One-nation Tory who built crucial links between Westminster and Leinster House

Obituary Peter Temple-Morris: ‘A key player in the work of delivering peace’

 

Peter Temple-Morris

Born: February 12th, 1938

Died: May 1st, 2018

British politician Peter Temple-Morris was a familiar figure in Ireland during the 1990s. He played a significant role in creating a positive atmosphere between politicians from the two countries which paved the way to the Belfast Agreement.

The silver-haired and silvered-tongued MP was appointed in 1990 as the first co-chair of what is now the British Irish Parliamentary Assembly. His first Irish counterpart was the late Fianna Fáil TD Jim Tunney.

The Assembly was established under the terms of the Anglo Irish Agreement of 1985 and was widely dismissed in its early stages as a talking shop due to its lack of executive powers.

However, the Body, as it was then termed, succeeded in establishing cordial relations between politicians from the Oireachtas and Westminster. Unlikely friendships were established which helped to break down the atmosphere of mutual suspicion between the two sets of parliamentarians.

With his emollient style and shrewd grasp of political reality, Temple-Morris, then a Conservative MP, played a vital role in promoting agreement between the two governments and had regular meetings with the taoiseach and prime minister of the day.

The extent of his influence can be gauged by the tribute paid to him by former taoiseach Bertie Ahern who described Temple-Morris as “a key player in the work of delivering peace”. The late Martin McGuinness once described him as “one of the most honourable British politicians I have ever met”.

Pro-EU views

Temple-Morris was also noted for his pro-EU views and he ultimately left the Conservative Party and crossed the floor of the Commons to become a Labour MP during his final term in Parliament because of his disillusionment with the growing influence of anti-EU Tories.

Dapper, suave, genial and with smoothly coiffed and neatly parted hair, Temple-Morris was destined from birth to go into politics. Born in Cardiff, he was the son of a former MP, Sir Owen Temple-Morris, for many years a judge in Wales who had been the National Conservative member for Cardiff East, and his wife, Vera (nee Thompson). Peter, educated at Malvern College, went to St Catharine’s College, Cambridge, and became chairman of the University Conservative Association (1961).

The following year he qualified as a barrister – he would later also serve as a solicitor – practising on the Welsh circuit and then in London from 1966 to 1976. He fought three unwinnable constituencies as a Conservative candidate before winning Leominster at the February 1974 general election. He held the seat until his retirement at the 2001 general election.

Unlike his Cambridge friends Kenneth Clarke and Norman Fowler, he never became a minister and instead sat on a succession of Commons select committees.

As a traditional one-nation Tory, Temple-Morris was entirely out of sympathy with Margaret Thatcher. In his memoirs, Across the Floor: A Life in Dissenting Politics (2016), he wrote: “She was not my type, nor did she ever share my politics . . . I could not stand being lectured and hectored by someone who would not let you get a word in edgeways.”

Profoundly pro-European, he also had an interest in Iranian affairs – his wife, Taheré Khozeimé-Alam, whom he married in 1964, was the daughter of a Tehran senator – and served for many years on British-Iranian groups such as the Iran Society and the British-Iranian Business Association.

As time went on he found himself increasingly out of sympathy with his Eurosceptic colleagues in the parliamentary Conservative Party. He supported his friend Michael Heseltine in his leadership bid to oust Thatcher in 1990. He also ought off a no-confidence motion in his constituency led by Norman Tebbit’s brother Peter, who accused him of showing “utter contempt for the views of members and causing serious disunity in the party” in the process.

Disillusionment

He could not contain his disillusionment with the Conservatives and mused publicly that perhaps he had joined the wrong party and should have been a Labour or Liberal Democrat member instead. Norman Tebbit agreed. “A quickie divorce would leave Leominster Conservatives and Mr Temple-Morris free to seek happiness with new partners,” he wrote sardonically in the Daily Telegraph in 1996. The Tories, Temple-Morris wrote, were evolving from a tolerant and gentle party to one more nationalist and less European.

The crunch came with the election of Labour, led by Tony Blair, in 1997. Temple-Morris finally fell out with his party following its tactical decision to oppose the Good Friday Agreement over the release of prisoners convicted of terrorism which he described as “inexcusable nit-picking”. He sat for some months as an Independent One-Nation Conservative before he formally moved to the Labour side of the house. He was not the only Conservative to defect but his move attracted significant attention.

The Tories reacted negatively with Iain Duncan Smith claiming Temple-Morris had been in the wrong party “almost from the word go”. Nevertheless, his old friend Fowler lamented it was a pity the Tories had let him get away.

On leaving the Commons, Temple-Morris was awarded a life peerage. In his memoirs he remarked ruefully that his career might have been different: “I would not have been a rebel but rather a team player, stayed longer at the bar and then used the Commons for advancement as opportunities arose. This would have meant a totally different life and probably a less enjoyable one, even if I had gained high office.”

He and Taheré had two daughters and two sons.

Additional reporting by the Guardian