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A tribute to Lord Brooke of Sutton Mandeville

3 min read

Cultivated, popular and charming Peter Brooke was a first gentleman of politics, making a real contribution to securing peace in Northern Ireland. Words by Lord King

Peter Brooke was rightly described by John Major as a first gentleman of politics, very approachable and popular, cultivated and charming, with a wide range of interests, not least in cricket and the depths of Wisden!

Few people had such a political heritage, with his father Henry Brooke as home secretary and his mother Barbara was vice chair of the Conservative Party for 10 years – and with them then both in the Lords.

He came from an old Anglo-Irish family and himself suggested that he was 3/8 Irish, with the Brookes of Fermanagh, and family links over the border with Monaghan, Donegal and Cavan.

At Oxford he had the unusual combination of a third class degree and presidency of the union! After a brief spell at Harvard, he embarked on a successful business career as a headhunter with Spencer Stuart. During this time he was seeking to enter politics, but was surprisingly unsuccessful. He applied to no less than 27 constituencies, all to no avail. The one he was adopted by was Bedwellty in Wales in October 1974, where his opponent was Neil Kinnock, and he recorded the lowest ever Tory vote and lost his deposit! However, in February 1977 Christopher Tugendhat, the MP for the Cities of London and Westminster, was appointed as a European commissioner, and Peter was chosen to fight the by-election which he won, and held the seat until 2001.

When Margaret Thatcher became PM in 1979, Peter was made a whip, and then in 1983 an education minister. In 1985 when Ian Gow resigned over the Anglo Irish Agreement, Peter replaced him at the Treasury. However, after the 1987 general election, she chose Peter to succeed Norman Tebbit as party chairman but in 1989, when I became secretary of state for defence, she appointed him to succeed me in Northern Ireland. I was delighted at his appointment, as he was a good friend, and with his family links was very familiar with the background of his new responsibilities. This was vitally important, as after the very testing times of the introduction of the Anglo Irish Agreement, there was clearly an improvement in the atmosphere that gradually emerged as the start of the peace process. Peter played a pivotal role in carrying it forward, and it was finally consummated in the Good Friday Agreement.

At Oxford he had the unusual combination of a third class degree and presidency of the union

It was particularly sad that an unfortunate moment when he appeared on a TV show in Dublin did him real damage among many Unionists. He left the government there months later, and John Major encouraged him to stand as Speaker – but in the end Betty Boothroyd  was a clear winner.

Shortly afterwards David Mellor had to resign, and Peter found himself back in the cabinet as national heritage secretary. He left office in 1994 and subsequently chaired the Northern Ireland Affairs Select Committee until he went to the Lords in 2001. It was a measure of his popularity with his colleagues that within three years he was chair of the Association of Conservative Peers.

All in all, he had an amazing career, made all the more possible by two wonderful wives. His first wife, and mother of his four children, he tragically lost when there were complications during a routine surgical procedure. However, he subsequently had the great good fortune to marry Lindsay and we send to her our deepest sympathy.

Lord King of Bridgwater is a Conservative peer

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