Sir Edwin Leather

Forceful Conservative politician
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The Independent Online

Edwin Leather was a larger-than-life figure, a Conservative MP who was enormously popular within the party for his forceful performances at party conferences, but more importantly for the shrewd and often witty contributions that he made to the BBC radio programme Any Questions.

Edwin Hartley Cameron Leather, politician, diplomat, writer and broadcaster: born Toronto, Ontario 22 May 1919; MP (Conservative) for North Somerset 1950-64; Kt 1962; member, National Executive Committee, Conservative and Unionist Associations 1963-70, vice-chairman 1967-69, chairman 1969-70; Governor and Commander-in-Chief of Bermuda 1973-77; KCMG 1974; KCVO 1975; married 1940 Sheila Greenlees (died 1994; two daughters); died 5 April 2005.

Edwin Leather was a larger-than-life figure, a Conservative MP who was enormously popular within the party for his forceful performances at party conferences, but more importantly for the shrewd and often witty contributions that he made to the BBC radio programme Any Questions.

He held no ministerial office, although when he returned to politics after ill-health had forced him from the House of Commons, he became a vice- chairman of the National Union, the mass organisation of the Conservative Party, and presided over the victory conference after the Conservatives returned to power in 1970. Subsequently, he served a four-year term as Governor of Bermuda, where his extrovert ways did not win him universal popularity. Nicknames like "Imperial Leather" or "Hell for Leather" tell their own story.

Edwin Hartley Cameron Leather was born in Toronto in 1919, but his parents were migrants from Manchester, who had settled in Hamilton, Ontario. He was educated at Trinity College School, Port Hope, where his principal reputation was made as a gymnast, and he completed his education at the Royal Military College of Canada at Kingston, Ontario.

He was commissioned into the Canadian Army in 1939 and was one of the original officers of the 1st (Canadian) Parachute Battalion. He was injured when his parachute failed in a training exercise and spent nine months in a plaster cast. Subsequently he served with the Toronto Scottish and Royal Artillery. In the years which followed, he devoted considerable time to organising gymnastics, training and managing several Canadian army athletics teams, and also baseball and football for the troops in southern England, while they awaited the decision to launch an invasion of Europe.

This led to a weekly programme for the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation and the job of commentating on two football matches organised between the Canadian and American forces shortly before D-Day. Leather served through the campaign in north-west Europe, but he was already interested in making a political career and in remaining in Britain to do so. He fought Bristol South unsuccessfully in 1945 and then entered the City as an insurance and banking broker.

While the Conservative Party was in opposition, he spoke regularly at Speaker's Corner, an invaluable training in those days of mass meetings and one which left him well able to deal with hecklers in a way that immediately gained him the support of his audience. Selected to fight the highly marginal constituency of Somerset North, he won it by 903 votes in the 1950 general election, extended his majority to 2,548 in 1951, and held the seat until 1964, when ill-health drove him from the Commons.

Ted Leather had begun his political career as an out-and-out champion of Britain's imperial role and he was a stern critic of the American role in the Suez crisis, which he thought was deliberately calculated to undermine Britain's position. In fact, he went out of his way to proclaim his support for Eden by renaming his house at Batheaston Eden Park. But in his latter years in the Commons he accepted the need to speed up the pace of decolonisation.

In 1962 he was knighted, but he had to become a British citizen to accept the honour. Leather campaigned for Rab Butler in 1963 but, struck down by two serious illnesses and short of cash, he determined not to fight his seat in 1964 and instead took employment as Managing Director of John James Industrial, a leading engineering firm in the South-west.

Always an active speaker for the party - as an MP he was accustomed to speak in more than 200 constituencies a year - and a member of both the National Executive and the Conservative Board of Finance since 1963, he was a natural choice to become a vice-chairman of the National Union in 1967 and the usual cursus honorum took him to the chair in 1969. He was skilled at handling tricky debates on Rhodesia, but it was behind the scenes where he was most valuable, raising large sums to finance the party.

Still an ardent supporter of the Commonwealth, he was a natural choice to go to Bermuda as Governor to replace a former colleague in the House of Commons, Richard Sharples, who had been assassinated in March 1973, but his informality in the role did not make him altogether popular. Leather became a KCMG in 1974 and a year later received the KCVO.

After the end of his term as Governor in 1977, Leather settled in Bermuda. "If one has been ordered to come to paradise, why leave it?" he observed and he settled down as a director of N.M.Rothschild (Bermuda), but developed also a new career as a thriller writer. The Vienna Elephant was published in 1977, The Mozart Score in 1979 and The Duveen Letter in the following year.

John Barnes



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