Francis Leslie Pym


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(b. Abergavenny, 13 Feb. 1922; d. Everton Park, Sandy, Bedfordshire, 7 March 2008)

British; Defence Secretary 1979–81, Foreign Secretary 1982–3; Baron (life peer) 1987 The son of a Conservative MP, Pym was educated at Eton and Magdalene College, Cambridge. He saw war service in Africa and Italy and was awarded the Military Cross. A traditional Tory landowner, he was elected as MP for Cambridgeshire in 1961. A year later he was appointed to the Whips' office and spent the next eleven years working his way up within that office: he was deputy chief in Opposition from 1967 to 1970 and became government chief whip following the Conservative election victory in 1970. An extremely patient and courteous man, his skills were put to the test by a stubborn Prime Minister, Edward Heath, and an increasingly rebellious parliamentary party, Pym on occasion having to tell Heath that he did not have a majority to carry some votes. Heath did not always heed his advice, but Pym's careful handling of relations with backbenchers prevented Conservative backbench rebelliousness from being even greater than it was and he ensured the passage of the momentous and contentious European Communities Bill in 1972. He was promoted to the Cabinet as Northern Ireland Secretary in 1973, serving briefly before the Conservative defeat in the 1974 general election. Although he was a ‘One-Nation’ Tory, Margaret Thatcher kept him on the front bench after her party leadership victory, but his position as shadow Foreign Secretary was not translated into the foreign secretaryship in 1979. Instead he was made Defence Secretary and upset the Prime Minister with his opposition to defence cuts. In 1981 he was shifted to become leader of the House of Commons, but the following year the departure of Lord Carrington from the Foreign Office left the Prime Minister unable to resist pressure to appoint Pym as his successor. Largely out of step with the Prime Minister's thinking, his fate was sealed during the 1983 election campaign when he said that a massive Conservative majority might not be a good thing for the country. As soon as the election was over, Thatcher dismissed him from office. He left the House of Commons in 1987, taking a life peerage.

Pym was a gentleman of the old school, out of tune with the Thatcherite drift in the Conservative Party. After leaving office, he founded a body called Centre Forward to represent traditional Toryism, but it proved short-lived. He also expounded his beliefs in a short book, The Politics of Consent (1984).

Subjects: Politics.

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