Obituary: Lord Fraser of Kilmorack

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The Independent Online
In 1970, when I was about to leave the Conservative Research Department for the Spectator, Michael Fraser invited me to lunch. I was suitably flattered, since he was the deputy chairman of the party, and I was a simple desk officer in my department's (then) offices in Old Queen Street. Naturally, therefore, I accepted the invitation.

"Which club, dear boy?" he said. I was a trifle confused by that. Belonging to no club myself, I had rather assumed that we would be eating at that great haunt of Tory grandees, the Carlton. While I hesitated, he decided to help me.

"Between us," he said, "my brother and I belong to 10 clubs. We dine, or lunch, at one or the other together each month. Pick your club." We settled for St Stephen's. When we were enjoying pre-prandial drinks, Fraser looked around with a certain air of satisfaction. "Nice little place, this," he said. "Now, you're a good trencherman. Shall we have two bottles of wine? Yes, we shall."

Lest this story suggests the picture of a bibulous man, I should mention, immediately, Fraser's method of conducting business. He always carried with him a small traveller's clock. At the outset of a meeting he would set the clock. The moment it pinged, the meeting was over. It did not matter whether he had two people, or a dozen, with him: if you had not made your point within his designated time, you had lost your case.

He was the most awesomely efficient man with whom I have ever worked. And, in effect, he ran the machinery of the Conservative Party for many years. It was said of him, for example, that he used to slip around from Conservative Central Office, in Smith Square, to Old Queen Street to check on the in-trays of departmental officers while they were out to lunch. He is also renowned for having turned down the applications for jobs at the Research Department by Guy Burgess and Donald Maclean, on the grounds that both men were "Communist agents".

Michael Fraser was an Aberdonian, and carried with him, throughout his life, a good deal of the character of that city of granite. He enjoyed no privileges, for his parents were poor. He volunteered for war service in 1939, and emerged from the conflict as a colonel. He said that his upbringing in Aberdeen Grammar School was more important to the development of his life than was the Army.

In any event, like many other young men in 1946, he found himself without a job. Following native political instincts, he applied to the Conservative Party. His gifts for organisation and diplomacy were quickly recognised, and he rose from a junior job at the Research Department to the deputy chairmanship of the party. All along, he enjoyed the absolute confidence of the leaders of his party, for his discretion was complete, and his silence as to any indiscretions absolute.

John Biffen once suggested that Fraser would make an admirable Secretary to the Cabinet. The idea was put to the man in 1970, just after the general election. He turned it down immediately. "I serve the party," he said, "not some bloody state." Yet, when I last saw him at a drinks party at Conservative Central Office, and asked him whether he felt at all nostalgic he replied, "For this dump? Not bloody likely."

In his retirement Michael Fraser enjoyed many things. His directorships - notably of Glaxo - brought financial secuirity; and his involvement with the Opera House, and Covent Garden generally, gave him peace after years of discipline. Anybody who worked with him will remember him with a warm, if sometimes exasperated, glow.

Richard Michael Fraser, party political administrator: born Aberdeen 28 October 1915; MBE (Mil) 1945, CBE 1955; Kt 1962; Deputy Chairman, Conservative Party Organisation 1964-75; Secretary, Conservative Leader's Consultative Committee (Shadow Cabinet) 1964-70, 1974-75; Deputy Chairman, Conservative Party's Advisory Committee on Policy 1970-75; created 1974 Baron Fraser of Kilmorack; married 1944 Chloe Drummond (one son and one son deceased); died London 1 July 1996.