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Tribute to Lord Jones of Cheltenham

Lord Jones of Cheltenham: 30 March 1948 – 7 November 2022 | Image courtesy of UK Parliament

4 min read

A former MP, and survivor of a brutal attack during which his constituency aide lost his life, Lord Jones was a diligent peer known for his lack of pomposity

Nigel Jones was Mr Cheltenham. He was born there and represented it in the Commons from 1992-2005. He played an active part in the life of the town, amongst other things being a longstanding football commentator for his local BBC radio station.

By profession he was a computer man, moving from programmer to systems designer and consultant, and his work took him to the Middle East, Scandinavia, Hong Kong and Jamaica.

He first stood – unsuccessfully – for Cheltenham in 1979 before making way for Richard (later Lord) Holmes during the Alliance years. He returned – this time successfully – as candidate in 1992, having just served three years as a Gloucestershire City Councillor.

During his time in the Commons, he was party spokesperson initially on housing and local government and then on science and technology. He was a member of the select committee on standards and privileges set up after the Nolan enquiry into standards in public life. He was also a convivial chair of the all-party beer group.

His IT consultancy took him regularly to Iraq. He got to know the military well, and it was the descriptions he heard about the capacities – or lack of them – of the Al Hussein rockets which persuaded him that the regime was simply incapable of producing weapons of mass destruction. He was therefore an early and enthusiastic opponent of the Iraq War.

He came to national prominence in January 2000 when a mentally ill constituent entered his constituency office brandishing a samurai sword. In the ensuing attack Jones’ aide and long-time friend Andrew Pennington was killed. Jones himself suffered severe injuries to his hands and was hospitalised. He claimed that Pennington’s action in trying to disarm the attacker had saved his life.

He was a mild-mannered man but had very deep convictions which he held with a passion

In 2005 he stood down from the Commons and joined the Lords.

I got to know him well after I became chief whip in 2012. He was a diligent attendee and a real pleasure to work with – though it took me some time to accustom myself to his always addressing me as “Whippy”.

This reflected his sense of humour and his complete lack of pomposity.

He was a mild-mannered man but had very deep convictions which he held with a passion. He was a regular columnist in his local paper and his columns were surprisingly trenchant.

He first suffered a heart problem in 2002 and in recent times he was only able to participate in the Lords remotely as one of a small number of peers whose long-term health condition allowed to participate virtually. In recent months he had proven to be highly effective in the use of short and very pointed questions to ministers, which have often left them floundering for an adequate response.

In his last WhatsApp message to me sent early in the Tory leadership elections after Johnson’s resignation he said, “Now Wallace has decided not to stand, we will be left with Gromit.” Not the most flattering description of our current PM, but one which made me smile. Which I will do when I remember Nigel.

In the immediate aftermath of the tragic murder of Jo Cox, Nigel was asked to write a comment column, drawing on his own experience. He concluded: “Surely it is down to each one of us to look into our own hearts and think how we, as individuals, can help to make society safer, better, more tolerant of others and more generous to those in need. That is the kind of country in which I want to live.” Not a bad credo.

He is survived by his widow Katy and children Sam, Amy and Lucy.

Lord Newby is leader of the Liberal Democrat Peers

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