The MPs and ex-MPs who died in 2017 – part four

The late Conservative MP Sir John Hunt


Sir John Hunt was regarded as being on the left of the Conservative party

In 2017, we said goodbye to one of the true original Conservative eurosceptics, two working class Labour firebrands, one of the most liberal-minded MPs of their generation, a popular campaigner for women’s rights and the first candidate for the Liberal/SDP Alliance to win a Commons seat.

This is the fourth and final part of a series – read part one here and part two here and part three here

Sir John Hunt: 27 October 1929 – 19 September 2017

Sir John Hunt, who died aged 88 in September, was a longstanding Conservative backbencher who served in Parliament for more than 30 years.

A stockbroker by profession, he first contested a parliamentary seat before his 30th birthday in 1959.

Five years later, he was selected for Harold Macmillan’s old seat in Bromley after the prime minister’s retirement from the Commons. In his farewell speech, the man known as Supermac remarked that “this is my swan song, but I hope to hand over to this young cygnet”.

After his victory in 1964, Sir John held the seat – which was renamed Ravensbourne in 1974 – for the following 33 years.

Regarded as being on the left of the party, he never attained ministerial office under either Ted Heath, Margaret Thatcher or John Major. He was a member of the influential Home Affairs Select Committee for eight years and was a member of the panel of chairs, which oversees public bill committees and other general committees.

He was described in his Daily Telegraph obituary as being one of the most liberal-minded MPs of his generation with a demeanour variously described as “plump, balding and rubicund”.

Sir Teddy Taylor: 18 April 1937 – 20 September 2017

The ardent eurosceptic, who died aged 80 in September, was one of the most eloquent and recognisable Conservative MPs of his generation.

After a spell in journalism and as a councillor in his native Glasgow, he first entered Parliament as MP for Glasgow Cathcart in 1964. Aged 27, he was the youngest member of the Commons at the time.

He lost his seat in the 1979 election, but bounced back a year later by winning a by-election in the Essex seaside resort of Southend – but the 1979 setback was to prove a pivotal moment in his career.

Margaret Thatcher had been expected to appoint him to her cabinet as secretary of state for Scotland – he had shadowed the job in opposition for four years – if he had won that year. As it turned out, he never served again.

His support for the death penalty, corporal punishment and Enoch Powell’s campaign to stop immigration put him at odds with many in his party.

However, Sir Teddy’s views on Europe were in many ways ahead of his time as far as his party was concerned.

One of the original Tory eurosceptics, he resigned as a junior Scottish Office minister when Ted Heath took the UK into the then European Economic Community in 1973 and campaigned against the Common Market and EU membership for the rest of his life, living long enough to see the UK vote to leave.

He was expelled from the Conservative Parliamentary party in the 1990s for rebelling over the Maastricht Treaty, but remained an influential voice on the backbenches until his retirement in 2005.

In its obituary, the Glasgow Herald described Sir Teddy as “the nearly man of Scottish politics” whose eurosceptic and socially conservative views would normally have seen him prosper under Margaret Thatcher but who “perhaps lacked the discipline for high office”.

Bill Michie: 24 November 1935 – 22 September 2017

Bill Michie, who died in September aged 81, was a Labour MP for 18 years and a stalwart of Sheffield politics.

After 14 years on Sheffield City Council, he entered Parliament as MP for Sheffield Heely in 1983 and was re-elected on three further occasions.

On the left of the party, he was treasurer of the Campaign Group of MPs for 14 years and, while a diligent and popular figure, was never promoted by Neil Kinnock, John Smith or Tony Blair.

A life-long member of the Amalgamated Union of Engineering Workers, he was a fierce critic of Margaret Thatcher’s economic and social policies, speaking out about the decline of the steel industry and opposing the 1988 privatisation of British Steel, a company he once worked for.

He personally raised the red flag above Sheffield town hall and also risked imprisonment by openly refusing to pay the poll tax.

Mr Michie also courted controversy by failing to open a mural on an underpass in Sheffield in opposition to the inclusion of the Hollywood actor John Wayne, whom he considered too right wing.

His political outlook was shaped as much by his moral convictions – he was a lay Methodist preacher before entering politics – as his socialist beliefs.

In its obituary, the Guardian wrote that while Bill Michie’s lifelong commitment to the pursuit of socialism never wavered – “the political path he trod was always democratic and he remained loyal to the party he had joined as a young electrician in the steel industry”.

Candy Atherton: 21 September 1955 – 30 October 2017

Labour politician Candy Atherton, who died in October aged 62, was a popular campaigner on women’s rights and disability issues.

She was one of the bumper crop of female MPs elected to Parliament in Tony Blair’s 1997 landslide, when she won the marginal Cornish seat of Falmouth and Camborne, defeating former Olympian Sebastian Coe.

While she became associated with Cornwall during her eight years in Parliament, her political apprenticeship was served in London.

After studying in the capital, she worked as a journalist – launching a women’s magazine – while serving on Islington Council for six years. She was elected its mayor in 1989.

She later worked for Labour and the union Unison while cutting her teeth in the 1992 general election, where she unsuccessfully fought the Hertfordshire seat of Chesham and Amersham.

After moving to Cornwall and being elected to Parliament, Ms Atherton campaigned for the county to have its own university, for a new minor injuries unit at a community hospital in her constituency and for justice for those affected by deadly nerve gas tests at the Ministry of Defence base at Nancekuke.

While never a minister, she used her position to advance causes close to her heart, including support for women’s refuges. Following her defeat in the 2005 election, she launched her own public affairs company and sat on the board of the Homes and Communities Agency.

