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Tribute to Lord Stunell – by Lord Foster

Lord Andrew Stunell: 24 November 1942 – 29 April 2024 | Image courtesy of UK Parliament

4 min read

Former Liberal Democrat MP and minister, Andrew Stunell played a pivotal role in the Coalition Government talks with the Conservatives. Among his many attributes, including wisdom, kindness and humour, one word stands out: integrity

The unexpected death of Andrew Stunell on 29 April has already led to numerous tributes about him. They come from politicians across the political spectrum; from former constituents in the Hazel Grove constituency (where he served as MP from 1997 to 2015) and from numerous organisations with whom he’d worked, not least on issues to improve the built environment (he was president of the National Home Improvement Council) and local democracy (which led him to steer the Localism Act 2011 through parliament).

Rightly so, many of the tributes deal with his political achievements as a councillor, MP, peer and as a government minister. Few Lib Dems ever expect to become ministers but, right at the start of the Coalition Government, Andrew became one in the-then department for communities and local government (DCLG). But what’s less well known is that Andrew, who had advised Lib Dem council groups on how to handle “hung” council election results, played a pivotal role in the formation of the coalition as one of the four Lib Dem MPs who negotiated the deal with the Conservatives. His insight and political wisdom were crucial in those days when the agreement was being thrashed out.

But success in politics depends in large measure on personality and many of the tributes refer to Andrew as a person. Much has been made of his integrity, wisdom, skill, humour and kindness. People have talked about how clever he was, with a “Bamber Gascoigne calmness and a follicle thing going on”. His gentleness, selflessness and his crazy hair have been mentioned as has his ability – rare in politics – to cut through pomposity in situations and with people with self-deprecating and often mischievous humour. Andrew, we have been reminded in recent days, understood well the absurdities of politics and, as a result, made sure never to take himself too seriously. Andrew was a rare kind of person who made the political arena a better place. 

From 1997 until his death, Andrew and I were parliamentary colleagues and friends. We followed each other around. At different times we were both Lib Dem chief whip, both ministers in DCLG, both campaigned on similar issues such as energy efficiency and aspects of building regulations and, lately, we shared an office. 

You always knew you could trust Andrew, that he would stay firm to his principles and that if he promised to help, he would

Perhaps understandably, there have been fewer mentions of the grumpiness when someone writing to him spelt his surname incorrectly or his determination to never own a smart phone (and be beholden to it). Not mentioned either is his quite spartan approach which, for example, led him to refuse to have paintings brought over from the Government Art Collection to adorn his large ministerial office. There’s much better use for the money, he’d said. 

In all the tributes I’ve read, one word stands out: integrity. It was an integrity based on his family and his Christian faith. Talking to me after he died, Andrew’s wife Gillian told me something I hadn’t known: that every Sunday he went to church to remember why he did the job. Andrew was the politician who gives politicians a good name because of that integrity. You always knew you could trust Andrew, that he would stay firm to his principles and that if he promised to help, he would.

His dry sense of humour has been frequently referred to. Just five days before he died, Andrew and I were chatting about his illness. He hadn’t had a conclusive diagnosis, but a form of cancer was a possibility. “But,” he had added, “other options are available.”

Sadly, this time they weren’t, and the Lib Dem family and many others are all the poorer and sadder for it.

Lord Foster of Bath is a Liberal Democrat peer

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