Saturday, 26 June 2010

Lord Walker of Worcester – Peter Walker

When I was a student at Cambridge Peter Walker was the patron of PEST (Pressure for Economic and Social Toryism) the forerunner of TRG (Tory Reform Group). I was a member of PEST as well as of the Cambridge University Conservative Association. Peter Walker was then a Cabinet Minister in Ted Heath’s government and was actively and dynamically promoting the sort of Conservatism that is now back in fashion. Curiously Peter Walker was always sceptical about Europe. He was not a Europhile.

I was to come into close contact with Peter Walker during the Chesterfield by-election in 1984 (fought on St David’s Day). Peter Walker was then the Secretary of State for Energy and the by-election was fought against the backdrop of the miners’ dispute with Mrs Thatcher’s government. Chesterfield was part of the Derbyshire coalfield and had working mines in the constituency. Peter Walker came up to Chesterfield to speak in my support and was then, as he always was, good humoured, bright, dynamic and totally master of his brief. As an extremely capable and adept Minister, he was trusted by Margaret Thatcher in a succession of roles (Energy, Agriculture, Wales), despite the fact that they were from different wings of the Party. They were from remarkably similar backgrounds and had a relationship of mutual respect.

It is, as Secretary of State for Wales, that Peter Walker is probably best remembered. Margaret Thatcher was keen to have a Minister of dynamism who could handle such a wide ranging brief, and readily agreed to the only condition that Peter Walker laid down that he was given a totally free hand to get on with the job in Wales without Prime Ministerial interference. For her part Mrs Thatcher always honoured the bargain. Famously John Major relates that the only time when he had difficulties settling a departmental budget was with Peter Walker, when Peter Walker said "I am holding out for more money, speak to the Prime Minister she will back me up". John Major, believing that there was no way she would do so, contacted the Prime Minister only to find that Margaret Thatcher backed Peter Walker on this matter.

Over the years Peter Walker came to Wales on many occasions, not least to campaign in General and Assembly Elections. He was always supportive, always handy with good, sound advice, and rightly proud of his period of office in Wales, which was characterised by dynamic leadership and a succession of private sector successes that were certainly the envy of other parts of the United Kingdom.

He must have been pleased to see the advent of a Conservative Prime Minister with the sort of centrist right-wing agenda of which he would have been proud. He must have been also massively proud to see his son, Robin, win the seat at Worcester which he had held for so long himself (though on different boundaries). I, myself, fought the seat in 1997 when I was to see Peter Walker on many occasions once again. The seat was a different one from the one that Peter had fought of course. Many of the villages and Peter Luff, Peter Walker’s successor as MP, had gone into mid Worcestershire.

A successful businessman in his own right; a politician with very sensitive political antennae; an accomplished administrator and a true public servant, he will be massively missed in Wales, in the United Kingdom and more widely. I will certainly miss his support and his sound advice.

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