Obituary: Sir Robert McCrindle

ROBERT MCCRINDLE was the perennial Tory backbencher. He would have found himself out of sympathy with the current Conservative anti- European fashions. A Conservative MP for 22 years, he might also have found himself to the left of Tony Blair's New Labour party on social policy, had he not stood down in 1992 after major surgery in 1989.

Quietly spoken, and moderate, McCrindle was outspoken on social issues and it was probably that which cost him any chance of a ministerial career under Margaret Thatcher. He was a regular rebel on such issues as the uprating of child benefit and NHS charges, but remained a loyal Tory, and was ready to reply to the call from Downing Street, if the call had ever come. She arranged for him to be knighted in 1990, after her downfall. "If the PM telephoned me this afternoon, I should accept with pleasure, delight . . . and surprise," he once told me during the Thatcher years.

The nearest he came to climbing up the greasy pole of ministerial office was as a Parliamentary Private Secretary to Mark Carlisle, another wettish Tory who was then a Home Office minister, in the dying days of the Heath government in 1974. That job lasted just seven days, and it appealed to his puckish sense of humour that the taste of office was so short.

He had an urbane, self-deprecating style which did not advertise itself to the whips for advancement. Having been elected the MP for Billericay since 1970, he moved following boundary changes to be elected as the MP for Brentwood and Ongar in the February 1974 election, which was fought by Heath on the "Who governs Britain?" issue over the miners' strike. He remained in the seat throughout the Thatcher years, but was never an "Essex Man", although he adopted the county.

Born in Glasgow in 1929, and educated at Allan Glen's College in the city, McCrindle contested Dundee East in 1959, but moved from Scotland to Essex in 1964. An insurance broker, he was an associate of the Chartered Insurance Institute and a parliamentary consultant to the industry, which gave him a keen interest in related issues, including pensions reform.

As a backbencher, he had a wide range of business interests, including directorships of companies including Hogg Robinson, the travel agency, and held a number of consultancies including the airline, British Caledonian, and Trust House Forte; he was also parliamentary adviser to the British Transport Police Federation.

Having failed to gain ministerial advancement, he derived a great deal of enjoyment as a backbencher from a career on the select committees, for social services, and trade and industry. He demonstrated his knowledge about the aviation industry in the aftermath of the Lockerbie disaster. As the chairman of the all-party aviation committee, he shuttled between radio stations and television studios patiently explaining what he believed should be done to improve the security of airlines after the Lockerbie bombing.

It was all characteristically understated. The last thing he wanted, he said privately, was to be seen to be criticising the then Transport minister Paul Channon, whom he believed had been unfairly attacked. And, anyway, McCrindle was far too much of a gent to "put the boot in". That was not his style.

In spite of cancer in the Eighties, which he had overcome, he was energetic in his retirement, producing a magazine, Interface, on politics for small businesses, and was a regular contributor until the week before his death as the City correspondent for the House Magazine at Westminster, in which he once described himself as "an unrepentant moderate who refuses to be called a wet".

Regular cruises in retirement kept McCrindle looking tanned, and he was amused to find himself playing a walk-on part at a reception for the captain in the recent television documentary called The Cruise.

Colin Brown

Robert Arthur McCrindle, politician: born Glasgow 19 September 1929; MP (Conservative) for Billericay 1970-74, for Brentwood and Ongar 1974- 92; PPS to Minister of State, Home Office 1974; Chairman, All-Party Parliamentary Aviation Committee 1980-92; Kt 1990; Public Affairs Consultant, Federation of Tour Operators 1994-98; married 1953 Myra Anderson (two sons); died London 8 October 1998.

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