'Dedicated and kind': Lord Newby pays tribute to Lord Chidgey
A natural campaigner who was passionate about the environment and Africa, Lord Chidgey was a courteous, loyal, and stalwart colleague
Last autumn, David Chidgey, already in his 79th year, told me that he wished to retire at the end of the year as the Liberal Democrat Spokesperson for Africa in the Lords. After so many years’ service, I could hardly object, and to mark the occasion I took him to lunch in the Peers’ Dining Room.
Over the meal he explained to me why he took such an interest in Africa, on which he regularly spoke with passion and authority. As a young chartered engineer he had been sent by his company to Mali to organise the surveying of the route of the first proper road south to link via Burkina Faso to Ghana with the coast, in order to facilitate trade. On his arrival, he was the only Englishman in the country and the entire ex patriot community – largely French – was tiny. He had great difficulty in getting the imports he required to make the job possible for the team which he assembled – from beds to food. But he loved it.
He subsequently worked on transport, electricity, and water projects elsewhere in Africa, the Middle East, Bangladesh and Brazil. This experience produced a lifelong commitment to promoting international development, based on his direct personal experience.
His first foray into politics could however have hardly been more parochial. He was elected to Alresford Town Council in 1976 and the Winchester City Council in 1987. Wishing to speak on national and international issues, he first stood for the Eastleigh constituency in 1992, and then won the seat in a by-election in 1994 caused by the sudden and bizarre death of the sitting Conservative MP, Stephen Milligan. Amongst others he defeated Nigel Farage, in the UKIP leader’s first parliamentary contest. He held the seat until he retired from the Commons in 2005, at which point he was appointed a life peer.
He was a dedicated local MP and took an immense amount of care in dealing with constituents’ casework
He had a solid career in the Commons, being at various times the Lib Dem spokesperson on employment, training and trade and industry. He pursued his interest in Africa via his membership of the Foreign Affairs Select Committee, and, outside Parliament via a number of institutes and think tanks, including the Commonwealth Studies Unit where he was chair of the oversight committee. He was latterly a member of the Speaker’s Panel.
He was a dedicated local MP and took an immense amount of care in dealing with constituents’ casework. He was a natural campaigner and, for example led the campaign which forced the high street banks to abandon their plans to significantly increase charges at cash dispensing machines.
I was fortunate to follow his final campaign at close quarters. Last year, during the passage of the Environment Bill, he took up the cudgels against Southern Water which had discharged large quantities of untreated sewage into the chalk steam of Hampshire and elsewhere. Having been born in Basingstoke and lived in Hampshire all his life, he felt passionately about the subject and was enjoying the battle enormously. He spoke on it in the Lords as recently as last month.
He was admitted to hospital in mid-January with Covid, spent several weeks in ICU, was discharged, but then contracted a chest infection which was the immediate cause of death. He is survived by his wife, April, three children and two grandchildren.
He was a kind, loyal and stalwart colleague with an old-fashioned courtesy and a wicked grin. We really will miss him.
Lord Newby is leader of the Liberal Democrat peers
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