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Monday, December 8, 1997 Published at 10:45 GMT


"Voice of Reason" Lord Wyatt dies aged 79

Lord Wyatt, the journalist, former MP and Chairman of the Tote has died aged 79.

"The Voice of Reason", as he was known to the millions of readers of his newspaper column in the News of the World, was a flamboyant Labour MP who went on to became a devoutly Thatcherite Conservative.

One of the most outrageous and outspoken political figures of his age, Woodrow Wyatt was capable of swinging from one end of the spectrum to the other.

Married four times, he became a life peer in 1987 and sat on the cross benches.

There were early signs of his knack for creating controversy when during his student days at Worcester College, Oxford, he strongly criticised girl "undergraduettes".

During World War II he served as a major with the Suffolk Regiment and was mentioned in despatches during the Normandy campaign.

Wyatt became a Labour MP in 1945, winning the marginal seat of Aston at the age of 27.

In the 1955 election, after a brief spell as Under-Secretary of State for War, his seat disappeared under redistribution. He then represented Bosworth from 1959 to 1970.

During that period in Parliament, Wyatt linked up with fellow-maverick, Desmond Donnelly, and the pair infuriated Prime Minister Harold Wilson and his colleagues, who were running a virtual minority government, by halting the nationalisation of steel for a full two years.

At the same time, Wyatt set up a chain of colour tabloid newspapers, but they soon folded.

From Labour to Tory

Despite his antipathy to the Tory party, his views were remarkably close to them. He opposed nationalisation, was hostile to union power and eagerly supported union reform.

In the 1970s he saw Thatcherism as offering, like the socialism of his youth, higher standards of living for ordinary people.

He was able to charm Mrs Thatcher with a strange combination of flattery and bluntness.

Wyatt also made regular TV appearances and was a prolific newspaper columnist in turn for Reynolds News, the Daily Mirror and the Sunday Mirror before becoming "the Voice of Reason" in the News of the World.

His columns regularly infuriated the left-wing, trade unionists and academics.

Some of his statements bordered on the heretical in Labour Party terms and he was always outspoken. Once he said: "Man's biological function is to impregnate the highest number of females."

Wyatt was made the Chairman of the Tote, Britain's state-run betting service, in 1976. His stewardship of the organisation was sometimes idiosyncratic, but he was responsible, at least in part, for the cut in betting duty and reforms of VAT on bloodstock.

He was due to retire from the job in April this year but agreed to stay on after the new Labour government rejected plans drawn up by the Tories for a replacement for the Tote.

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