Obituary: Andy Stewart, former MP for Sherwood and farmer

Andy Stewart
Andy Stewart
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Born: 27 May, 1937, in Lanarkshire. Died: 6 October, 2013, in Nottinghamshire, aged 76.

Andy Stewart was a hard-working and much-respected Tory MP in an area that had a long history of coal mining.

Stewart, from the right wing of the party, was an ardent ­supporter of the breakaway Nottinghamshire miners – the Union of Democratic Miners (UDM). During the year-long strike in 1983 Stewart ­campaigned to get their more reasoned voice heard and ­respected as an alternative to the more abrasive demands of Arthur Scargill’s National Union of Miners.

In 1983 there were 16 collieries and around 17,000 miners working in Nottinghamshire and they carried on working throughout the strike.

Stewart worked hard in ­communicating their hopes and aspirations back to ­Margaret Thatcher in London and did much to gain the respect of the UDM membership.

Stewart’s widow Louise, told The Scotsman yesterday that her husband worked hard on behalf of the UDM. “Andy admired the UDM members for their ­courage and industrial judgment.

“He battled on their behalf and led a delegation of Notts miners to meetings at Number 10 with the Prime Minister.

“He had only just become an MP when the strike began and it was a challenging few years.

“At one meeting with ­senior advisers at Number 10,” Mrs Stewart continued, “Mrs Thatcher turned to the assembled ­company and in strident tones, said: ‘I told them that. Andy has now confirmed my view.’”

Andrew Struthers Stewart was born into a farming family and attended Strathaven Academy where he played football in the 1st X1 and met his future wife Louise Skimming. He showed an early interest in politics and in 1957 and 1958 was chairman of Strathaven Young Conservatives.

After graduating from the West of Scotland Agricultural College Stewart decided to move south. In 1961 he bought Beesthorpe Manor Farm a 200-acre farm near Newark. He proved an astute farmer and expanded into both arable and livestock – becoming a livestock 
examiner for the Agricultural Training Board.

In 1970 Stewart became active in Nottinghamshire politics and was elected to the county council. His desire to progress further in politics was realised when he was adopted by the Conservatives to contest the marginal seat of Sherwood for the 1983 election. It was a new constituency and had a large working-class community.

The national polls favoured Mrs Thatcher and Sherwood was not any easy seat for the Tory Party to win. Stewart, however, ran an imaginative campaign and won by 658 votes.

The following year Scargill called the NUM out on strike without first calling a strike ballot. Under the new laws passed by the Thatcher government and the union’s own rules that was illegal and opened up old wounds. The Notts miners refused to strike and carried on working. The situation both nationally and within the industry became desperate and vitriolic.

Stewart praised the local ­police and supported the Notts miners who were being ­maltreated by the NUM’s flying pickets. Within months the Notts miners had formed their own union – the UDM – and continued to work.

Stewart formed a close relationship with many of the miners, especially Roy Lynck, whose opinions he transmitted to London. When Mrs Thatcher called a further election in 1987 Stewart’s standing in the community was high and this was reflected in his being returned to Westminster with a majority of 4,495.

The strike proved a water-shed in Stewart’s career. He was well regarded by Mrs Thatcher and she appointed him permanent private secretary to John MacGregor (who also hailed from Lanarkshire) at the Ministry of Agriculture in 1987. He ­remained with MacGregor when he moved to Education and became Leader of the House.

Mrs Thatcher valued Stewart’s support and hand-wrote a letter in 1984 to the Notts miners, part of which Mrs Stewart recalled yesterday: “Andy,” the letter read, “has just been to see me and may I say how grateful I am for your endeavours. You are an example to us all.”

When the strike ended in much acrimony the pit closures in Nottingham continued.

In the 1992 general election Stewart lost his seat by 2,910 votes. With typical commitment he returned to his farm and local politics as a councillor. He was re-elected in 2005 and 2009.

Stewart chaired the Agricultural Training Board and served on the Rural Development Commission. He was also much involved in promoting sports clubs in the Notts area (cricket, rugby and football) and joined many local campaigns – notably against the proposed incinerator plant in Sherwood Forest.

Stewart, who often returned with his wife to visit family and friends in Lanarkshire, was much respected for his broad knowledge on agricultural ­matters, his genial kindness, courtesy and abundant sense of humour.

Stewart married, in 1961. His wife and their son and daughter survive him.