BEHIND a benevolent and often simplistic humour Walter Clegg concealed a very sharp brain and a steely will. By 1974, for example, he had concluded that the reign of Edward Heath as leader of the Conservative Party was over. Although he was never particularly partisan Clegg came to the conclusion that Margaret Thatcher should - and would - become leader. I was partisan, and had written several articles in her support. One evening in the spring of 1975 I was enjoying a drink with him in the House of Commons, and I found him uncharacteristically quiet. I was a little depressed at the size of the mountain the then Mrs Thatcher had set herself to climb. But as we parted, Clegg put a hand on my arm. 'Depend upon it', he said, 'your young lady is going to win.'
That 'young lady' says a lot about Clegg's deliberately old-fashioned style. He did not particularly like the idea of a woman leader; but he never allowed his prejudices to cloud his judgement.
Clegg was a northerner through and through. Born in Bury (the son of a publican), he was educated at the local grammar school and at Manchester University, where he read law. His training as a solicitor was, however, interrupted by the outbreak of war. He served with the Royal Artillery Regiment, and was taken prisoner in North Africa.
Like many soldiers who served during the Second World War he contracted the bug of politics. On his return home, however, he concentrated on building up a highly prosperous legal career. It was not until 1955 that he went into politics seriously, and was elected to Lancashire County Council. In 1959 he fought the constituency of Ince, and failed in a general election which was a Tory triumph. In 1966, however, it was Labour's turn to enjoy a triumph, but Clegg beat the trend, by winning North Fylde. He seemed destined for higher things. He was an effective and industrious Opposition Whip, but his heart was already giving him trouble, and he concluded, realistically, that his health would not bear the strain of high office.
Instead, he devoted himself to his own political interests, and to his constituency. He fought hard for the fishermen of Fleetwood, north of Blackpool, against what came to be called 'motorway blight', against the Common Market and, above all, against bureaucracy in all its forms. He worked zealously for the interests of solicitors in the House, and also managed to find time to be Treasurer of the backbench 1922 committee.
Clegg was a serious advocate of the restoration of capital punishment, and highly successful as chairman of the Association of Conservative Clubs. He was deeply involved in the Royal British Legion and, in 1982, became president of the Conservative North-West Provincial Area. So though high office escaped him, he led a fulfilled life.
Then, in 1984, disaster struck, when the IRA, in yet another infamous action, bombed the Grand Hotel in Brighton. Clegg was badly hurt. Most of the rest of his life he spent in a wheelchair, though his intellectual activity was undiminished. The extraordinary thing was that, given the condition of his heart, he did not die. Last year, though, he lost his beloved wife, Elise.
Walter Clegg will be long remembered as a man of great courage, of great acuity, and of great affability.Reuse content