John Barnes, Historian


Tony Beaumont-Dark revelled in his ability to find a quotable quote, a good many of which were worked out in close collaboration with a notable lobby correspondent, Chris Moncreiff. While few will make it into dictionaries of quotations, they were well calculated to find a place in the pages of the national press and earned him a reputation as the original "Rent-a-Quote" MP. He denied passionately that he was a self-publicist, observing that "there are always at least three issues that make my blood boil that I feel I must comment on". And comment he did. On a good many occasions his remarks caused what he joyously termed "a kerfuffle", most notably when he campaigned against the appointment of Hugh Montefiore to the Bishopric of Birmingham because the latter had suggested that Christ might have been a homosexual. He was not always consistent, praising the Royals almost as often as he damned them.

Behind his cheerful populism lay a keen brain, which was put to good use on the Treasury and Civil Service Committee of the House of Commons, and considerable financial acumen. But he seemed to go out of his way to avoid the possibility of being muzzled by junior office, following in the great tradition of an earlier Midlands Member, Sir Gerald Nabarro, who would have accepted the Exchequer if offered, but thought any lesser office not worth his attention. "I believe a backbench MP who is prepared to stick his neck out plays just as important a part as a cabinet minister who nobody remembers", Beaumont-Dark observed, and he more than lived up to his words. Had he been selected to succeed Sir Edward Boyle at Handsworth in 1970, it might have been a different story. Behind him already lay a notable career in local government and his opposition to many of the Thatcher government's measures, like the abolition of the metropolitan counties and the GLC was rooted in his strong belief in the importance of what today would be termed as 'localism'. Mrs Thatcher herself was remarkably tolerant of his activities, noting that he was "absolutely solid when the chips were down".

Anthony Michael Beaumont-Dark was the son of a Birmingham businessman and he was educated at the Cedarcroft School, Solihull, Shirley College, the Birmingham College of Arts and Crafts, and Birmingham University. He trained as an investment analyst and became a successful stockbroker on the Birmingham stock exchange. In 1959 he became a partner in Smith, Keen, Barnett and subsequently senior partner in Smith, Keen, Cutler (later Smith, Keen, Murray), a position he held until 1985. In addition he was a director of the insurance brokers Wigham Poland (Midlands) 1960-75, of Cope Allmann (International) 1972-83 and of Birmid Qualcast 1983-89. He had campaigned hard to secure the National Exhibition Centre for the Midlands and was briefly a director 1971-3. From 1983 to 1986 he chaired Birmingham Executive Airways.

However, he had a compulsive interest in politics and served as Vice Chairman of the Young Conservatives 1954-56 and of the Birmingham Young Conservatives 1955-7. He was elected on to the Birmingham City Council in 1956 and became an Alderman in 1967. As chairman of the Housing Committee, he set his face against the high rise developments which were then in favour and which met with disaster at Ronan Point. His first attempt to secure a parliamentary seat followed. He fought Julius Silverman in Birmingham Aston in 1959, reducing his majority from over 8,000 votes to 2,534, but when he fought the same seat in 1964 Silverman beat off the challenge by 3,366.

Although he sought unsuccessfully to become the Conservative candidate for Handsworth in 1970, the next decade and a half saw him become a major figure in

local politics. After local government reorganisation, he was elected to the West Midlands County Council in 1973 and chaired its finance committee between 1977 and 1983. His penchant for creating "kerfuffles" was already evident. In 1968, for example, he suggested that because of its opposition to contraception, the Roman Catholic Church ought to help financing housing for large families. Nevertheless recognition of his profound interest in housing matters led to his appointment to the Department of the Environment's Central Housing Advisory Committee 1970-76.

Beaumont-Dark's ambition to enter Parliament remained and in 1975 he was selected as the party's candidate for the Labour-held marginal of Birmingham Selly Oak. He captured the seat in 1979, held it in 1983 and again in 1987, but with the formerly middle class suburb in decline, his majority was halved. He was to be defeated in the 1992 election, but in the course of eleven years in the Commons he became one of its best-known Members. Ken Clarke, who recalls him as "a major figure in local government - a powerful figure in Birmingham" thought that, "having arrived late in national politics, he consciously adopted the role of tribune of the people, a fearless and forceful commentator speaking on behalf of Joe Public. But, unlike some more recent populists, he was possessed of great common sense, frequently expressed views that were those held by the more sensible amongst the broader constituency for whom he spoke, and since he was no idiot, was taken very seriously by his Parliamentary colleagues."

He fought hard for his native West Midlands and for manufacturing industry in general, condemning Patrick Jenkin in 1982 for excluding the area from regional aid, seeking limits first on Japanese and then Spanish car imports when he saw the motor industry under threat, and going so far as to threaten resignation to fight a by-election over the attempts to sell Land Rover to General Motors in 1986. He said of Leon Brittan, "Some ministers do not know where the sparking plug goes, yet they are made Secretary of State for Industry"; and he accused Lord Young of being out of touch with reality "if he thinks this country can survive on service industries and tourism and import all its manufactured goods."

His major criticisms of the Thatcher Government centred on its approach to local government. He waged a one man campaign against Michael Heseltine's cuts in local spending in 1980, and a year later condemned his sledgehammer approach to local government. He forced the abandonment of the proposed rates referendum in November 1981. He voted with the Opposition in 1984 against the measure that paved the way to the abolition of the metropolitan counties and the GLC. When the poll tax was introduced, he accused the Government of being "out of its tiny mind." Told by Mrs Thatcher that it would be "our flagship", he replied: "They said that about the Titanic." When it was said that people would learn to live with it, he observed bitingly that was "like saying people in German concentration camps would grow to love their guards."

After his defeat in 1992, he combined financial consultancy with after dinner speaking, and served as deputy chairman of J. Saville Gordon 1994-99. He remained an outspoken critic of waste in local government and of the salaries paid to Councillors for what should be public voluntary service. He was equally scathing about pay increases for MPs, believing that many "would not be able to earn a fiver in the outside world."

He was greatly missed in the House of Commons where he had been a frequenter of Annie's bar, had friends on all sides of the House, and was regarded as a good House of Commons man. After the death of a close friend, the Labour MP Tony Patchett, it was revealed that Beaumont-Dark and his fellow Conservative MP, Barry Porter, had coached Patchett in the questions that he was going to put to the Government. Friendship always came first. A big man - he stood 6' 4"- quite inseparable from his pipe, extrovert and a little eccentric, he was easy to get on with and good company. It was a popular, if slightly unusual move, when he was knighted for his services after he had left the House.

Shortly before his death from pneumonia, he told his son, that given a second chance, he would do everything exactly the same. Earlier he had observed that he had "never thought I would leave footprints in the sands of time. The only people who really do that are the Churchills and the Hitlers of this world. The great men and the great villains." He deserves to be remembered.