Some Tory colleagues would say it was an easy mistake to make. Mr Bottomley, 48, is regarded as a maverick at Westminster, whose career has been a mirror image of the rise of his wife, Virginia, the Secretary of State for Health. While she has risen to Cabinet rank, he moved from the lower ministerial ranks to the backbench.
Mr Bottomley, the son of a diplomat, said: 'Some see me as a left-winger and a do-gooder, but I have held on to a Labour seat (Eltham, south-east London) since 1983.'
Mr Bottomley's reputation for being a 'wet' did him no good during the Thatcher era. He entered Parliament in 1975 after winning the Woolwich West seat and quickly demonstrated his egalitarianism when he became a junior employment minister, swapping rooms with his civil servants to give them the bigger room.
He often met his department's permanent secretary, Sir Michael Quinlan, on the train. Both had a habit of travelling second-class on business. Through Sir Michael, Mr Bottomley tackled indirect discrimination against ethnic minorities in Whitehall, starting with his own department, and badgered the BBC to carry out positive action on employing more blacks.
He survived in the Thatcher government and became a high-profile campaigner for road safety as a junior minister, plastering his official car with road safety stickers.
As a transport minister, Mr Bottomley had a friendly bet with a group of colleagues, including John Major, on the extraneous information he could slip into his parliamentary replies. On 19 May 1986 Hansard records how he slipped into his answers on transport the fact that frogs ate with their eyes closed; Burkina Faso, the land of the wise men, was in Upper Volta; Anne Boleyn had six fingers; and 18 per cent of people shared their baths.
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