Obituary: Sir Tom Normanton

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The Independent Online
Tom Normanton was an improbable combination of the flamboyant, the phlegmatic and the industrious. He was distinguished as one of those few young Englishmen who, having visited Germany in the Thirties, saw the coming of the Second World War; he was a solid, but not always obedient, Conservative backbencher in the House of Commons for 17 years; and he was an industrialist of some distinction, above all in the textile industry, on which his family's fortunes were built.

As a student at Manchester University, Normanton visited Germany in 1938: he attended one of Adolf Hitler's great rallies, and came home convinced that the Fuhrer was determined on European war. He immediately enlisted in the Territorial Army, and when the war he had foreseen began in 1939 he found himself in service in France, at the Battle of Calais, where he was wounded, and, subsequently, in North Africa, where he was mentioned in despatches.

Prior to his wartime military service, he had been involved in Conservative student politics at Manchester, and after the war in local politics in Rochdale, near to where he was working, at Brookside Mills, the family cotton firm. After a couple of unsuccessful attempts to secure a seat in Parliament in Rochdale, in 1959 and 1964, he defeated the Liberal favourite and Deputy Chairman of the Party, Michael Winstanley, at Cheadle in the 1970 general election.

Once in the House of Commons, Normanton made his presence felt. He displayed a distinctive combination of a hard-line attitude on matters domestic with a passionate enthusiasm for Britain's membership of the EEC.

Having been educated at Manchester Grammar School and Manchester University, and having had a distinguished war record which included service on Dwight D. Eisenhower's staff preparing for the Allied invasion of Europe in 1944, Normanton became a powerful advocate of British integration into the newly emerging European Economic Community. At the same time, he supported many domestic measures which seems antipathetic to the post-war mood of social welfare, exemplified by Beveridge's creation of the welfare state. He advocated the retention of corporal punishment, and the reintroduction of capital punishment. In most respects, therefore, in the cant politics of the 1970s, he seemed to be the perfect Little Englander. But the fire of the European idea still burned deep within him.

Like many others who had suffered in the second great European war of the century, Normanton saw the future of his country as best served by an integration of the major democratic states which emerged from the conflagration of 1939-45. He saw no distinction between patriotism, which had brought him to the war in 1939, and the "federalism" which seemed to be emerging after its end.

Thus, he enthusiastically accepted service in the British delegation to the European Assembly and, therefore, in the elected European Parliament. (Indeed he was the last Conservative politician to sit at both Westminster and Strasbourg at the same time.) Yet, towards the end of his days, he used his not inconsiderable influence, in 1992, to ensure that there was a British celebration to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the D-Day Normandy landings.

To him, there was no contradiction between remembering the determination and valour of 1944 and 1945 and the advocacy of an ever-closer European Union. In this respect, his argument for an intimate relationship between the - by now - democratic states of Western Europe was akin to the views propounded by Charles de Gaulle when, after his return to power in 1958, he moved towards a close Franco-German alliance of the kind that had not been envisaged since the Carolingian Empire of the 9th century.

Though I confess that I could never sympathise with the capacity of Tom Normanton to relate, successfully, his intense patriotism to his European idealism, I always found him to be a man of complete integrity in the pursuit of both of these ideals.

Patrick Cosgrave

Tom Normanton, businessman and politician: born 12 March 1917; MP (Conservative) for Cheadle 1970-87; UK Member, European Parliament 1973-79, MEP (Conservative) for Cheshire East, 1979-89; Kt 1987; married 1942 Annabel Yates (two sons, one daughter); died 6 August 1997.