John Harvey: Tory MP and businessman


John Edgar Harvey, politician and businessman: born Londonderry 24 April 1920; MP (Conservative) for Walthamstow East 1955-66; export manager, Marine and Industrial Lubricants Ltd (later Burmah Oil Trading Ltd) 1946-53, general managing director 1953-55, director 1955-85, deputy chairman, Burmah Castrol Europe 1970-80; CBE 1994; married 1945 Joyce Lane (died 2007; one son); died London 13 January 2008

John Harvey fought Walthamstow East for the Conservative Party in 1951 and gained the seat at the 1955 general election with a majority of 1,129. He held the seat for 11 years before going down to defeat in 1966 by 1,807 votes, victim to Labour's best result since 1945.

Although the seat was recaptured by the Conservatives at a by-election in 1969, Harvey never returned to the House of Commons, but engaged in business and charitable activities, serving as the deputy chairman of Burmah Castrol Europe from 1970 until 1980. A fluent French speaker, he broadcast regularly from Bush House for the BBC.

Harvey was born in Londonderry and educated at the Xavierian College in Bruges and Lyme Regis Grammar School. He served throughout the Second World War as a radio officer in the Merchant Navy. He joined a firm of oil distributors, Marine and Industrial Lubricants Ltd, and was their export manager from 1946 until 1953, when he was appointed general managing director. He gave up that position on entering the Commons, although remaining a director of the firm, which was absorbed in 1963 into Burmah Oil.

Politically, he became an active member of the Young Conservatives, chairing the Woodford branch and the Essex and Middlesex area. He sat on the National Executive of the Conservative Party from 1950 until 1955. Not yet 30, Harvey fought the safe Labour seat of St Pancras North in 1950. His reward was a tilt at the much more marginal seat of Walthamstow East, but the sitting Member who had been Labour's candidate there since the 1920s held on to the seat by 1,020 votes.

Harvey remained the Conservative parliamentary candidate and chaired the Association of Conservative Parliamentary Candidates and the Woodford Conservative Association, 1954-56. He took Walthamstow East in May 1955, held it in 1959 and clung on by 395 votes when the Conservative government was defeated in 1964.

After his defeat in 1966, Harvey, who had become a director in the Burmah group and had a position on the executive council of the NSPCC, did not seek re-election to Parliament, but concentrated on his business career. His only political connection was with the Wanstead and Woodford Association, where he was president from 1986 until 1993. His enthusiasm for all things Churchillian led to him becoming one of the founders of a body to link Churchill societies in 1996.

John Barnes

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