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Obituary: Lord Francis Pym
Lord Pym
Lord Pym was committed to a 'traditional brand' of Conservatism

Lord Francis Pym, who has died at the age of 86, was a traditional "one nation" Tory whose family had been in politics for many generations.

He became an MP after success as a wartime officer and businessman, and was soon promoted to be chief whip under Ted Heath, handling the vote on entry to the European Community.

He rose to become Ulster secretary, defence secretary and Commons leader.

When Lord Carrington resigned suddenly in 1982 after the invasion of the Falklands, Lord Pym replaced him as foreign secretary.

However, Margaret Thatcher rejected his attempts to negotiate a peace deal with the Argentines.

The then prime minister dropped him after the 1983 election, after he had warned of the dangers of a large majority.

His attempt to lead a moderate group of anti-Thatcher Tories met with little success.

'King of the Wets'

Lord Pym was a shrewd and orthodox Conservative, with a deep concern about unemployment.

His fortunes as a politician rose quickly in the early 1970s, mainly through his adroit handling of the Common Market Bill.

From December 1973 he was given responsibility for Northern Ireland for a short while.

In opposition he was chief spokesman on foreign and commonwealth affairs. When the Conservatives came back to power in May 1979 he was made defence secretary and in January 1981, leader of the House of Commons.

By that time he was being spoken of as a likely successor to Mrs Thatcher, but their antagonism towards each other resulted in June 1983 to his return to the backbenches, where he was soon dubbed "King of the Wets".

Lord Pym came from an old land-owning family in Bedfordshire, and went to Eton and then on to Cambridge.

Early in the war, after just a year at university, he joined the Army with the 9th Lancers, fought in tanks at Alamein, and was awarded the Military Cross in Italy.

Later he became a trainee manager in a department store, ran a milk-distributing business, and then joined a firm in Hereford that made tents and tarpaulins for agricultural shows.

Commons intervention

But politics was in his blood, and he became the fifth Pym to serve in the Commons.

He had been prominent in local government as a county councillor and lost his deposit when he first tried for Parliament in Rhondda West in Wales.

Lord Pym and Margaret Thatcher
Lord Pym was in the Thatcher war cabinet - but later sacked

He was returned to Westminster at a by-election in 1961 for the Cambridgeshire seat he continued to represent through the 1970s.

For a time he was much in the news after a vigorous intervention in the Commons a few minutes before the crucial final vote on the Common Market Bill.

He had just got back from a reception at Buckingham Palace when the speaker asked for the opinions of the House.

He yelled a loud "aye" and appeared to do a jig to his front-bench seat. Allegations about the incident continued for a couple of weeks.

Military success

Following Lord Carrington's resignation over his department's handling of the Falklands crisis, Lord Pym took over as foreign secretary.

He was immediately involved in discussions with the then US secretary of state, Alexander Haig, in an attempt to find a diplomatic solution to the dispute with Argentina.

As well as visiting the US, he also went to Brussels to persuade successfully EEC members to impose a trade embargo on Argentina.

Despite British military success in the Falklands, it became clear that there was something of a rift between Lord Pym and Mrs Thatcher.

During the 1983 election campaign, he said in a TV broadcast that a landslide victory, predicted by all the opinion polls, was not always desirable.

When Mrs Thatcher won just such a victory it was no surprise that Lord Pym was cut out of the cabinet altogether.

Lord Pym became a focal point for backbench unrest, and in 1985 formed the Conservative Centre Forward group which was committed to a "traditional brand of Toryism".

He became Baron Pym of Sandy in 1987, was an agriculturist and ran an agricultural equipment business. He is survived by a widow and four children.

Former foreign secretary Pym dies
07 Mar 08 |  UK Politics

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