Tributes paid to Lord St John of Fawsley, a political 'one-off'

Former Tory minister who nicknamed Thatcher 'Tina' dies at 82

Norman St John Stevas, who did more than any other politician of his generation to strengthen the power of the House of Commons, has died at the age of 82, it was announced yesterday. His family said that he died on Friday, after a short illness.

When he was Leader of the House of Commons, in Margaret Thatcher's first Cabinet, he introduced the Select Committee system under which each government department answers to a committee of backbench MPs. In the intervening 30 years, the Stevas system has proved to be by far the most effective means by which the Commons can call ministers, civil servants and other influential people to account.

Lord St John of Fawsley, as he became known in 1987, also arranged for MPs' salaries to be doubled, from less than £7,000 to almost £14,000 in three annual stages.

He was the only cabinet minister, apart from Sir Keith Joseph, to have supported Margaret Thatcher in the 1975 leadership election, and so was deeply shocked when he was the first cabinet minister she sacked in January 1981.

He was neither ineffective nor disloyal, but his reforms pleased her less than they pleased backbench MPs, and she was set on having a more right-wing cabinet. He never signed up to Mrs Thatcher's radical economic policies, and was reputedly the author of the mocking acronym Tina, short for There is No Alternative.

He once complained: "Because I am burdened with a capacity for wit, people have sometimes had the impression that I am not serious in my approach. Nothing could be farther from the truth."

An example of this affliction was when he remarked, in 1979: "One should not be a name-dropper, as Her Majesty remarked to me yesterday." He was obviously joking, but the quotation has been thrown back at him countless times, as if he meant it. He was a confidant of royalty, but took care not to divulge conversations he had with them.

Flamboyant and eccentric in his manner and the way he dressed, he was assumed to be gay in an era when it would have been political death for a gay politician to acknowledge his sexuality. He was independently wealthy, and was sometimes seen driving up to Clarence House in his white Rolls Royce to drop off a bouquet for the Queen Mother.

Two old opponents of Mrs Thatcher paid tribute to him yesterday. The Justice Secretary, Ken Clarke, told the BBC Lord St John was a "good minister" and former deputy prime minister Lord Heseltine said he was a "one-off".

He quit the Commons in 1987, after 23 years as MP for Chelmsford, and entered the House of Lords. A former arts minister, he spent much of his semi-retirement as an advocate for the arts and higher education. He served as chairman of the Booker panel of judges and the Fine Arts Commission, and was a prolific author.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executive or Senior Sales Executive - B2B Exhibitions

£18000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Sales Executive or Senior Sal...

Recruitment Genius: Head of Support Services

£40000 - £55000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Warehouse Team Leader

£22000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This industry leading company produces h...

Recruitment Genius: Business Development Manager / Sales - OTE £40,000

£20000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This IT provider for the educat...

Day In a Page

The Silk Roads that trace civilisation: Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places

The Silk Roads that trace civilisation

Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places
House of Lords: Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled

The honours that shame Britain

Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled
When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race

'When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race'

Why are black men living the stereotypes and why are we letting them get away with it?
International Tap Festival: Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic

International Tap Festival comes to the UK

Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic
War with Isis: Is Turkey's buffer zone in Syria a matter of self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

Turkey's buffer zone in Syria: self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

Ankara accused of exacerbating racial division by allowing Turkmen minority to cross the border
Doris Lessing: Acclaimed novelist was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show

'A subversive brothel keeper and Communist'

Acclaimed novelist Doris Lessing was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show
Big Blue Live: BBC's Springwatch offshoot swaps back gardens for California's Monterey Bay

BBC heads to the Californian coast

The Big Blue Live crew is preparing for the first of three episodes on Sunday night, filming from boats, planes and an aquarium studio
Austin Bidwell: The Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England with the most daring forgery the world had known

Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England

Conman Austin Bidwell. was a heartless cad who carried out the most daring forgery the world had known
Car hacking scandal: Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked

Car hacking scandal

Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked
10 best placemats

Take your seat: 10 best placemats

Protect your table and dine in style with a bold new accessory
Ashes 2015: Alastair Cook not the only one to be caught in The Oval mindwarp

Cook not the only one to be caught in The Oval mindwarp

Aussie skipper Michael Clarke was lured into believing that what we witnessed at Edgbaston and Trent Bridge would continue in London, says Kevin Garside
Can Rafael Benitez get the best out of Gareth Bale at Real Madrid?

Can Benitez get the best out of Bale?

Back at the club he watched as a boy, the pressure is on Benitez to find a winning blend from Real's multiple talents. As La Liga begins, Pete Jenson asks if it will be enough to stop Barcelona
Athletics World Championships 2015: Beijing witnesses new stage in the Jessica Ennis-Hill and Katarina Johnson-Thompson heptathlon rivalry

Beijing witnesses new stage in the Jess and Kat rivalry

The last time the two British heptathletes competed, Ennis-Hill was on the way to Olympic gold and Johnson-Thompson was just a promising teenager. But a lot has happened in the following three years
Jeremy Corbyn: Joining a shrewd operator desperate for power as he visits the North East

Jeremy Corbyn interview: A shrewd operator desperate for power

His radical anti-austerity agenda has caught the imagination of the left and politically disaffected and set a staid Labour leadership election alight
Isis executes Palmyra antiquities chief: Defender of ancient city's past was killed for protecting its future

Isis executes Palmyra antiquities chief

Robert Fisk on the defender of the ancient city's past who was killed for protecting its future