John Barnes, Historian

Sir Donald Thompson

Arguably Donald Thompson found his ideal metier as a whip: no Parliamentary orator, he was a genial heavyweight of a man, remembered for his down-to-earth bluff Yorkshire style, for his common sense and for the almost perpetual smile that lit up his face. The late Julian Critchley once described him as "well-fitted to be one of J.B.Priestley's Good Companions". Popular with his parliamentary colleagues, once he had left the front bench, he was elected to serve on the executive of the 1922 Committee and in 1994 he was made a member of the Committee of Privileges. He had been rewarded for his efforts in the whip's office with a three year spell as a junior minister at the Ministry of Agriculture, serving under John McGregor, and on one memorable occasion when he was racing through a complex statement to European Agriculture ministers, his chief collapsed with an ulcer attack.

John Gummer, who worked with him at MAFF, thought that every department needed a Donald Thompson. In ministerial meetings he was good at asking the really pertinent questions, those which came from an understanding of his subject and of the way the world worked. No intellectual heavyweight, he nevertheless achieved a well-deserved reputation for the way in which he adroitly picked his way through the labyrinthine committee structure of the EEC when fighting for the interests of the British agriculture and the fishing industry. One of his principal concerns was the large Spanish fishing fleet's skilled use of quota-hopping, but the Merchant Shipping Act passed in 1988 was subsequently struck down by the Factortame judgement and rulings by the European Court. He was "one of the very best ministers" that John Gummer worked with, a judgment made because he was able to get difficult issues across to those the department dealt with, in part because he knew how to deal with people like farmers and butchers from his own knowledge of their world and because they trusted him. That made him a good communicator on issues like health and safety and food safety, where good progress was made. He was universally liked as a minister.

However Thompson was not a great performer at the despatch box and it was not altogether a surprise when he was dropped from the Government in July 1989. Although proud of what he had achieved for the farming and fishing communities and for the improvements he had made in animal welfare, he was not bitter about his departure, telling his colleagues, "there is no iceberg here, but a shire horse unharnessed and put out to graze on the blue Conservative grass." He had grown up in the area he represented, had served it on the County Council as well as in Parliament, and had a passionate loyalty to it and his constituents. In 1987 his seat was made the focus of a Channel 4 study as a key marginal, but although his majority dropped by 2000 he held it comfortably enough. In 1997 his seat provided the focus for Pete Davies's This England, an account of the 1997 General Election, but the result was not the close finish expected, as a Conservative majority of over 5,000 was turned into a 6,000 majority for Labour.

Donald Anderson was the son of a farmer and butcher and after leaving Hipperholme Grammar School joined his father in farming, serving as a director of the local farmers' co-operative, Halifax Farmers, from 1952 to 1958. Ill health forced him out of framing in 1960, but he had become a director of his father's contract butchers business in 1959 and remained in that position until 1974 when he became the Managing Director of Frank Mitchell (Armadillo) Ltd, a glass fibre manufacturing business which traded as Armadillo Plastics. He stood down in 1979, but retained a directorship with the firm until 1981 and was the beneficiary of royalties from one of their patents.

He had helped found the Halifax Young Conservatives in 1947, but his political career took off in 1967 with his election to the West Riding County Council in 1967. Two years later he was selected to fight the safe Labour seat of Batley and Morley, predictably going down to defeat in 1970. He chaired the Conservative candidates Association 1972-4 and in the two General Elections of February and October 1974, unsuccessfully contested Sowerby. He was elected on to the new West Yorkshire County Council for its shadow year in 1973 and served until 1975. In 1974 he was also elected to the Calderdale District Council. Fighting Sowerby for the third time in 1979, he defeated Max Madden, and was immediately elected secretary of the Conservative backbench Urban Affairs Committee. Mid way through the Parliament he was chosen to become an Assistant Whip in 1981. After boundary revisions, he was selected for the Calder Valley seat, widely regarded as marginal, but he won it comfortably enough and held it until 1997. He replaced Peggy Fenner as Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture in September 1986 and served until he was replaced in September 1989. At the start of the new session in November, he was elected on to the 1922 Executive, remaining a member until his unexpected defeat in the 1997 land slide, and from 1990 until 1994 he acted as Government whip on the Council of Europe and WEU Assemblies. He was knighted in 1992 and was appointed to the Commons Privileges Committee 1994-7. He had taken up various business consultancies after leaving the front bench, which included the National Federation of Meat Traders and the British Agrochemicals Association and he also chaired the Animal Health Trust Special Appeal, and after his General Election defeat he became Director General of the British War Memorials Association, one of the two causes to which his family asked requested that any memorial donations be sent.