Despite suffering from an auto-immune disease, she remained a prominent figure in Cornish politics. At the time of her death, she was a member of Cornwall Council, having been elected in 2013.

In its obituary, the Guardian described her as “an indomitable campaigner who spent her life fighting inequality and injustice”.

Frank Doran: 13 April 1949 – 30 October 2017

Frank Doran, who died in October aged 68, served two separate stints as a Labour MP in three different Aberdeen constituencies.

He was first elected in Aberdeen South in 1987, before losing that seat to the Conservatives in 1992. He returned to parliament in 1997 for Aberdeen Central, and then in 2005 won the new seat of Aberdeen North.

After growing up in a working-class area of Edinburgh, he left school at 16 to work for the North of Scotland Hydro-Electric Board but later qualified to be a lawyer, practicing for 11 years before entering Parliament.

As Labour’s oil and gas spokesman after the 1987 election, he led the party’s response to the 1988 Piper Alpha disaster in the North Sea, which killed 167 people.

He spent much of the next decade seeking legal redress for the bereaved families and pushing for improved safety on oil rigs, calling for a public inquiry in 2013 in response to a spate of fatal helicopter accidents.

While he had a brief spell as an aide to Trade Minister Ian McCartney in Tony Blair’s government, his ministerial career never really took off and he was among the many Labour MPs who rebelled over the Iraq war in 2003.

Mr Doran chaired Westminster’s administration committee for five years, giving him a say on just about every matter in Parliament, ranging from works of art in its collection to queues in the canteen.

He married fellow Labour MP Dame Joan Ruddock in 2010.

In its obituary, the Guardian described Mr Doran – who stood down at the 2015 election – as “an assiduous MP who applied his legal training to a wide range of progressive reforms”.

Sir Michael Latham: 20 November 1942 – 2 November 2017

David Fowler / Alamy Stock Photo

Sir Michael Latham, who died aged 74, was a Conservative MP for Melton in Leicestershire for 18 years, and continued in the post when the constituency borders changed to Rutland and Melton in 1983.

According to his Daily Telegraph obituary, Sir Michael was a respected backbencher, slightly to the left of the party, who served briefly on the executive of the backbench 1922 Committee.

“He was scrupulously loyal to Margaret Thatcher, except over the poll tax and NHS dental and optical charges,” the paper reported.

In addition to politics, Sir Michael’s great interest was housebuilding. He worked for the Federation of Building Trade Employers before entering Parliament, and pressed consistently as an MP for action to get more homes built.

He was author of the 1994 Constructing the Team report – an influential work on the adversarial nature of the construction industry – which later became known as the Latham Report.

According to Construction News, that report became a reference point for subsequent studies by Sir John Egan, Crossrail chief executive Andrew Wolstenholme and former government chief construction adviser Paul Morrell.

A former chairman of the Construction Industry Training Board (CITB), Sir Michael was also chairman and deputy chairman of Willmott Dixon.

He married Caroline on November 29, 1969, and the couple went on to have two sons.

Bill Pitt: 17 July 1937 – 17 November 2017

Keystone Pictures USA / Alamy Stock Photo

Bill Pitt’s claim to fame came in October 1981 when he became the first candidate for the Liberal/SDP Alliance to win a seat in the Commons, taking Croydon North West from the Conservatives at a by-election.

According to his Daily Telegraph obituary, his victory was the more notable as local Liberals had resisted pressure from the top to ditch Mr Pitt – who had finished a poor third in three previous contests – and give the SDP’s Shirley Williams an early chance to return to Westminster.

He started out as a Tory, chairing South Norwood Young Conservatives in 1959-60, but soon afterwards joined the Liberals. He went on to chair the London Liberal Party and serve on the party’s national executive.

He fought Croydon North West in the February and October 1974 elections and again in 1979, losing his deposit with his vote more than halved to 4,239.

The Telegraph reported: “He fought Thanet South for the Alliance in 1987 and for the Lib Dems in 1992 – moving to Broadstairs in between. In 1996 he joined the Labour Party, seeing it as better placed to oust the local Conservative MP Jonathan Aitken.”

Mr Pitt, who died at the age of 80, married Janet Wearn in 1961. The couple had one daughter.

Jim Hood: 20 February 1929 – 6 June 2017

A former miner, Jim Hood became a popular Labour MP, serving for 18 years.

First elected MP for his native Clydesdale in 1987, he then served as MP for Lanark and Hamilton East from 2005 to 2015, when he lost his seat to the SNP.

Born and raised in Lesmahagow, Mr Hood worked as a mining engineer and became a union official in the National Union of Mineworkers, moving his family from Scotland to Nottinghamshire in search of better work.

The miner’s strike of 1984-5 was a defining moment for the aspiring politician.

While supporting Arthur Scargill in his battles with the National Coal Board and the Thatcher government, he witnessed first hand the bitter divisions with the NUM in Nottinghamshire – which led to the formation of the breakaway Union of Democratic Mineworkers.

In his maiden speech in 1987, he dispensed with the tradition of political pleasantries and spoke out about of the “misery” that working-class communities across the country were facing.

Writing Mr Hood’s obituary in the Independent, fellow MP Tam Dalyell – who also died in 2017 – said his colleague was “controversial but because he was never ill-mannered and because he respected his opponents, he became very well-liked by both colleagues and opponents”.

During his time in the House of Commons, he was chairman of the European scrutiny select committee for 14 years and a member of the liaison super-committee between 1992 and 2006.

The various other causes he championed including road safety, support for ME sufferers and curbs on under-age drinking.

He lost his seat in 2015 to the SNP’s Angela Crawley – who was born in June 1987, the same month Mr Hood first took office as an MP.