Obituary: Judith Chaplin

Michael McNair-Wilson
Monday 22 February 1993 01:02

Sybil Judith Schofield, civil servant and politician, born 19 August 1939, Head Policy Unit Institute of Directors 1986-88, Special Adviser to Chancellor of Exchequer 1988-90, Head Prime Minister's Political Office 1990-92, OBE 1992, MP (Conservative) for Newbury 1992-93, married 1962 the Hon Robert Walpole (two sons, two daughters; marriage dissolved 1979), 1984 Michael Chaplin, died London 19 February 1993.

Judith Chaplin was elected MP for Newbury in last year's general election and before that had worked as the head of the Prime Minister's political office at Downing Street.

The daughter of a hospital dentist, she was born Judith Schofield and educated at Wycombe Abbey and Girton College, Cambridge, where she obtained a degree in economics. Marriage to Robert Walpole and four children soon filled her life, though not so completely as to prevent her serving on Norfolk County Council in 1975, sometime as chairman of the education committee.

She did a postgraduate course in economics at the University of East Anglia before joining the Conservative Research Department as head of its economics section. This was followed by a stint with the Institute of Directors where she headed up their policy unit. In 1988 she became a special adviser at the Treasury to the then Chancellor, Nigel Lawson, and after him to John Major. She got on well with her bosses, particularly as she saw the nation's economic problems much as they do. Many might have thought that working closely with two chancellors would be sufficient for most people's ambitions. But writing speeches and giving advice was not enough for Judith Chaplin. She wanted to enter Parliament and, in time, play her part in government.

It says much for her that when so many Conservative constituencies seemed determined to select ever younger candidates she was prepared to take her chance, aged 49 and a woman, in that precarious business. She had no previous experience of contesting a 'bad' seat. She knew that time was not on her side but she was a fighter. She went into the selection process with her eyes open. She worked on the basis that the best man or woman would win on the night. At Newbury she was wonderfully vindicated. She won the selection with a very clear majority over the other contestants.

Once adopted, she threw herself with her usual energy into the task of becoming known in the constituency. Then something remarkable happened. Having left the Civil Service to become a prospective Parliamentary candidate she received a telephone call from the new prime minister, John Major, asking her to join him at 10 Downing Street as head of his political office. She accepted so long as she could remain a Conservative candidate for Newbury.

It must have been a gruelling time for her. A new prime minister finding his feet while she was trying to be present at all the branch functions and other responsibilities that fall to a prospective candidate. She never flinched. She had taken on two jobs and she intended to do them as well as she could. And she did. Her own majority of 12,000 at the general election surprised and delighted her but like most things in her life she deserved it. In Parliament she became an active member of the Treasury Select Committee. There, as on the floor of the House, her contributions were apt and to the point. She might have come with the prestige of being close to the Prime Minister but she wasn't going to let that persuade her to rest on her laurels.

She intended to be an active backbencher and represent Newbury to the best of her considerable abilities. She became involved in the life of the constituency, took up many local causes and bought a house in the area.

Judith Chaplin was a good-natured and immediately likeable person. She was wonderfully supported by her second husband, Michael Chaplin. He was always there to encourage and support her. Her death will be keenly felt by her family and her many friends in Newbury and in Parliament.

(Photograph omitted)

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