to move the Labour Party to the middle ground.

"As such, he became a bogeyman for the right in British politics, with delegates to Conservative conferences displaying Ban the Benn badges in the style of CND's Ban the Bomb logo."

Born in London into a family steeped in radical politics, Benn was just 25 when he first entered Parliament. He subsequently renounced the peerage he inherited on his father's death, to remain in the House of Commons.

He served as an MP for more than 50 years, becoming secretary of state for industry in 1974 under Harold Wilson and going on to become secretary of state for energy, keeping his post when James Callaghan became PM in 1976.

But after the Labour government was ousted in 1979, he staged a bitterly divisive battle as the champion of the left with Denis Healey for the deputy leadership of the party.

He retired from Parliament in 2001, famously saying he wanted to "spend more time on politics".

Labour leader Ed Miliband described him as an "iconic figure of our age" while Prime Minister David Cameron said there was "never a dull moment listening to him".


Sir William Benyon, 17 January 1930 - 2 May 2014

Sir William Benyon was a Conservative MP and landowner who crossed swords with Margaret Thatcher but remained loyal to the end, wrote the Daily Telegraph.

A grandson of Lord Salisbury and father to Newbury MP and former coalition minister Richard Benyon, he represented Buckingham from 1970-83 and the town of Milton Keynes from 1983-92.

His election in 1970 ended the parliamentary career of Robert Maxwell, who would go on to become the proprietor of the Daily Mirror.

After a career in the Navy, Benyon inherited the Englefield Estate in Reading from his cousin, Sir Henry Benyon, in 1964.

Although he began to the right of his party, his Telegraph obituary noted that by the time Margaret Thatcher came to power, he was clearly not "one of us", opposing cuts in spending on housing and rebelling against the taxing of unemployment benefit and the so-called poll tax.

However, he rallied behind Mrs Thatcher when Michael Heseltine challenged her leadership in 1990.

The MP made his mark in the Commons with a series of bills to tighten the law on abortion, and he led a successful campaign to kill off plans for a third London airport in Cublington, near Buckingham.

His fast-growing constituency was split between the safe Tory Buckingham and the unpredictable Milton Keynes in 1983, and he chose chose to stand for the latter, which he took comfortably.

By the time of his retirement in 1992, Milton Keynes' electorate was, at 130,000, the largest in Britain, according to the Telegraph.

Benyon revealed in reply to a survey of MPs' favourite television programmes - which saw predictably high ratings recorded for Panorama and Newsnight - that he enjoyed The A-Team, Happy Days and Basil Brush, the Telegraph reported.

He was a Berkshire county councillor, a Justice of the Peace in Reading, High Sheriff of Berkshire and Vice Lord Lieutenant of Berkshire, reported GetReading.


Lord Bilston (Dennis Turner), 26 August 1942 - 25 February 2014

Dennis Turner was elected to the Commons in 1987, after a long career in Wolverhampton's local government, including seven years as deputy leader of the council.

He represented Wolverhampton South East in the Commons until 2005, when he joined the House of Lords as a Labour peer.

According to the Guardian, Turner's title in the Lords was a mistake; he wanted to be "Turner of Bilston" and yet he was introduced as "Lord Bilston of Bilston".

A former market trader, steelworker and union activist, he was on the left of the Labour Party, hostile to "any hint" of privatisation and opposed to government cuts to public services, according to the Guardian.

Turner served throughout the 1992 Parliament as an opposition whip and became Parliamentary Private Secretary to International Development Secretary Clare Short when Labour came to power.

Turner was inseparable, by birth, accent, manner and self-identification, from his beloved Black Country, according to the Guardian's obituary.

He also chaired the House of Commons catering committee, which has responsibility for the restaurants and bars of Westminster.

The MP once introduced a private member's bill seeking to clarify the legal amount of froth at the top of a pint of beer.

The Guardian noted that Turner became well known because of his role in trying to save the local British Steel works at Bilston, where his father had worked.

In more recent times, wrote the Birmingham Post, Lord Bilston served as patron of Wolverhampton Interfaith, chaired the Wolverhampton Fairtrade Partnership and was President of the Bilston Community Association.

He was made a Freeman of the City of Wolverhampton in 2006.


