Obituary: Sir Peter Morrison

In 1973 Peter Morrison secured the Conservative nomination for Chester, a seat which, as he regularly said in private as well as in public, suited him perfectly. At the centre of a thriving agricultural community, with a splendid cathedral, and populated in the main by the most traditional of Tories, Chester returned Morrison, aged 29, to the House of Commons as the youngest English MP in what was for the then Heath government the disastrous general election of February 1974.

Morrison staked out a position for himself on the right wing of the political spectrum. His highly restrictive attitude on immigration - on which he mercilessly harried Roy Jenkins - was representative of a strong stream of opinion within the party, as was his strenuous determination to root out social security fraud. He was fiercely opposed to any proffered schemes for proportional representation, and urgent in his pleas for the restoration of capital punishment. He favoured a system of vouchers for education and at one time tried to set up a magazine for the assistance of Conservative school governors.

But Morrison's drift away from Edward Heath was less because of his advocacy of these causes than because of his generally critical attitude to the economic policies of the former prime minister and, above all, because of his passionate hostility to any form of Scottish devolution, a cause which for some time Heath favoured. This made him a natural ally of Margaret Thatcher and, over the years, their relationship deepened.

Thatcher has always prized loyalty to herself as being among the prime political virtues, and, from beginning to end, Morrison was the most loyal of the loyal. Indeed, his last ministerial post, in 1990, was as her Parliamentary Private Secretary. Ten years previously he had effected a reconciliation between her and his formidable father, Lord Margadale. Margadale, squire of Fonthill, in Wiltshire (and made a peer in 1964), had, as John Morrison, been MP for Salisbury and Chairman of the 1922 Committee; he had campaigned from the Lords against Thatcher in the leadership battle of 1975, while Peter's brother Charles, MP for Devizes, was like their father, on the side of Edward Heath.

Peter Morrison was still a young man when he died. He had been in politics all his adult life, and his manifold business interests he always regarded as adjuncts to his political career. After Eton he went to Keble College, Oxford. There he obtained a respectable degree in law. Though he never thereafter demonstrated any particular academic bent, he did become an honorary fellow of his college.

After entering the Commons, he served a long apprenticeship in the whips' office. For three years in opposition he was an assistant whip, and in 1979 he was put in charge of pairing. He made no secret of his desire to become Chief Whip, but his ministerial career took a different turn when he was sent to the Department of Employment as Parliamentary Under- Secretary in 1981. He was Minister of State at Trade and Industry for a year and held the same rank at Energy until 1990.

In 1986, however, he became a deputy chairman of the Conservative Party, where it was thought that his combination of administrative ability, grass- roots knowledge and persuasive charm would serve the organisation well. He was immediately in conflict with both the Federation of Conservative Students (which he later abolished) and the Young Conservatives. Both organisations irked him because of their lack of discipline, for discipline was high on the list of Morrison's requirements.

But it was the sartorial inelegance of the younger generation that annoyed him as much as - if not more than - any criticism of the party line. His work at Central Office has an uncertain reputation, but he did receive the warm praise of Norman Tebbit, who is no mean judge in these matters. In any event, when he was made PPS to the Prime Minister it was not generally seen as a demotion. Rather, most of those well placed to judge concluded that she was strengthening her praetorian guard as her political position weakened.

Morrison suddenly seemed to lose his touch, hitherto a very certain one, in party matters. He took far too much for granted and was singularly lacking in the pursuit of doubtful votes in the leadership challenge mounted by Michael Heseltine in 1990: Alan Clark claims to have found him asleep in his office at a critical point when the walls of the Thatcher battle order were crumbling. When Thatcher went down, Morrison went down with her.

A man of considerable personal wealth and real business acumen, Morrison had all the resources necessary to stake out an independent political position, but his views were all set out in his first year or so in Parliament, and once he mounted the Thatcher bandwagon he never doubted the correctness of its course. Just as he had won his seat in a bad Tory year in 1974, so he retired from it in an unexpectedly good Tory year, in 1992.

Had Margaret Thatcher survived, he might have gone on to greater things. As it was he will be remembered as an affable right-winger, blessed with money and charm, but without that extra degree of courage, and that extra ingredient of luck, that is required to reach the front rank.

Peter Hugh Morrison, politician: born Fonthill, Wiltshire 2 June 1944; PC 1988; Kt 1990; MP (Conservative) for Chester 1974-92; an Opposition Whip 1976-79; a Lord Commissioner of HM Treasury and Government Pairing Whip 1979-81; Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Employment 1981-83, Minister of State 1983-85; Minister of State, DTI 1985-86; Deputy Chairman, Conservative Party 1986-89; Minister of State, Department of Energy 1987-90; PPS to the Prime Minister 1990; died London 13 July 1995.

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