OBITUARY: Sir David Lightbown

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The Independent Online
David Lightbown's main quality was loyalty. He believed in loyalty to the leaders of his party and loyalty to the principles of Conservatism. From his days on Lichfield District Council to his translation to Member of Parliament and from there to the government whips' office, Lightbown was a loyal man.

Having been elected as MP for South East Staffordshire in 1983 when he was already 51, he probably thought that he might not be able to enjoy the fullest ministerial career which presents itself to younger men, but his vast experience and attitudes commended themselves; his appointment to the whips' office in 1986 was inspired.

Lightbown was a large man in all respects and possibly the last Regimental Sergeant-Major to enter the whips' office. He saw the changes in the Conservative Party as new intakes of young MPs arrived after the 1987 and 1992 general elections and our majority dropped, and thought that these new MPs needed to be educated in the ways of Parliament and in the advantages of United Action.

Any new member who fell foul of one of the whips' main commandments, such as missing an important vote, would receive the benefit of David Lightbown's advice and concern. They might have felt the treatment was robust, but I know of members who are eternally grateful for the way in which Lightbown, having set them on the right course and pointed out to them in no uncertain fashion the transgressions they had committed, then escorted them to the smoking room for a drink and to the Member's Dining Room for a meal: he was a caring and congenial man.

There was a certain political radicalism about David Lightbown. He could not abide hypocrisy and cant, and found socialism in all its forms completely "beyond the pale", though he was just as happy to provide the homely advice and hospitality to opponents that he would so willingly provide to one of his own party.

At a time when the "plastic" packaging of politicians has arrived, Lightbown remained an individual. Like a number of us he voted consistently against the televising of the House of Commons proceedings because he believed that it would affect the spontaneity of MPs.

During the Maastricht debate he was credited in the popular press with, at the least, some robust behaviour towards the recalcitrant rebels. The tabloids called him "The Terminator". The truth is that he was deeply upset by such rebellion when his basic beliefs were so concerned with loyalty. The approach was never as robust as was alleged; and I believe he retained great affection from the "objects" of his activity.

When Lightbown's seniority in the whips' office led him to take on the duties of a Royal Household Officer, this was a source of pride. He was devoted to the Queen and, in the same way that he believed in loyalty to the Leader of the Party and his Government, he believed in loyalty and devotion to Monarch. He would regale the whips' office with stories of how hard the Queen works and how committed she is to the service of her country. He loved being a part of that.

When there was time to relax, there was no finer socialiser than David Lightbown, with the support of his wife Ann. He regularly performed the role of Santa Claus at the whips' Christmas party. At the party three years ago the Division Bell rang and we all had to make haste to the House of Commons to vote; Lightbown had no time to change as he was dispensing presents from his sack to the whips' children, so he proceeded to the government lobby in his full outfit. He was obliged to remove his headgear to satisfy the government teller that he actually was the Member for South East Staffordshire.

Lightbown had many interests outside the House, including rugby. (Controversially, in 1984, he supported the rugby football tour of South Africa.) He died whilst attending the Oxford and Cambridge Varsity rugby match.

Timothy Kirkhope

David Lincoln Lightbown, politician: born Derby 30 November 1932; member, Lichfield District Council 1975-86 (Leader of Council 1977-83); member, Staffordshire County Council 1977-85; MP (Conservative) for Staffordshire South East 1983-95; Assistant Government Whip 1986-87, Lord Commissioner of HM Treasury (government whip) 1987-90; Vice-Chamberlain, HM Household 1990, Comptroller 1990-95; Kt 1995; married; died London 12 December 1995.