Obituary: Tony Leavey
Wednesday 15 September 1999
He was the son of George Leavey, chairman of the family engineering firm, Smith and Nephew, and before he entered politics served as its managing director. He was a director also of companies with interests in weaving and matchmaking which were located in Colne and Rawtenstall.
Born in 1915, he was educated at Mill Hill and Trinity Hall, Cambridge, where he read Economics. Conscious that war was imminent, he joined the 5th Royal Inniskilling Dragoon Guards and served with them in France and Belgium in 1939-40. He was one of the last to be evacuated from Dunkirk and he returned with his regiment soon after D-Day, serving throughout the campaign in north-west Europe. He was mentioned in despatches and ended the war a major. Between these two campaigns his regiment trained in the Midlands and Leavey entertained himself by organising a pack of hounds and coaxing the head of a girls' boarding school into providing the venue for a memorable hunt ball.
After the war, as a local businessman who was politically active, Leavey was a natural choice to fight Barbara Castle in Blackburn East. Although he lost by 4,818 votes in 1950, he cut her majority by more than 2,000 in 1951 and was subsequently adopted to fight Heywood and Royton where the sitting Tory member was retiring. He held it with a reduced majority in 1955 and despite the intervention of a Liberal candidate, held it by 2,154 votes in 1959. In 1964, however, Joel Barnett edged him out by 818 votes in a three-cornered contest and Leavey, who had just undergone major abdominal surgery, decided to call it a day.
He had been an active backbencher and a loyal one, except where the interests of the cotton industry were at stake. His first question in the House was to the President of the Board of Trade, about the action he was taking to help the industry, and three years later, on 30 June 1958, when he felt that not enough was being done to help, he and six other Lancashire members abstained. No action was taken against them.
Passage of the Cotton Industry Act in 1959 may have helped him save his seat in the election that year, but there was need for further rebellious action in 1962. Leavey blamed the industry's foreign competitors for "cheating like the devil".
More normally he was to be found on the Government's side and he was a trenchant critic of the Manchester Guardian's stand over Suez. In the build-up to the Suez crisis he also wrote a lead letter to The Times criticising Edith Summerskill for supporting President Nasser.
He was a forceful supporter of the right of peers to renounce their titles, the banning of Latin in schools and the silencing of noisy exhausts. On one occasion, against all evidence to the contrary, he insisted that there had been flying saucer activity over Lancashire. On another, he wanted to know if girls going topless would be arrested.
He was popular with his fellow MPs and twice served as PPS, to the Minister of Defence (Sir Walter Monckton) in 1956-57 and to Derick Heathcoat Amory as Chancellor of the Exchequer in 1959-60. Subsequently he served as joint Secretary of the Conservative 1922 Committee from 1961 to 1964, a measure of the regard in which he was held. He shared an interest in hunting with its equally robust chairman, John Morrison, and was one of the few to express admiration for Macmillan's ruthlessness in the "Night of the Long Knives".
After he left the Commons, Leavey pursued his business interests with considerable success. He had remained a director of Smith and Nephew Associated Companies and served as deputy chairman from 1962 to 1972. In addition he took on the chairmanship of a Midlands building firm, Wilson (Connolly) Holdings, 1966-82, of Robert Moss, 1981-82, and Edward Barber & Co, 1982- 88. He was a member also of the SE London Industrial Tribunal from 1978 to 1984.
He had married Lesley Homfray, the daughter of Mr Justice Ormerod, in 1952 and in his leisure time, apart from hunting and taking part in point- to-point races, he took an active interest in the Outward Bound Movement. He was a Council member of the Outward Bound Trust and a trustee of the Kurt Hahn Trust. For many years he served on the political committee of the Field Sports Association and he is said to have made a major contribution to the design of the Triathlon.
John Anthony Leavey, politician and businessman: born 3 March 1915; MP (Conservative) for Heywood and Royton 1955-64; PPS to Minister of Defence 1956-57, to Chancellor of the Exchequer 1959-60; married 1952 Lesley Homfray (nee Ormerod; two stepdaughters); died 9 July 1999.
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