Obituary: Teresa Gorman, former Conservative MP

Teresa Gorman: Colourful anti-European Tory MP was a thorn in the side of John Major's government
Teresa Gorman: Colourful anti-European Tory MP was a thorn in the side of John Major's government
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Born: 30 September, 1930, in London. Died: 27 August, 2015, in Essex, aged 83

The feisty Conservative MP, Teresa Gorman was a leading rebel over the Maastricht treaty in the 1990s and caused her leader, John Major, endless problems. Indeed, he called the rebels “The Bastards” after a Downing Street interview. Gorman was one of nine MPs who had the whip withdrawn for refusing to back the EC finance bill in 1994 and remained a fierce critic of European legislation. Eventually Major, in some fury, said they should “put up or shut up”. This belligerence did not, however, stop Gorman winning her seat at Billericay in Essex from 1987 to 2001. Perhaps not surprisingly, she voted Ukip in this year’s general election. She was a political maverick and had taken pride in being labelled the “most right-wing Member of Parliament”.

Teresa Ellen Moore, the daughter of an East End builder, attended a local grammar school, Brighton College of Education, and got a double first in biology and zoology at University College London. She taught in various London schools for ten years. In 1952, she married Jim Gorman, also a teacher, and for a year from 1965 she taught in New York at the Convent of the Sacred Heart School, where one of her pupil’s was Caroline Kennedy the daughter of the former president.

Back in Britain, Gorman displayed a keen entrepreneurial spirit and began a business, Banta Ltd, which supplied biological and nursing aids to developing countries. It expanded rapidly and within a decade had a turnover of £30 million. Gorman was also a canny operator in buying and restoring property both in the UK and Portugal.

Her first attempt at the hustings was none too successful: in the 1974 election, she stood in Streatham as an anti-Heath Independent – she got 210 votes. Undeterred, she joined the Conservative Party and became a Westminster councillor in 1982 and a member of the Conservative Women’s National Committee.

In 1986, she set up the Amarant Trust, to develop a chain of hormone replacement therapy (HRT) clinics. When she was 81, she was still in robust health and looked (she suggested) in her mid-Fifties. “Legally, I’m in my 80s now,” she admitted. The tabloids dubbed her St Teresa of the Menopause.

Gorman, at her ninth attempt, was elected to parliament as the member for Billericay, replacing the disgraced Harvey Proctor. She made an instant mark in the House by voting against a uniform business rate. She also campaigned to privatise the Royal Mail and radically change the policy in Northern Ireland. Gorman was a colourful MP, not only because of her abrasive speeches but also due to her wardrobe. She freely admitted she often wore daring yellow and bright pink to attract the Speaker’s eye.

Contrary as ever, Gorman proposed, after New Labour published plans for Scottish and Welsh devolution, a bill to set up an English Parliament. She wrote that “the Scots are xenophobic about devolution”. But then in 1998, she voted to exempt students at Scottish universities from tuition fees in the fourth year of their degrees.

In the Commons, she was a self-propelling whirlwind – full of new ideas, many of them impractical or out fashion. Gorman supported Wimbledon ticket touts as a fine example of commercial enterprise, castration for rapists and was pro both abortion and capital punishment. She, and the Maastricht rebels, were referred to by Alastair Campbell in his diaries as the “multicoloured nutters”.

She detailed the pressure she was put under by other Tory MPs and the whips in her book The Bastards: Dirty Tricks and the Challenge to Europe (1993). She also published No Prime Minister!

Her majority was much reduced in the Blair landslide of 1997, then Gorman found herself in 2000 in the centre of a messy affair when she did not declare some properties in south London and was suspended for a month from the Commons.

She retired from the House in 2001 when her first husband died of cancer. Typically abrasive, Gorman put an ad in Private Eye: “Old trout seeks old goats. No golfers. Must have own balls.” She got 128 replies, including, she maintained, quite a few golfers.

In 2010 she married Peter Clarke and continued to live in her mock Tudor house in Essex. It is an impressive villa with wooden beams, mullioned windows, vast pond and foot-high gnomes of John Major, Margaret Thatcher and Neil Kinnock dotted around the garden.

Gorman was her own person and refused to be a docile back-bench MP. She supported causes in which she believed and did so with a picaresque zeal. Like her or loathe her, she was, for sure, not a lady to lie down quietly. She is survived by Peter Clarke.