UK Politics

Profile: Patrick Mercer

Patrick Mercer Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Patrick Mercer has had a colourful relationship with his own party bosses since becoming an MP

One of the complaints about Westminster is that too many MPs lack experience of real life, that they "haven't done anything" beyond the narrow careerism of modern politics.

This cannot be said of Patrick Mercer, who is to stand down as an MP after being suspended from the House of Commons over an alleged breach of parliamentary lobbying rules.

The MP for Newark served for 25 years as an Army officer, including postings to Northern Ireland and Bosnia.

The Oxford-educated son of the former Bishop of Exeter has written books about historical conflicts, with Boys' Own adventure titles like Red Runs the Helmand and To Do and Die.

He also served as a defence correspondent on BBC Radio 4's Today programme.

Such worldliness, and an expertise in security matters, ought to have been a boon to the Conservatives under David Cameron.

Firearms row

But Mr Mercer and his party leader have never got on, and the furore over his lobbying activities has ended a political career which promised so much more.

Born in 1956, he was a pupil at the King's School, Chester, before studying modern history at Oxford University and attending Sandhurst.

He received a gallantry commendation in 1990, was made an MBE in 1992 and an OBE in 1997 for services in Bosnia.

After a stint as the commanding officer of his regiment, the Sherwood Foresters - becoming the youngest full colonel since World War Two - he stood down to pursue his political career.

In 2001 he entered Parliament, recapturing Newark, Nottinghamshire, for the Conservatives from Labour's Fiona Jones.

Image caption Mr Mercer quit his military career to stand as a parliamentary candidate

Two years later he was promoted to the front bench by then Tory leader Iain Duncan Smith as shadow minister for homeland security.

And in a sign of the regard in which he was held, he remained in the post under both Michael Howard and David Cameron.

The role had a high profile, given the concerns over terrorism while wars raged in Iraq and Afghanistan and the Conservatives' commitment to making homeland security a cabinet job.

Yet some within the party began to worry that Mr Mercer, whose background was in the straight-talking military world, was unable to play the political game and rein in his comments.

In 2004, the Daily Record quoted him as saying it was "more sensible to train children to handle and have a respect for weapons than to simply ban them", which angered anti-gun campaigners.

Race remark

This tendency to speak his mind cost him dearly in March 2007, when remarks describing military life made it into the media.

He said that during his army career he had seen "a lot of ethnic minority soldiers who were idle and useless, but who used racism as cover for their misdemeanours".

He also suggested, in an interview in The Times, that being called a "black bastard" was part of life in the armed forces.

Mr Cameron sacked him from his frontbench team.

Image caption Mr Mercer resigned the Conservative whip following a BBC Panorama investigation

Mr Mercer later clarified his remarks, telling the BBC: "I am repeating what I heard going on inside the Army and that's why when I took over command of Nottinghamshire's own battalion I was absolutely rock hard about these things and made sure there was no racism in my battalion."

But David Davis, whom Mr Mercer had supported in his race against Mr Cameron to become party leader in 2005, said: "You have to be very careful you don't say something you don't intend. That's part of the skill of politics."

Former Conservative chairman Lord Tebbit was more sympathetic: "Is not the more important question whether what he said was true? If it was - and that seems to be likely - it would seem truthfulness is an offence in the new compassionate Conservative Party."

Mr Mercer was reportedly angry with his party leader for not showing him more support.

Months later he was appointed as an adviser to Labour security minister Lord West, a short-lived role.

EU referendum

The stewing resentment over his sacking boiled over in 2011.

Several newspapers reported that Mr Mercer had called Mr Cameron a "despicable creature without any redeeming features" at a private function and had predicted the prime minister would shortly be ousted in a backbench coup.

He reportedly added: "If the prime minister expresses his utmost confidence in you that means pack your bags. It always has done especially with Cameron. What a creature."

He refused to discuss the story when asked about it by BBC Radio 5 Live but was reported to have denied making the comments.

Earlier that year Mr Mercer had suggested using water cannon "if necessary" to deal with the rioting on the streets of several English cities.

He rebelled on House of Lords reform in 2012, was critical of some defence cuts, and was among 116 Conservative MPs who "expressed regret" that the Queen's Speech had not included a referendum on the UK's EU membership earlier this month.

In 2012 he was accused of breaking parliamentary rules by sponsoring a House of Commons pass for the head of a firm that had paid him for consultancy work.

He denied a conflict of interest as the work had not been carried out in Parliament and payments were declared - and Parliament's standards commissioner decided not to investigate the matter.

Worse was to happen last year when BBC One's Panorama alleged the MP had accepted £4,000 to lobby for business interests in Fiji.

He resigned the Conservative whip after the allegations surfaced, a move he said he hoped would save his party embarrassment, and referred himself to the standards commissioner.

Mr Mercer, who was approached by a fake company set up by the programme, denied wrongdoing, saying he had taken the money for consultancy work outside Parliament.

He had been serving as an independent MP, but following the decision by the standards committee of MPs to suspend him, he announced he would stand down immediately.

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