The maverick with 'five ideas: four good, one mad'

YOU WOULD not expect to see a former transport and Northern Ireland minister champion the cause of the road protesters and those accused of terrorism, but not all ex-ministers are like Peter Bottomley.

Last week his opposition to the proposed development at Oxleas Wood and his support for the campaign to free John Matthews were vindicated within two days. The Government announced that it would not now build a road through the ancient wood and charges against Mr Matthews over the hijacking of a taxi that exploded in London were dropped.

The successes set a pattern which may be repeated as the husband of the Secretary of State for Health, Virginia Bottomley, carves out a new role on the backbenches. As Mr Bottomley, 48, disarmingly admits: 'They say that I usually have five ideas, four of which are good and one of which is mad; the trouble is I don't know which one it is.'

Certainly he shows no sign of conforming to the stereotypical Tory ex- minister who keeps mum and waits for the knighthood. Perhaps that is because his instincts are as much liberal (small 'l') as conservative. Indeed, his introduction to the Conservative Party appears to have been almost an accident. Chided by his father-in-law for criticising politicians without any involvement himself, he wandered into Smith Square, Westminster, in the early Seventies determined to join a party.

In the event he became a member both of the Transport & General Workers' Union (which shared Transport House with Labour) and of the Conservative Party within an hour. Probably the only Tory MP in the same union as Neil Kinnock, he cheerfully defied the Whips last month to vote against a government measure to make it easier for employers to end collective pay deals.

He entered Parliament in 1975 by winning Woolwich West, and served for nine years on the backbenches championing causes such as child benefit which marked him out as a wet. When the ministerial call came unexpectedly from Mrs Thatcher, he had a pile of congratulatory letters which fell into two categories: those saying 'If you've done it there's hope for anyone' and the rest observing that his appointment proved that Mrs Thatcher did, after all, have a sense of humour.

At Employment he enthusiastically backed equal opportunities for ethnic minorities and at Transport he achieved his highest ministerial profile with a anti-drink-driving offensive.

But the backbenches suit his approach to life. In a long conversation, Mr Bottomley will regale listeners on a wide variety of interests and experiences. But his campaigning enthusiasm illustrates less his scattiness than his delight in surprising colleagues with a range of apparently perverse causes. He revels in being the one-time IRA target worried about injustice to Irish Catholics; the former Tory employment minister anxious to preserve workers' rights; the ex-transport minister alarmed about roadbuilding and the husband of a Cabinet minister willing to dispute hospital-building decisions.

Some colleagues speculate about the conversations between the maverick backbencher and the loyal Cabinet minister. But there appears to be no conflict. He is not a hardened rebel like the Maastricht opponents and has, for example, played the role of conciliator on the transport select committee.

Other Tory MPs look on him benignly although they say his 'obsessions' can get 'well, frankly rather boring'. But the democratic process would be weaker without Tory MPs who decline to toe the line. As for Mr Bottomley, he sees himself as a natural backbencher; after all, a salary worth pounds 75 a day after tax to do the things he thinks important is not, he says, a bad deal.

(Photograph omitted)

Leading article, page 22

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
News
Starting the day with a three-egg omelette could make people more charitable, according to new research
science
News
Top Gun actor Val Kilmer lost his small claims court battle in Van Nuys with the landlord of his Malibu mansion to get back his deposit after wallpapering over the kitchen cabinets
people
News
Comedian Ted Robbins collapsed on stage during a performance of Phoenix Nights Live at Manchester Arena (Rex)
people
News
The actress Geraldine McEwan was perhaps best known for playing Agatha Christie's detective, Miss Marple (Rex)
peopleShe won a Bafta in 1991 for her role in Oranges Are Not The Only Fruit
News
newsPatrick Cockburn was able to update his agenda-setting 'The Rise of Islamic State' while under attack in Baghdad
News
Robert Fraser, aka Groovy Bob
peopleA new show honours Robert Fraser, one of the era's forgotten players
Life and Style
Torsten Sherwood's Noook is a simple construction toy for creating mini-architecture
tech
Sport
David Silva celebrates with Sergio Aguero after equalising against Chelsea
footballChelsea 1 Manchester City 1
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Online Media Sales Trainee

£15000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Now our rapidly expanding and A...

Recruitment Genius: Public House Manager / Management Couples

£15000 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you passionate about great ...

Recruitment Genius: Production Planner

£20000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This fast growing reinforcing s...

Recruitment Genius: General Factory Operatives

£18000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This fast growing reinforcing s...

Day In a Page

As in 1942, Germany must show restraint over Greece

As in 1942, Germany must show restraint over Greece

Mussolini tried to warn his ally of the danger of bringing the country to its knees. So should we, says Patrick Cockburn
Britain's widening poverty gap should be causing outrage at the start of the election campaign

The short stroll that should be our walk of shame

Courting the global elite has failed to benefit Britain, as the vast disparity in wealth on display in the capital shows
Homeless Veterans appeal: The rise of the working poor: when having a job cannot prevent poverty

Homeless Veterans appeal

The rise of the working poor: when having a job cannot prevent poverty
Prince Charles the saviour of the nation? A new book highlights concerns about how political he will be when he eventually becomes king

Prince Charles the saviour of the nation?

A new book highlights concerns about how political he will be when he eventually becomes king
How books can defeat Isis: Patrick Cockburn was able to update his agenda-setting 'The Rise of Islamic State' while under attack in Baghdad

How books can defeat Isis

Patrick Cockburn was able to update his agenda-setting 'The Rise of Islamic State' while under attack in Baghdad
Judith Hackitt: The myths of elf 'n' safety

Judith Hackitt: The myths of elf 'n' safety

She may be in charge of minimising our risks of injury, but the chair of the Health and Safety Executive still wants children to be able to hurt themselves
The open loathing between Barack Obama and Benjamin Netanyahu just got worse

The open loathing between Obama and Netanyahu just got worse

The Israeli PM's relationship with the Obama has always been chilly, but going over the President's head on Iran will do him no favours, says Rupert Cornwell
French chefs get 'le huff' as nation slips down global cuisine rankings

French chefs get 'le huff' as nation slips down global cuisine rankings

Fury at British best restaurants survey sees French magazine produce a rival list
Star choreographer Matthew Bourne gives young carers a chance to perform at Sadler's Wells

Young carers to make dance debut

What happened when superstar choreographer Matthew Bourne encouraged 27 teenage carers to think about themselves for once?
Design Council's 70th anniversary: Four of the most intriguing prototypes from Ones to Watch

Design Council's 70th anniversary

Four of the most intriguing prototypes from Ones to Watch
Dame Harriet Walter: The actress on learning what it is to age, plastic surgery, and her unease at being honoured by the establishment

Dame Harriet Walter interview

The actress on learning what it is to age, plastic surgery, and her unease at being honoured by the establishment
Art should not be a slave to the ideas driving it

Art should not be a slave to the ideas driving it

Critics of Tom Stoppard's new play seem to agree that cerebral can never trump character, says DJ Taylor
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's winter salads will make you feel energised through February

Bill Granger's winter salads

Salads aren't just a bit on the side, says our chef - their crunch, colour and natural goodness are perfect for a midwinter pick-me-up
England vs Wales: Cool head George Ford ready to put out dragon fire

George Ford: Cool head ready to put out dragon fire

No 10’s calmness under pressure will be key for England in Cardiff
Michael Calvin: Time for Old Firm to put aside bigotry and forge new links

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Time for Old Firm to put aside bigotry and forge new links