A 'perfect staff officer' remains dogged by controversy: Cal McCrystal on the unorthodox and unpredictable progress of Michael Mates MP

A REVIEW of Michael Mates's career reveals a soldier temperamentally incapable of being downed by anyone - 'buggers' or no, to repeat the earthy terminology he had engraved on the watch he sent to Asil Nadir. He was one of Michael Heseltine's chief lieutenants in the 1990 Tory leadership battle. But John Major still made him a minister. Now, his capacity to bounce back from adversity will be tested once more as more details emerge of his links with Nadir. Yesterday, the Independent reported that he had accepted the loan of a car from one of Mr Nadir's public relations consultants.

Unlike many other politicians with a high survival rating, Mr Mates does not seem to mind taking risks. In a profession which demands that personal should need be distanced from public advocacy, he has not always behaved predictably. He campaigned for better treatment of British war widows. Then he had an affair with one, leaving his second wife, Rosellen, last year and upsetting constituents.

The most noticeable features of Mr Mates are the lush, black eyebrows that successfully wrestle for supremacy against the lines and clefts in his heavy face. With what seems a muscularity all their own, the eyebrows rise and fall, come together and part again as if to compensate for their owner's impassive countenance and subdued utterance.

Michael John Mates was born in June 1934. His parents - neither of them politically active - separated when Mr Mates was 10 years old. His talent and enthusiasm for music earned him a place at Salisbury Cathedral School and a choral scholarship to King's College, Cambridge, where he joined the Young Conservatives less from political conviction than for the opportunity to 'put your arm round a girl'. He left Cambridge in 1954 without a degree and was, he has recalled, 'dragged into (national service) by the back of my long hair'.

He remained in the Army for the next 20 years, enjoying his professional role in intelligence and planning, not least in Northern Ireland, where he advised the then-floundering Unionist government on security. Called to the Ministry of Defence in 1972, he was handed a letter addressed to the chiefs of staff by the then prime minister, Edward Heath, calling for a contingency plan against terrorism. In response, Colonel Mates set up the Cabinet Office Briefing Room (Cobra), still the Government's most important machinery for handling terrorist emergencies. The experience whetted the officer's appetite for politics.

It was, characteristically, an unorthodox entry, followed by an equally unorthodox progress. Against army regulations he used his leave to campaign, in February 1974, for a friend, General Jacky d'Avigdor-Goldsmid, Conservative MP for Lichfield. Soon afterwards, he applied for the safe Tory seat of Petersfield (now East Hampshire) and, though not even a party member, was selected. 'If you choose me, I promise I'll join,' he said. Perhaps the selection committee was intimidated by those eyebrows. He was 40 when he entered Parliament in the second general election of 1974.

Despite a forbidding appearance and often arrogant mien, Mr Mates has been described as a 'wet': he voted against the Government on charges for optical and dental tests, for example, and he was one of the few Tory MPs who campaigned steadfastly to modify the legislation that introduced the poll tax. This may be one reason why his political progress has been slow. A second reason may be his penchant for backing the wrong horses (Willie Whitelaw and Heseltine) and flogging dead ones, such as his advocacy of hanging for terrorists. A third concerns his private life; he and his first wife, Mary, produced two sons and two daughters before parting, enabling him to marry his former Commons secretary (one daughter) before the arrival of the Falklands war widow 17 years his junior. A fourth reason may be worries about his judgement.

In March 1990, when he was chairman of the Select Committee on Defence, he was accused of a conflict of interest in accepting SGL (Defence) Ltd, lobbyists on defence issues, as a client of his firm, Chelsham Consultants. A Commons select committee subsequently found him guilty of a 'clear breach' of the 'terms and spirit' of rules of disclosure of interests when he failed to tell his committee colleagues of his ties with Link-Miles, makers of flight simulators.

While the word 'flexible' has been applied to him, Mr Mates has occasionally seemed to personify the opposite: irritated by something he read in his local Hampshire newspaper, he refused for several years to be interviewed by its reporters - a rare sacrifice for a politician, even one with a 23,700 majority.

Mr Mates's CV now looks quite impressive. Once described as 'the perfect staff officer', he has chaired the select committee on defence, the Home Affairs select committee and the Anglo-Irish parliamentary group. Now he is a minister in the Northern Ireland office. Dogged by controversy, however - the Prime Minister criticised his conduct but described it as 'not a hanging offence' before the latest disclosures - some think he may have to return to being a 'committee man'. In an earlier controversy he spoke of a 'dirty tricks' campaign against him. In this one he is finding it harder to rise above the 'buggers'.

