Eric Forth

Conservative MP

Born: 9 September, 1944, in Glasgow.

Died: 17 May, 2006, in London, aged 61.

ERIC Forth was one of the most assiduous, although certainly not among the most popular, MPs at Westminster.

The Conservative member for Bromley and Chislehurst knew the "rule-book" of the House of Commons better than anyone, and with a magnificent spirit of independence, which occasionally infuriated the Tory whips, would be prepared to go to enormous lengths to destroy bills with which he disagreed.

Some MPs who saw their "worthy" back-bench measures bite the dust because Forth had talked them out of existence, accused him of having a sadistic streak.

But Forth did not act out of malice or any sense of "macho-ness". If he saw a bill which he thought would be ignored if it became an act of Parliament, or which had been tabled, in his opinion, simply to express a feeling of goodwill, and for no other tangible purpose, he would gird his loins and oppose it.

His illness prevented him from attending the final Commons stages of the Climate Change and Sustainable Energy Bill last Friday. He had already signalled his opposition to this measure with a series of long speeches designed to wreck it or at least to delay its passage through Parliament.

Forth served as a minister under Margaret Thatcher and John Major, but he was best known as a tireless back-bencher whose forensic knowledge of parliamentary procedure put him in a class of his own.

His political pendulum swung from being a Communist (as a schoolboy), to a Tory (by the time he was 18), and to a hard-headed right-wing Conservative (at Westminster).

He was by no means a "moderniser" and his political stance as a Tory was about as far from the David Cameron vision of Conservatism as it was possible to be.

Instead, he was a fervent backer of David Davis, now the shadow home secretary, in the party's recent leadership contest.

Forth was reported to have been furious that Mr Davis did not challenge Michael Howard for the leadership of the Conservative party in 2003. As a result, Mr Howard was elected unopposed, largely because Tory strong men dissuaded any potential challengers, so the party could avoid an acrimonious leadership battle.

He has variously been described by commentators as "the Boris Karloff of Westminster", of bearing "the grin of a rattlesnake" and as "so right-wing that it is barely possible to see him over the horizon".

But he accepted all these brickbats with a shrug of his shoulders, firmly believing that he was performing a service in attempting to stem the flow of "worthless" legislation from Westminster.

He regularly caused the hackles to rise among left-wingers. Once, during a debate on the Sharpeville Six, sentenced to death for the 1984 mob killing of a councillor in South Africa, he inquired: "Is this really any of our business?"

He protested about the BBC spending money on a Nelson Mandela concert in 1988, and insisted that "those who want the arts and who support them should pay for them themselves".

Forth also spoke out against spending vast sums of money on combating Aids, which he said was "largely self-inflicted". He was also something of a dandy, renowned for his striking ties, and his waistcoats, worn with a watch-chain.

Eric Forth was born on 9 September, 1944 in Glasgow. He was educated at Jordanhill College School and the University of Glasgow, where he was awarded a master's degree in politics and economics.

He was elected as a councillor on the Brentwood Urban District Council, serving from 1968 to 1972, and unsuccessfully contested the parliamentary seat of Barking in the February and October elections of 1974.

Forth was secretary of the Llandeilo Conservative Association 1975-7, and chairman of the Ross-on-Wye Conservative Political Committee from 1978-9.

He was elected to the European Parliament for Birmingham North in 1979 and remained there until 1984.

Forth was elected MP for Mid-Worcestershire in 1983, where he served until 1997, on becoming MP for Bromley and Chislehurst, which he represented until his death. He held this seat at the last general election with a majority of 13,342.

In the late 1980s, Forth served as consumer affairs minister, that appointment being described by one commentator at the time as "something of a joke". In the John Major years he served as an education minister.

When the Tories went into opposition in 1997, Forth was appointed shadow leader of the Commons.

He leaves a widow, Carroll, two daughters and one stepson.

Back to the top of the page