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25 January 2016

Cecil Parkinson dies at 84

The former Conservative Cabinet minister was once spoken of as a possible successor to Margaret Thatcher - but scandal ruined his hopes.

By Stephen Bush

Lord Parkinson, who as Cecil Parkinson was one of Margaret Thatcher’s closest political allies, has died following a long battle with cancer.

Parkinson served as Conservative party chairman from 1981 to 1983, as Paymaster-General from 1982 and in Thatcher’s War Cabinet during the Falklands War. Following the Tory landslide in the 1983 general election, he was promoted to the Department of Trade and Industry, now BIS.

His tenure at the DTI was shortlived, however, and he was forced to resign just four months after the election when it came to light that his secretary, Sara Keays, was carrying his child. The affair exposed Parkinson to particular criticism due to his longstanding opposition to abortion. In her memoirs, Sara Keays claimed Parkinson had “begged” her to get an abortion and “haggled over every pound” of child support.

Parkinson obtained an injunction barring any mention of his child, Flora Keays. The terms of the injunction barred his daughter from appearing in school photographs and barred her from participating in school activities, such were the burdens placed upon her schools to maintain her privacy. Despite the injunection,  his career never quite recovered from the affair. Having been tipped as a potential successor to Thatcher, he spent four years on the backbenches before returning to the Cabinet in 1987, this time as Secretary of State for Energy, before moving to Transport in Margaret Thatcher’s penultimate reshuffle. He resigned along with her in November 1990 and became a life peer in 1992. Following John Major’s surprise election win that same year, he became the first heavyweight Conservative politician to appear on Have I Got News For You.

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