Lord McIntosh of Haringey: Politician whose work as deputy chief Labour whip smoothed the legislative path for Tony Blair's government

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The Independent Online

The British government machine owes a lot to Andrew McIntosh. In the period from 1997 to 2003, as deputy chief whip in the first two Blair governments, he moved apparently effortlessly and always intelligently, through multiple briefs, cajoling or convincing his colleagues, judging where to negotiate, where to stand firm, in order to pilot government bills successfully through the Lords. He did this on behalf of the Treasury and four other departments when there was no minister in the Lords (Trade and Industry; Culture, Media and Sport; Scotland and Transport). His work at the despatch box, rarely noted by a media more interested in personality politics, earned him huge respect and admiration from his colleagues. He was promoted to Privy Counsellor in 1992 and for 18 months before the 2005 election served as the minister for media and heritage.

He had positioned himself for this essential and politically exacting role when he entered the House of Lords in 1983 at the request of Michael Foot, then leader of the opposition. He was quickly on Labour's front bench. During the Thatcher and Major years he spoke variously on education and science (among his causes the abolition of corporal punishment in schools), industry and the environment. From 1992, with the rise of Tony Blair, his main concern was with home office issues, working with the future home secretary, Jack Straw.

He was expected to become a Home Office minister in the Lords with Labour's win in 1997. But he had had his differences with Straw and became deputy government chief whip, known as the Captain of the Yeoman of the Guard, a job which brought with it inspections from, and dinners with, the Queen. When he went on to ministerial office in 2003 as Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Media and Heritage, he handled with characteristic aplomb the contested briefs of digital switchover, the BBC licence fee and the publicly unpopular Gambling Bill – of which he was proud since it introduced regulation in some previously free-for-all areas.

The fact that he went to the Lords in 1983 was a consequence of a politically packed 16 hours in 1981 which might have ended the political career of a lesser figure. As the leader of the GLC opposition from 1980 it was he who took the Labour party to victory in the GLC elections. And it was he who was ignominiously toppled by his own party less than 24 hours later, in a move that enabled the hard-left Ken Livingstone to become leader of the GLC. But since Livingstone infuriated the prime minister, Margaret Thatcher, the coup was also a factor in the abolition of the GLC and other metropolitan councils by the Local Government Act, 1985.

At the age of 72 and already weakened by a first attack of cancer from which he eventually died, McIntosh became a member of the British delegation to the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe and the Western European Union, an intergovernmental defence body. At the Council of Europe, focusing on media freedom and higher education, McIntosh showed how, even in a sometimes sleepy organisation, it was possible to get things done. As one colleague, the former minister of education for Croatia, Gvozden Flego, put it: "We tried to follow his dynamism, we learned from his way of thinking and acting. In this we are aware that all these accomplishments are only a segment of his efforts to make institutions more efficient and human life more dignified".

It was a perceptive comment. McIntosh himself never wavered politically, whatever the populist eddies; his centre-left stance was that he was in politics to make changes that could benefit all. One strong influence was his first-hand management experience of running small and medium businesses. His career as a survey and market researcher over the years 1957-97 included posts at the Gallup Poll (where he met his wife Naomi Sargant, a major figure in educational broadcasting and adult learning), Hoover, and Osram (GEC). He founded and ran his own business market-research company, IFF Research Limited, from 1965-96.

His influence on his profession is reflected in his positions within the Market Research Society: as journal editor (1963-67), chairman (1972-73) and president (1995-98). He published two books and many journal articles on the theory, practice, and findings of survey research.

Other influences on McIntosh's political philosophy included his Communist family background, with roots in Scotland and the East End. His mother was a strongly independent figure; his father had a distinguished career in marketing and management with Mars, the chocolate firm. He himself was educated at Haberdashers' Aske's Hampstead School and the Royal Grammar School, High Wycombe; Jesus College, Oxford; and at Ohio State University, where he was Fellow in Economics in 1956–57.

As a schoolboy and student he avoided sports in favour of time in the library, which provided him with solid foundations and lifelong pleasure in music, poetry, literature and language, with a predilection for France in particular. He was a gifted cook, and at the house that he and his wife Naomi bought in the Luberon area of Provence in the 1970s and regularly filled with their friends, his talents flourished.

McIntosh was also passionately committed to secular and humanist issues, as an active member of the National Secular Society and the British Humanist Association. As vice-chair of the All Party Parliamentary Humanist Group he regularly intervened in the Lords on secular and humanist issues.

His political experience had started in local politics in his student days at Oxford. He was elected to his borough council, Hornsey, in 1963. On its abolition, he was elected in 1964 to Haringey, where he was active on planning and housing till 1968. From 1973 to 1983 he was GLC member for the safe Labour seat of Tottenham, making him one of a small group to survive the swing to the Tories in the Thatcher years. It was this which helped propel him into the leadership in 1980 of an already divided party (he won by 14 votes to 13).

His vast range of public service latterly included the Presidency of GAMCARE, the National Association for Gambling Care Educational Resources and Training from 2005. He was a member of the Gambling Commission from July 2006 and President of the Royal Television Society. He was a visiting research fellow of the Policy Studies Institute, University of Westminster, and from 2008, Honorary Professor of Applied Social Research at the University of Salford.

Earlier posts included membership of the Metropolitan Water Board from 1967 to 1968, chairmanship of the Association of Neighbourhood Councils (founded by Michael Young) from 1974 to 1980, and membership of the National Executive Committee of the Fabian Society 1981-87. His interest in education was reflected as a governor of a Tottenham comprehensive, Drayton School, from 1967 to 1983 and chair of the Working Men's College in Camden from 1988 to 1997. Naomi Sargant, whom he had married in 1962, and with whom he had a long and happy marriage, died in 2006. In her memory, he edited her writings and got support for lectures in her name. He is survived by their two sons, and a stepson of Naomi's earlier marriage.

Andrew Robert McIntosh, politician: born London 30 April 1933; leader of the opposition, Greater London Council 1980–81; opposition spokesman on education and science 1985–87, House of Lords, on industry matters 1983–87, on the environment 1987–92, on home affairs 1992–97; Deputy Leader of the Opposition 1992–97; Deputy Government Chief Whip 1997–2003; Minister for the Media and Heritage 2003–05; cr 1982 Life Peer; married 1962 Naomi Sargant (died 2006; two sons, one stepson); died 27 August 2010.