MP's death cuts government majority to five

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Indy Politics

Political Correspondent

The death of Sir David Lightbown, the MP for Staffordshire South East, sent tremors through the Government yesterday as its majority was cut to five. Sir David, 63, suffered a heart attack while he watched the Varsity rugby match at Twickenham.

His seat is eminently winnable by Labour, which would take the majority down to three, assuming Labour holds Hemsworth, the Yorkshire seat currently vacant after the death of Derek Enright.

Sir David, a former Conservative whip, had a majority of 7,192 over Labour at the last election, but the seat is vulnerable to a 6.3 per cent swing.

The Prime Minister said yesterday: "I was truly shocked to hear the tragic news today of Sir David Lightbown's untimely death. My heart goes out to [his wife] Ann, who must be devastated by the news. David was a splendidly unique character, unmistakable in the corridors and lobbies of the House that was so much part of his life. He was an original."

As the number three in the whips' office, Sir David, whose weight was usually put at 17 or 18 stone, was known as The Enforcer. "It's time to let Lightbown off the leash," a senior minister was reported to have declared when John Major decided to press ahead with ratification of the Maastricht treaty in October 1992.

Sir David's health has been in doubt since he collapsed at the Commons in February 1991. He was examined by the then Dr David Owen, the former SDP leader, before being briefly detained in hospital.

A mining engineer and then director of an engineering company, he was leader of Lichfield council and a Staffordshire county councillor. He was first elected to Parliament in 1983.

His death makes John Major's position in the Commons even more precarious, taking a step nearer to giving the balance of power to the Conservative Euro-rebel Sir Richard Body.

However, Tories believe he will continue to support the Government in confidence motions - which means the Government's majority would effectively still be five after the expected results of by-elections.