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Lord McAlpine dead: David Cameron pays tribute to 'dedication' to Conservative Party and Thatcher

Family announces news

David Cameron has paid tribute to Lord McAlpine as a “dedicated supporter of Margaret Thatcher and the Conservative Party” following his death aged 71.

The former deputy chairman of the Conservative Party died “peacefully” last night in Italy, his family said.

Also known as Alistair McAlpine and Baron McAlpine of West Green, he was a businessman, author and politician best-known for his role as advisor to former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher.

In November 2012, he was falsely implicated in a child abuse scandal following a BBC Newsnight programme and had since won several defamation claims.

His libel actions against Sally Bercow, the wife of Commons Speaker John, and comedian Alan Davies thrust him back into the spotlight after a colourful political career.

He was a convivial, irreverent figure and probably the best party-giver the Tories ever had.

Described as a “political soulmate” of Lady Thatcher, he was a highly successful fundraiser for the party.

Over the years, his charm and lavish lunches probably amassed as much as £100m for the Tory Party coffers.

But he appeared to change his entire demeanour once Margaret Thatcher had been replaced by John Major.

Lord McAlpine trained his vitriol on the new Prime Minister, accusing him of “stuffing up a great party”, of running away from every issue, of living in a fantasy world, and labelling him “distasteful”.

Mr Major shrugged off these barbs, once pointedly telling the Commons: “I understand that Lord McAlpine is promoting a book which is a work of fiction.”

He stunned Westminster in 1996 by defecting to the Referendum Party, although he later returned to the Tory fold.

In 2010 he stood down from the House of Lords to hold on to his non-dom tax status.

Robert Alistair McAlpine, who had three daughters, spent his final years living in Italy with third wife Athena, where they ran a bed and breakfast in a converted convent near Puglia.

In 1987 he had bypass surgery and another operation in 1999 led to complications resulting in him having a tracheotomy and difficulty speaking.

Lord McAlpine was a member of the family controlling the giant McAlpine building company.

He left Stowe public school at 16 with three O-levels and worked for the family firm on building sites, spending his evenings drinking Guinness with Irish labourers.

He joined the board of McAlpine before leaving to earn money for himself from property deals in Australia and selling antiques.

At various times he was also a zoo-keeper, ornithologist, explorer and jewellery maker.

Additional reporting by PA