(Photograph omitted)

scienceExcitement from alien hunters at 'evidence' of extraterrestrial life
Life and Style
Customers can get their caffeine fix on the move
food + drink
David Moyes gets soaked
sport Moyes becomes latest manager to take part in the ALS challenge
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksAn evocation of the conflict through the eyes of those who lived through it
Life and Style
techCould new invention save millions in healthcare bills?
peopleEnglishman managed quintessential Hollywood restaurant Chasen's
Life and Style
food + drinkHarrods launches gourmet food qualification for staff
Mosul dam was retaken with the help of the US
voicesRobert Fisk: Barack Obama is following the jihadists’ script
Arts and Entertainment
Michael Flatley prepares to bid farewell to the West End stage
danceMichael Flatley hits West End for last time alongside Team GB World champion Alice Upcott
Members and supporters of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender (LGBT) community walk with a rainbow flag during a rally in July
Life and Style
Black Ivory Coffee is made using beans plucked from elephants' waste after ingested by the animals
food + drinkFirm says it has created the "rarest" coffee in the world
Arts and Entertainment
Loaded weapon: drugs have surprise side effects for Scarlett Johansson in Luc Besson’s ‘Lucy’
filmReview: Lucy, Luc Besson's complex thriller
Arts and Entertainment
Jamie T plays live in 2007 before going on hiatus from 2010
arts + entsSinger-songwriter will perform on the Festival Republic Stage
Life and Style
food + drinkThese simple recipes will have you refreshed within minutes
Jermain Defoe got loads of custard
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Business Analyst - Banking - London - £550 - £650

£550 - £650 per day: Orgtel: Business Analyst - Traded Credit Risk - Investmen...

Data Insight Manager - Marketing

£32000 - £35000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client based o...

Data Centre Engineer - Linux, Redhat, Solaris, SAN, Puppet

£55000 per annum: Harrington Starr: A financial software vendor at the forefro...

.NET Developer

£600 per day: Harrington Starr: .NET Developer C#, WPF,BLL, MSMQ, SQL, GIT, SQ...

Day In a Page

Air strikes? Talk of God? Obama is following the jihadists’ script

Air strikes? Talk of God? Obama is following the jihadists’ script

The President came the nearest he has come yet to rivalling George W Bush’s gormless reaction to 9/11 , says Robert Fisk
Ebola outbreak: Billy Graham’s son declares righteous war on the virus

Billy Graham’s son declares righteous war on Ebola

A Christian charity’s efforts to save missionaries trapped in Africa by the crisis have been justifiably praised. But doubts remain about its evangelical motives
Jeremy Clarkson 'does not see a problem' with his racist language on Top Gear, says BBC

Not even Jeremy Clarkson is bigger than the BBC, says TV boss

Corporation’s head of television confirms ‘Top Gear’ host was warned about racist language
Nick Clegg the movie: Channel 4 to air Coalition drama showing Lib Dem leader's rise

Nick Clegg the movie

Channel 4 to air Coalition drama showing Lib Dem leader's rise
Philip Larkin: Misogynist, racist, miserable? Or caring, playful man who lived for others?

Philip Larkin: What will survive of him?

Larkin's reputation has taken a knocking. But a new book by James Booth argues that the poet was affectionate, witty, entertaining and kind, as hitherto unseen letters, sketches and 'selfies' reveal
Madame Tussauds has shown off its Beyoncé waxwork in Regent's Park - but why is the tourist attraction still pulling in the crowds?

Waxing lyrical

Madame Tussauds has shown off its Beyoncé waxwork in Regent's Park - but why is the tourist attraction still pulling in the crowds?
Texas forensic astronomer finally pinpoints the exact birth of impressionism

Revealed (to the minute)

The precise time when impressionism was born
From slow-roasted to sugar-cured: how to make the most of the British tomato season

Make the most of British tomatoes

The British crop is at its tastiest and most abundant. Sudi Pigott shares her favourite recipes
10 best men's skincare products

Face it: 10 best men's skincare products

Oscar Quine cleanses, tones and moisturises to find skin-savers blokes will be proud to display on the bathroom shelf
Malky Mackay allegations: Malky Mackay, Iain Moody and another grim day for English football

Mackay, Moody and another grim day for English football

The latest shocking claims do nothing to dispel the image that some in the game on these shores exist in a time warp, laments Sam Wallace
La Liga analysis: Will Barcelona's hopes go out of the window?

Will Barcelona's hopes go out of the window?

Pete Jenson starts his preview of the Spanish season, which begins on Saturday, by explaining how Fifa’s transfer ban will affect the Catalans
Middle East crisis: We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

Now Obama has seen the next US reporter to be threatened with beheading, will he blink, asks Robert Fisk
Neanderthals lived alongside humans for centuries, latest study shows

Final resting place of our Neanderthal neighbours revealed

Bones dated to 40,000 years ago show species may have died out in Belgium species co-existed
Scottish independence: The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

Scotland’s immigrants are as passionate about the future of their adopted nation as anyone else
Britain's ugliest buildings: Which monstrosities should be nominated for the Dead Prize?

Blight club: Britain's ugliest buildings

Following the architect Cameron Sinclair's introduction of the Dead Prize, an award for ugly buildings, John Rentoul reflects on some of the biggest blots on the UK landscape