Loyal Thatcher aide dies of heart attack

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The Independent Online

Westminster Correspondent

Sir Peter Morrison, the former Tory MP who acted as Margaret Thatcher's campaign manager during her 1990 fateful leadership battle, died of a heart attack, aged 51, yesterday.

A millionaire businessman, Sir Peter became an MP in 1974 and quickly latched himself to Mrs Thatcher's coat-tails in the run up to her defeat of Edward Heath, the then Conservative leader, in 1975. Baroness Thatcher said she was "deeply saddened" by Sir Peter's death.

"Peter and I were friends from the time he entered the House of Commons; he was one of the first to urge me to stand for the Conservative leadership; he was an effective minister, a vigorous deputy chairman of the Party and a loyal [Parliamentary Private Secretary]," she said in a statement.

For all her praise, Sir Peter never rose above minister of state rank despite becoming a government whip within two years of entering the Commons. And Lady Thatcher's choice of him as her campaign manager was seen by many MPs as one of the factors that contributed to her failure to win outright in the first ballot.

Although his loyalty was never in doubt, he failed to take account, his critics believed, of the possibility that some declared Thatcher supporters were lying and were intending to support Michael Heseltine.

In his diaries, Alan Clark, a close personal friend of Sir Peter, describes how he went to visit her campaign manager. "He was asleep, snoring lightly, in the leather armchair with his feet resting on the desk. Drake playing bowls before the Armada and all that ... this was 10 minutes past three in the afternoon of the most critical day of the whole election."

Against this, Sir Bernard Ingham, Lady Thatcher's press secretary at the time, has since argued that Sir Peter took an unfair share of the blame for the campaign's failure.

Sir Peter was awarded a knighthood in Lady Thatcher's resignation honours. He decided to retire from the Commons at the 1992 general election to concentrate on business. He was unmarried.