The Nostalgia column with Margaret Watson

Margaret Watson.
Margaret Watson.

DEWSBURY people, no matter what their politics, always followed with interest the career of one of their most famous sons – the late Sir Marcus Fox, former vice-chairman of the Conservative Party.

The boy from Eastborough who had a passion for politics was the local boy who made good and became one of the most highly respected politicians in Britain.

Sir Marcus Fox suffered a series of setbacks before becoming MP for Shipley.

Sir Marcus Fox suffered a series of setbacks before becoming MP for Shipley.

He was MP for Shipley from 1970 to 1997, was awarded an MBE in 1963, won a place in Margaret Thatcher’s top team in 1970 as under-secretary at the Department of the Environment, and was knighted in 1986.

During his many years in Parliament, Sir Marcus earned a reputation for being one of the country’s most outspoken politicians and in 1992 was appointed chairman of the powerful 1922 committee of Tory backbenchers.

A former pupil of Eastborough School and later Wheelwright Grammar School, the young Macus Fox lived in Stoneyhurst Avenue, Crackenedge Lane, Dewsbury.

He left the grammar school at 16 and became a bank clerk at the Midland Bank along with his twin sister, Marcia.

Sir Marcus is pictured during his 1959 general election campaign.

Sir Marcus is pictured during his 1959 general election campaign.

He was later to enter the world of business and politics which would change his life and bring him into contact with some of the most famous people in the land.

Sir Marcus first became involved in politics in 1946 when he joined Dewsbury Young Conservatives, eventually becoming chairman.

But his political career did not start in earnest until 1956 when he was successful in winning a seat on the old Dewsbury Borough Town Council – a position he held for seven years. It took another 14 years of active work for the Conservatives and two disappointing defeats in general elections before being elected MP for Shipley in 1970.

His failure to win Dewsbury for the Tories in the 1959 general election after Labour MP William Paling retired, was a bitter disappointment – but he put up a good fight and came within 3,700 votes of becoming the town’s first Tory MP.

Undeterred, the young Marcus tried gain in 1966 in Huddersfield West but again lost. In 1970 it was a case of third time lucky when he stood for Shipley. His political career ended in 1997 when Labour won a landslide victory.

Sir Marcus never sought any short cuts in his political career, confident that he could make an impact on the national scene.

He once told me in an interview: “I felt I had something to give which I thought was lacking. I have been anxious to use whatever talents I have got to the best advantage of the party I serve.”

He felt he knew what made people tick and understood their problems.

He said: “I believed vary much that the individual matters. I was a communicator and never saw my role as a Parliamentary legislator.

“I enjoyed communicating with people.”

On entering the Commons, Sir Marcus became secretary of the Conservative Party’s Transport Committee until 1972 when he was appointed an assistant whip.

Between 1974 and 1976 he was an additional opposition spokesman on environment, housing and transport.

In 1976 Margaret Thatcher appointed him vice-chairman of the Conservative Party with responsibility for candidates.

He won a place in her top team in 1979 when she made him an under-secretary at the Department of the Environment.

A former sidesman at St Mark’s Church, Dewsbury, Sir Marcus, although living in his Shipley constituency, never forgot his home town or his working-class roots.

Throughout his political career, spanning more than 40 years, he always gave thanks to the people of Dewsbury for supporting and encouraging him in his political career.

He believed that his background in Dewsbury, and the fact that his political career was spent in an industrial area, stood him in good stead on the turbulent road to national politics.

He told me: “My father was unemployed for some time in the 1930s, and like so many other people at that time, we knew what it was like to go short of things.”

Sir Marcus often visited Dewsbury and was delighted when old school friends and neighbours came up to him in the street.

He said: “What I liked about people from this area was the obvious satisfaction they got from my progress – even if they didn’t support my political views.”

Sir Marcus had many happy memories of his school days in Dewsbury and remembered with great affection Eastborough School, which was just round the corner from his home.

“It was a marvellous school – they didn’t stand any nonsense,” he recalled. “We had great respect for the teachers – they made us learn.”

Sir Marcus also enjoyed his days at Wheelwright Grammar School. “I loved the subjects I was good at – English, history and maths – but the only time I won a prize was in my last year when I got first prize for history.”

In 1972 he won top marks again when he topped the list for attendances of MPs in Parliament. He was there for 216 out of 224 division votes, two more than his nearest rival and many ahead of the majority of MPs.