Sir Sydney Chapman, 17 October 1935 - 9 October 2014

Sir Sydney Brooks Chapman was first elected to the Commons in a Birmingham seat in 1970, which he held for just one term.

But he returned in 1979 as member for Chipping Barnet, which he held until 2005.

He served as Parliamentary Private Secretary to Norman Fowler in the early 1980s and then entered the Whips' Office, which he left in 1995.

The son of an architect, Chapman was educated at Rugby and Manchester University, and gained diplomas in Architecture in 1958 and Town Planning in 1961.

As an architect and planner by profession, he had a strong interest in conservation and particularly in the preservation of London's greenbelt.

No other politician could be said to have done as much to champion the much-loved British tree, noted the Times. Chapman emerged as the "chief protector" of Britain's tree population at a time it was being devastated by Dutch elm disease.

His "Plant a Tree in '73" campaign proved to be a roaring success and earned him the nickname "the doggies' delight" among colleagues, reported the Daily Telegraph.


Christopher Chataway, 31 January 1931 - 19 January 2014

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Image caption Christopher Chataway (right) with Roger Bannister (centre) with Chris Brasher after Bannister ran his sub four minute mile

Christopher Chataway was a man with many achievements to his name: an Olympic athlete and one-time world 5,000m record holder, a television reporter, a Conservative MP and a government minister.

Also a successful businessman and a chairman of the Civil Aviation Authority, he described himself in 2010 as having ''never made up my mind what I wanted to do".

Born in Chelsea, London, Chataway was brought up partly in Sudan, where his father was a district commissioner, wrote the Guardian's obituary.

He was educated at Sherborne School in Dorset and, after National Service, at Magdalen College, Oxford, where he took an honours degree in politics, philosophy and economics and became president of the athletics club.

He represented Great Britain in the Olympic Games in 1952 and 1956; ran a memorable 5,000m race against Emil Zatopek and was a pacemaker when Roger Bannister ran the first sub four-minute mile in 1954.

He was a staff reporter for Independent Television News, and joined the BBC's television team as a commentator on current affairs, before eventually working on Panorama for four years.

Chataway first entered Parliament in 1959 as Conservative member for North Lewisham, but he lost his seat at the 1966 general election, and returned to television and journalism while establishing himself in local government.

But he reignited his Commons career with a victory at the Chichester by-election three years later, and became the opposition spokesman on the environment.

Chataway was in the vanguard of social reform, co-sponsoring Humphry Berkeley's Bill to legalise homosexuality and telling for the Ayes in the 1964 vote to end capital punishment, wrote the Daily Telegraph.

Prime Minister Edward Heath appointed Chataway to the privy council and offered him the still novel junior post of sports minister, but he declined this and chose to become a minister for posts and telecommunications, where he introduced commercial radio, wrote the Guardian.

Then he was promoted to become minister for industrial development in charge of regional aid.

The MP chose not seek re-election in the October election of 1974, bowing out of politics at the age of 43 to work in the city where he held several directorships.

In June 1995, Chataway was given a knighthood for his services to the aviation industry.

But he did not rest on his laurels, as he also served as chairman of the Bletchley Park Trust, responsible for the upkeep of the UK's wartime code breaking museum.

The Guardian also noted that Chataway worked at Guinness for two years, and said his most lasting achievement there was perhaps to suggest that the company might publish a book of records.


Jim Dobbin, 26 May 1941 - 6 September 2014

Image caption Jim Dobbin had been an MP since 1997

Labour MP Jim Dobbin had represented Heywood and Middleton in Greater Manchester since 1997.

The former microbiologist won with a 5,971 majority at the last election.

A committed Roman Catholic, in 2008 he was made a papal knight by Pope Benedict.

In Parliament, he chaired the Pro-Life Committee and was a member of the Involuntary Tranquillizer Addiction Group as well as the Transport Scrutiny Select Committee.

He co-chaired the All Party Parliamentary Group for Child Health and Vaccine Preventable Diseases, and recently called for integrated healthcare for the developing world to help prevent diseases spreading and to improve sanitation.

He voted against the same-sex marriage bill last year and spoke out against the plans in Parliament, saying: "I think MPs who voted for this change will rue the day they did so."

Mr Dobbin was on a trip to Poland organised by the Council of Europe when he died. Labour narrowly held off UKIP in the ensuing Heywood and Middleton by-election.


