Obituary: Sir Michael McNair-Wilson

Robert Michael Conal McNair-Wilson, politician; born 12 October 1930; MP (Conservative) for Walthamstow East 1969-74, Newbury 1974-92; Kt 1988; married 1974 Mrs Deidre Granville (nee Tuckett; one daughter); died Bucklebury, Berkshire 28 March 1993.

AFTER THE death of Judith Chaplin last month the Conservative Party was much exercised by the question of her replacement as the candidate for Newbury. No one doubts that there is division within the party, and that division might have become rancorous in the course of a by-election. It therefore seemed to many that it would be a good idea to ask Michael McNair- Wilson to stand again for the seat from which he had retired before last year's general election.

He had been, after all, for 23 years an immensely effective constituency member (for 18 of those at Newbury). He was popular, not only in all sections of his party, but on the other side of the house as well. He had been quite exceptionally industrious. I find it moving that his last journalistic act was to pen, for this page, an obituary of his successor. However, there was no doubt that his health could not have withstood the rigour of a campaign, and I doubt that he would have had the inclination anyway. The last time I saw him he had told me that he was proposing to give up his seat, because he felt increasingly physically incapable of doing his job as well as he ought to.

After Eton, McNair-Wilson went straight into the army. He saw out his national service in the Royal Irish Fusiliers, where he was commissioned. He served in various stations, particularly in the Middle East. After his service he tried farming, and then journalism. He got a job - after much provincial work - with the BBC in Northern Ireland. He had a considerable knowledge of the politics of Northern Ireland acquired during his time in the army. And after he entered politics in 1969, as MP for Walthamstow East, he made manifest his unsparing conviction as an Ulster Unionist: he was, indeed, a founder member of Friends of the Union.

The striking thing about McNair- Wilson in politics was how effectively he combined what are conventionally described as right-wing and left-wing views. Unionism is a badge of the right; but his passionate concern for the National Health Service, and later specifically for the disabled, is a mark of the left.

In 1984, he was struck down by kidney disease. He recorded in Who's Who the fact that he was the first MP to use a kidney dialysis machine, and the first to have a kidney transplant. One has to understand, however, that that bald record does not give the reader the sheer sense of fun with which he expressed this singular distinction. It was something, he used to say, which marked him out. After all, he never held ministerial office, serving only on the lowest rung of the political ladder, as parliamentary private secretary to the Minister of Agriculture, Peter Walker, from 1979 to 1983.

Illness meant that McNair-Wilson had to abandon riding, skiing and sailing, hitherto the passionately pursued occupations of all the time he could find outside politics and his many business interests. But he was not a man easily to be put down: he merely diverted his energy into the pursuit of his humanitarian interests. He successfully procured the passage of an NHS reform bill, and his hand is to be found, because it derives from his Patients' Charter, in the social ambitions of the present Government.

If I had to find one word for Michael McNair-Wilson it would be irrepressible. He met good fortune with the same grace, and the same good humour. For this he will be remembered longer than many politicians who might be deemed to have achieved more in terms of the glory of office.

(Photograph omitted)

Suggested Topics
PROMOTED VIDEO
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs People

Chief Executive

£28, 700: Whiskey Whiskey Tango: Property Management Company is seeking a brig...

COO / Chief Operating Officer

£80 - 100k + Bonus: Guru Careers: A COO / Chief Operating Officer is needed to...

HR Manager - Kent - £45,000

£40000 - £45000 per annum: Ashdown Group: HR Manager / Training Manager (L&D /...

HR Manager - Edgware, London - £45,000

£40000 - £45000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: HR Manager - Edgware, Lon...

Day In a Page

Ebola outbreak: The children orphaned by the virus – then rejected by surviving relatives over fear of infection

The children orphaned by Ebola...

... then rejected by surviving relatives over fear of infection
Pride: Are censors pandering to homophobia?

Are censors pandering to homophobia?

US film censors have ruled 'Pride' unfit for under-16s, though it contains no sex or violence
The magic of roundabouts

Lords of the rings

Just who are the Roundabout Appreciation Society?
Why do we like making lists?

Notes to self: Why do we like making lists?

Well it was good enough for Ancient Egyptians and Picasso...
Hong Kong protests: A good time to open a new restaurant?

A good time to open a new restaurant in Hong Kong?

As pro-democracy demonstrators hold firm, chef Rowley Leigh, who's in the city to open a new restaurant, says you couldn't hope to meet a nicer bunch
Paris Fashion Week: Karl Lagerfeld leads a feminist riot on 'Boulevard Chanel'

Paris Fashion Week

Lagerfeld leads a feminist riot on 'Boulevard Chanel'
Bruce Chatwin's Wales: One of the finest one-day walks in Britain

Simon Calder discovers Bruce Chatwin's Wales

One of the finest one-day walks you could hope for - in Britain
10 best children's nightwear

10 best children's nightwear

Make sure the kids stay cosy on cooler autumn nights in this selection of pjs, onesies and nighties
Manchester City vs Roma: Five things we learnt from City’s draw at the Etihad

Manchester City vs Roma

Five things we learnt from City’s Champions League draw at the Etihad
Martin Hardy: Mike Ashley must act now and end the Alan Pardew reign

Trouble on the Tyne

Ashley must act now and end Pardew's reign at Newcastle, says Martin Hardy
Isis is an hour from Baghdad, the Iraq army has little chance against it, and air strikes won't help

Isis an hour away from Baghdad -

and with no sign of Iraq army being able to make a successful counter-attack
Turner Prize 2014 is frustratingly timid

Turner Prize 2014 is frustratingly timid

The exhibition nods to rich and potentially brilliant ideas, but steps back
Last chance to see: Half the world’s animals have disappeared over the last 40 years

Last chance to see...

The Earth’s animal wildlife population has halved in 40 years
So here's why teenagers are always grumpy - and it's not what you think

Truth behind teens' grumpiness

Early school hours mess with their biological clocks
Why can no one stop hackers putting celebrities' private photos online?

Hacked photos: the third wave

Why can no one stop hackers putting celebrities' private photos online?