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Thursday, July 1, 1999 Published at 12:16 GMT 13:16 UK

UK Politics

Thatcher leads tributes to Whitelaw

Lord Whitelaw with just one of the prime ministers he served

Past and present prime ministers have led tributes to the Conservative politician Lord Whitelaw, who has died aged 81.

The BBC's Robin Oakley: "A grandee drawn into politics by compassion"
Lord Whitelaw was Baroness Thatcher's right-hand man during her long period at Number 10 Downing Street.

She said: "Willie Whitelaw was one of the great figures of our time and represented all that is best in Britain.

"His decency, integrity and patriotism were of the highest order and for once the word 'indispensable' is not misplaced.

"As deputy prime minister he was a pillar of strength and he deserved much of the credit for our successes in the 1980s.

"He had an extraordinary and intuitive understanding of what people were thinking, faultless judgement, and to me he was always a loyal and unwavering friend."

Michael Heseltine: He was a big personality with humanity and judgement
Prime Minister Tony Blair, speaking at a news conference on the Northern Ireland peace talks in Stormont, broke off to express his "very deep regret" at Lord Whitelaw's death.

"He was a politician who commanded enormous respect from friend and foe alike," Mr Blair said.

"He was a genuinely decent man and he made a huge contribution to British life."

Former Conservative Prime Minister John Major described the former Northern Ireland and home secretary as "the wisest of counsellors".

"Willie was one of the great Conservative figures of the last 50 years who made a massive contribution to our public life," said Mr Major.

"He personified decency, compassion and tolerance."

'A tower of strength'

[ image: Lord Whitelaw with Margaret Thatcher - another of the premiers who greatly valued his counsel]
Lord Whitelaw with Margaret Thatcher - another of the premiers who greatly valued his counsel
Former Prime Minister Sir Edward Heath said Lord Whitelaw had been "a tower of strength for the Conservative Party for some 30 years".

He paid special tribute to his role as the first secretary of state for Northern Ireland.

"In that post he calmly battled with all the problems of that province, including the consequences of the internment introduced by the previous Northern Irish government.

"It was Willie Whitelaw's tireless efforts that led directly to the Sunningdale Agreement under which was created the first and, so far, only cross-community government for the area, which took office on January 1, 1974."

"Willie's disarming charm always made him a popular figure to friend and foe alike. But he was also a shrewd and determined colleague and, for decades, one of the most skilful and dependable men in politics."

Praise from all parties

[ image:  ]
Tributes to Lord Whitelaw's long political career came from senior politicians of all parties.

Conservative leader William Hague said his death "has taken from us one of the towering figures of British politics".

"Like my predecessors as leaders of the Conservative Party, I have on many occasions relied on his shrewd and wise advice," he said.

Tory peer Lord Tebbit, who served in government with Lord Whitelaw, said: "I am immensely sad. I knew him as one of the most astute politicians of his day, though he never liked to own up to it."

Home Secretary Jack Straw described Lord Whitelaw as "an outstanding parliamentarian and home secretary".

"He achieved a great deal in all the offices he held - more than he had often been given credit for, since he did so much by crediting others."

Liberal Democrat leader Paddy Ashdown said he was "a wise and honourable one-nation Conservative with a strong sense of humour and public duty".

"He played a crucial role as the sheet anchor of the government during the Thatcher years, giving invaluable service both to the nation and to his party.

"His passing marks the end of an era. He will be much missed."

Lord Jenkins of Hillhead, a former Labour home secretary who later defected to form the SDP, recalled working closely with Lord Whitelaw during the 1975 referendum on membership of the European Community.

"He was a pleasure to work with but also a tremendously powerful force because he made everyone feel better," said Lord Jenkins.

"He showed great courage when under heavy pressure to reintroduce the death penalty after the terrorist activity at the end of 1974.

"He had been in favour of the death penalty but became convinced in Northern Ireland that it would make the problem worse rather than better."

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