Obituary: Sir David Crouch

DAVID CROUCH was one of those many politicians possessed of copious talents and great commitment, who never seemed to be in the right place, holding the right ideas, at the right time to gain, hold, and acquire ministerial office. Indeed, as he once rather wryly observed to me, he failed at the polls when the whole ethos of conservatism was well-disposed towards parliamentary candidates who were of his way of thinking; and was victorious at the polls when the tide of Conservative thinking was turning against him.

By these conversational remarks he meant to point to the fact that, in the general election of 1959, when Harold Macmillan had swept all before him, he had failed to secure a seat in Leeds. He was an ardent Macmillanite, constantly referring his friends to Macmillan's inter-war book, The Middle Way (1938), the bible of those who believed in the possibility of an effective reconciliation, with vastly beneficent social welfare consequences, between capital and labour. Had Crouch won in Leeds he would have certainly put at least a toe on the ladder of ministerial preferment.

When he did win a seat in Canterbury in the 1966 general election, it was victory for him but a result which stood against the disastrous national crushing of the Tories by Labour. Moreover, the intellectual tide in Conservative politics was changing. Now the vague social emollience of the Macmillan years was out, and the tide of harsh competition was in. I have put the contrast between the two schools of thought rather simply: there were many shades of emphasis on both sides. But there is a certain truth here, and David Crouch was never able to surf successfully on either tide.

None of this, however, quelled the essential ebullience of his nature. Born in 1919, and educated at University College School, he evinced an early talent for self-publicity. His career, indeed, mainly lay in the appreciation of his quite extraordinary ability both to understand the real merits of any products he was marketing, and to be able to communicate those merits to almost any audience. Indeed, his wife Margaret, the daughter of a soldier, whom he married in 1947, once said, jokingly, that she had been lured by his silver tongue.

He was a handsome man, and a fine speaker, but he did not become a valued senior employee of ICI, nor a director of the International Wool Secretariat nor a director of Pfizer solely because of his charm. There was a very hard edge to his bonhomie, and an ability to see the administrative necessities of any business he chose to advise; and there were many.

I first saw, however, the brilliantly ameliorative side of his nature in 1969. A general election it was clear, could not be long delayed. There were many who while enthusiastically supportive of Edward Heath's generally stringent proposed economic policies, were anxious that they should not be propounded at the expense of serious concern for the disadvantaged in society.

The expensive teams of public relations consultants - the forerunners of today's spin doctors - were solely concerned with empty image. But Crouch was to hand. At great expense of time and energy, and for no remuneration, he helped youngsters like myself to make sure that the real needs of the people were not forgotten in the welter of party battle.

The Conservative Political Centre published an influential pamphlet: "Serving the Old". I wrote the text, and there were many contributors to the ideas; but the hand that guided my pen was that of David Crouch.

He published, in 1987, a delightful book, part recollection, part history, part philosophical reflection, A Canterbury Tale. It is now out of print, but somebody ought to revive it, so that readers can see how practicality and compassion can be combined.

Crouch was never very willing, like many of his generation, to talk about his war experience. But he served in London through the tortures of the Blitz, and for the whole of the six awful years. That period, I believe shaped his character, as it did that of many others. Memories, as A Canterbury Tale shows, formed an important part of the character of a considerable man.

David Lance Crouch, politician and marketing and public relations consultant: born 23 June 1919; MP (Conservative) for Canterbury 1966-87; Kt 1987; married 1947 Margaret Noakes (one son, one daughter); died Faversham, Kent 18 February 1998.