David Cameron led the tributes to Lord McAlpine, who died at his home in Italy late on Friday. The Prime Minister praised the former Conservative Party treasurer as a “dedicated supporter of Margaret Thatcher” during the 1980s.
The 71-year-old returned to prominence recently when he secured damages from Sally Bercow, the wife of the Speaker of the House of Commons, for libel after she suggested he was a paedophile. Famously close to Thatcher (he described their political relationship as “love at first sight”), Lord McAlpine was later critical of John Major and William Hague as Tory leaders, even joining the Eurosceptic Referendum Party.
However, leading Conservatives of the late 1970s and 1980s remained grateful to Lord McAlpine, whose grandfather founded the Sir Robert McAlpine construction empire, for his outstanding fundraising.
The former Tory party chairman and cabinet minister Lord Parkinson said: “Alistair McAlpine was an outstanding treasurer of the modern Conservative Party – if not the outstanding treasurer. He was a most unusual, intriguing, interesting character.”
Another former chairman and a key figure from the Thatcher years, Lord Tebbit, said: “He was a confidant, which is very important to a prime minister: to have somebody of irreproachable integrity and great discretion that they can talk [to] about anything and know that it would not go any further.”
Lord Tebbit was one of the staunchest supporters of Lord McAlpine’s following the BBC Newsnight report in November 2012 that accused an unnamed “senior Conservative” of being involved in the North Wales child abuse scandal.
His name was then broadcast across social media, with Sally Bercow infamously tweeting: “Why is Lord McAlpine trending? *innocent face*.”
Lord McAlpine successfully sought damages – which he then donated to charity – from the BBC and ITV, as well as from “high-profile tweeters” who had libelled him, including the comedian Alan Davies and the writer George Monbiot.
After the announcement by Lord McAlpine’s family that he had died “peacefully” at his home in Puglia, southern Italy, Mr Cameron tweeted: “My thoughts are with Lord McAlpine’s family – he was a dedicated supporter of Margaret Thatcher and the Conservative Party.”