Former Suffolk MP and member of Margaret Thatcher’s cabinet Lord (Jim) Prior has died

Woody Bear with the then Waveney MP Jim Prior, who has died. Picture: SUPPLIED.

Woody Bear with the then Waveney MP Jim Prior, who has died. Picture: SUPPLIED. - Credit: Archant

Conservative former cabinet minister Lord Prior has died, the official Parliament website has reported. He was 89.

Jim Prior served for five years in Margaret Thatcher's cabinet where he was regarded as one of the leading 'wets' who opposed her monetarist economic policies.

Originally appointed employment secretary when she became prime minister in 1979, he was moved to the post of Northern Ireland secretary two years later.

The move was widely regarded as a sign of her frustration at his refusal to press ahead more quickly with her trade union reforms.

He became the MP for Lowestoft in 1959 and when the Suffolk seat changed he became the member for Waveney in 1983 until 1987, when he was made a life peer.

His son David became the MP for North Norfolk in 1997, and now sits in the House of Lords as a health minister.

David Porter, who succeeded him as Waveney MP in 1987, said: 'Jim Prior was my MP for most of my childhood growing up in Lowestoft.

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'As a Young Conservative and when I helped with the 1964 and 1966 general elections while at the grammar school, he was always very kind, considerate and interested in people - even a shy young lad learning the ropes.

'He was an inspiration, a towering figure in the community but also a man of the people.

'In 1981, when I gave up teaching and went into Conservative Party politics, Jim was always ready with advice when needed, a joke, a piece of wisdom and experience from wider worlds that I cherished.

'When I became Conservative agent in Waveney in 1984, Jim was even more helpful and encouraging as I worked with and for him on constituency cases, surgeries and events.

'When he announced his decision not to contest the next election that would fall in 1987, I threw my hat into the ring as a would-be parliamentary candidate.

'Once I was selected, even though his own son David had been on the shortlist, he again encouraged me as I started the steep learning of candidacy.

'As the 1987 election began, he sent my wife Sarah a bunch of flowers, knowing the pressures that were coming her way as a candidate and then MP's wife.

'He was pro-EU while I took the opposite view and we'd often discuss that, along with thousands of other political ideas.

'In government he was regarded as a safe pair of hands, being given the difficult challenge of trade union reforms among others.

'I would say he was also a courageous politician, shown most when he was Northern Ireland secretary.

'His love of the people, issues and business of East Anglia in particular crossed party boundaries and earned him the respect of and endeared him to people from every walk of life.

'He will be sadly missed.'

Current Waveney MP Peter Aldous said Lord Prior had strong values of compassionate Conservatism.

Mr Aldous said his death was the 'end of an era', as before his death Lord Prior was one of the few surviving politicians to have served in both the Heath and Thatcher governments.

'He was, to me personally, a great help and support - since I was a candidate right the way through to being an MP,' Mr Aldous said.

'When I needed his advice and guidance, he was always there to provide it. He was never critical and always helpful.

'The best tribute that I can give to him is that even though he left office in 1987, still when I go around the constituency there are a lot of people who speak very fondly about him.

'He was a very popular person, incredibly approachable and he treated everyone exactly the same.

'He was a real character - he had a presence, he filled a room and everyone was terribly fond of him.'

Broadland MP and historian Keith Simpson said Lord Prior was a very significant politician and cabinet minister, and he was 'in every possible sense of the word, a good local MP'.

'He always recounts that he was driving a tractor when he was asked to stand for Lowestoft. He was very important for Ted Heath. He was very close to Ted and symbolised the old Heathites under Margaret Thatcher.'

Mr Simpson, who had met Lord Prior for the first time when he was a student, said the former MP had found elements of Thatcherism 'very abrasive'.

'In many ways he was a larger than life figure. He had a ruddy face, he played up to being the farmer. People underestimated him because he didn't claim to be a Keith Joseph or Enoch Powell parading their intellectualism. But he was somebody who was well-loved by the grassroots and was a decent man who was in politics out of a sense of public service.'