Dick Douglas, 4 January 1932 - 3 May 2014

Image caption Dick Douglas defected from the Labour Party to the SNP in 1990

Dick Douglas began his Commons career in the 1970s as a Labour and Co-operative MP but later defected to the Scottish National Party.

He was elected initially as MP for Clackmannan and East Stirlingshire in 1970, but lost the seat to the SNP in 1974.

He returned to Westminster following the 1979 election as MP for Dunfermline and, following boundary changes in 1983, won the new Dunfermline West seat for Labour.

He remained the constituency's MP until 1992 but left Labour for the SNP in 1990.

The obituary in the Scotsman described his switch in allegiance as a "significant boost for the Nationalists at an important time in modern Scottish history".

Douglas was born in Govan on Clydeside and went to Govan High School. He became an apprentice in the shipyards, where, according to friends, he was only 18 when he led fellow workers out on strike, said the Scotsman.

The Daily Telegraph described him as being on the right of his party before 1987, but attributed his political shift to Margaret Thatcher's poll tax.

He and his wife resolved not to pay it, the Telegraph said, and he resigned as chairman of the Scottish Labour MPs in 1988. Weeks later at the party's Scottish conference, he delivered a "withering attack" on the tax and then-Labour leader Neil Kinnock's handling of the issue,

Douglas encouraged 11 colleagues to join him in refusing to pay the tax and, a keen marathon runner, jogged 400 miles from Edinburgh to Buckingham Palace to hand in a petition to the Queen.

Tam Dalyell wrote in the Independent that Douglas was one of the first MPs to recognise the importance of North Sea oil and gas.


Sheila Faith, 3 June 1928 - 28 September 2014

Sheila Faith was the only woman amongst the new intake of Conservative MPs in 1979 - the election that brought Margaret Thatcher to power as the UK's first female prime minister.

The former school dentist, born Irene Sheila Book, became the MP for Belper in Derbyshire.

According to the Daily Telegraph's obituary, she won nomination despite the selection committee being advised not to choose a woman because the constituency was too large.

The seat disappeared in boundary changes in 1983 and she did not stand in the successor seat of South Derbyshire, having concluded that she could not win. In fact, fellow Conservative Edwina Currie went on to win South Derbyshire with a comfortable majority.

Sheila Faith failed to secure nomination in another constituency in 1983. She stood for the European Parliament the following year instead, winning the Cumbria and Lancashire North constituency, which she represented from 1984 to 1989.

The constituency included the Sellafield nuclear plant, which was opposed by many in the Republic of Ireland because of fears of radioactive contamination of the Irish Sea. In 1986 Faith accused accused Irish MEPs of spreading "misleading rumours" about radiation from the plant.

After stepping down as an MEP, she became president of the Cumbria and North Lancashire constituency party. She later served as deputy chairwoman of Hampstead and Highgate Conservatives after she was appointed to the Parole Board, based in London.


Dame Peggy Fenner, 12 November 1922 - 15 September 2014

Peggy Fenner served as a Conservative MP in Kent for 22 years and was a minister under both Edward Heath and Margaret Thatcher.

Born in Lewisham, London, Peggy Fenner had a "troubled, modest childhood" according to the Guardian. She was three when her parents divorced and she never saw her father again.

She was elected in 1970 to represent Rochester and Chatham. Edward Heath made her his food prices watchdog and the tabloids duly dubbed her "Prices Peg".

She lost her seat in 1974 but won it back in 1979. In 1981 she was again appointed as a food minister.

Peggy Fenner was known for strongly conservative views on abortion, divorce and pornography, and supported the death penalty.

However, she came into conflict with Margaret Thatcher's government over its decision to close the naval dockyard at Chatham.

"Does my Rt Hon friend believe that the people of Rochester and Chatham elected me to support a government that would do what has just been done to their dockyard?" she asked Defence Secretary John Nott in 1981.

"My Rt Hon friend need not reply. I shall tell him the answer: they did not, and I will not."

From 1983 she represented the constituency of Medway, eventually losing her seat in the Labour landslide of 1997.

"The battle may long since have been lost, but the people of Medway will never forget Dame Peggy Fenner's dogged attempts to save Chatham Dockyard," reads her obituary in Kent Online.

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