The Death of an MP: Eastleigh Tories remember a 'nice guy': Constituency

THERE was an almost palpable sense of pain and shocked disbelief in the Eastleigh Conservative Club yesterday lunchtime as members tried to come to terms with the revelation that their friendly, diligent and courteous MP of two years standing, Stephen Milligan, had been found dead in his London home wearing women's underwear with a rope around his neck.

Cliff Holden, 73, a lifelong Conservative and retired lithographic printer ordering a drink at the bar, said he was devastated. 'I cannot believe it. The guy was a really nice guy. He worked very hard for his constituents. I am very sad and sorry that this has happened, whatever it is, I'm sorry.'

Further down the bar Daisy Robey, 74, an honorary member of the club for the past two years, said she could not believe that Mr Milligan had been found dead in such circumstances. 'I don't think it's really true,' she confided. 'Only the other Saturday he was down here for the annual dinner and dance and everybody said how nice he was because he stayed nearly all the evening. I hope they find out that it was not what they were saying it was, because he was such a nice man. He interested himself in everybody.'

John Warren, a former chairman of the Conservative constituency association (1,500 members) and on the panel which selected Mr Milligan as candidate for the 1992 election, said: 'I am amazed. I never thought he was the sort of person to indulge in that sort of thing. We will have to wait to see the result of the inquest and inquiries. It just does not sound like him. He always gave the impression of being a man's man, heterosexual, liked a pint of beer, to chat with other folk . . . ideal company for any company, mixed or otherwise.' He said that there had been no need to formally vet Mr Milligan because he was known in the area before he was selected.

Mr Milligan and his friend Julie Kirkbride, a lobby correspondent for the Daily Telegraph, had attended social events in the constituency and were known to the selection committee.

'They were generally thought of as being a very pleasant couple, aptly suited to each other. She worked extremely hard for him throughout his campaign and was thought to be the ideal girlfriend for a candidate to have.'

Beryl Priday, the Conservative association secretary, said: 'I did not think he had any sort of tendencies at all. I just accepted him for what he was: an MP, a caring and considerate man.'

Peter Madsen, the current chairman of the association who had known Mr Milligan for four years, said he was feeling deeply shocked, devastated and sick. 'It was so unexpected, he was a seven-day-a- week MP. He put everything into it. He loved the life.'

Lee Arnold, a Conservative party agent who has just been drafted into the constituency to help prepare for the forthcoming by-election (Eastleigh does not have its own full-time agent), said that Mr Milligan would, like every other aspiring Conservative MP, have had to go through an induction weekend to see if he would make a good MP. During that weekend all the candidates would have been asked if there was anything in their backgrounds which would embarrass the party.

Since the constituency of Eastleigh was formed after electoral boundary changes in 1955 there have only been two MPs: Sir David Price, who served as Conservative MP from 1955 to 1992 and then Stephen Milligan. Mr Madsen said: 'We have presented Eastleigh with two superb MPs and we are confident that we are going to present them with another very good candidate and we hope to hold this seat.'

A view probably not held by Ian Crawford, 32, a Hampshire social worker sipping a pint in the Tavern pub who did not vote for Mr Milligan. He said that it should not matter that Mr Milligan was found in women's clothing. 'People's sexuality, their morality, is not the important issue. As long as they are not hurting other people. It should not matter that he was found in that way, but the fact that the Tories are committed to back to basics and Victorian morality means that it does.'

Eastleigh, several miles north of Southampton, has 93,000 voters. The Conservative majority over the Liberal Democrats at the last general election was 17,702.

(Photograph omitted)