Former chief whip who had to keep the Callaghan government in power without a majority

LORD Cocks of Hartcliffe was, as Michael Cocks, chief whip in James Callaghan's government in the late 1970s. The parliamentary situation then was far removed from

the overwhelming majority enjoyed today by the Blair administration.

Cocks's job for two years was to keep the Callaghan

government in power without

a majority.

It was an era when the halt and the lame were still expected to turn up at Westminster to register a vote. Ambulances would bring ailing Labour

MPs to the Commons and even oxygen tents were on standby as members were carried through the division lobbies.

The system broke down in the fateful vote of no confidence of March 29, 1979. Cocks and Michael Foot, the leader of the House, had given permission for a dying Labour member not to attend. The

government lost by one vote.

Cocks entered parliament in 1970 as MP for Bristol South. Three years later Harold Wilson appointed him to the whips' office, in opposition. He retained office as a gov-ernment whip when Labour won the 1974 election and when Callaghan succeeded Wilson as prime minister in 1976 he chose Cocks as his chief whip. He never held

a ministerial portfolio but

was a power to be reckoned with in the party, given

the need to maintain strong voting discipline.

Over the years there was

significant enmity between Cocks and his fellow Bristol MP, Tony Benn. He mistrusted Benn and his motives - and made that opinion known.

The Benn faction accused

him of character assassination as he warned that it would be little short of disaster if the Benn challenge for the deputy leadership, against Denis Healey, was successful.

Cocks's influence waned when Neil Kinnock came in

as Labour leader. He was

challenged for the chief

whip's post in 1983 and had

to face three ballots before

he was confirmed in the post

- but his authority had

been undermined.

He continued to attack the left wing of the party and

indicated that he was prepared to go to court to counter alleged infiltration and

breaches of procedure by

militants in his own constituency party. In 1985 the Bennites got their revenge when Cocks was de-selected and replaced by Dawn Primarolo, who was seen as a

candidate of the hard left. Cocks had resigned as chief whip in order to fight the

de-selection battle.

He was awarded a peerage

in the 1987 post-election

honours and, reportedly, considered asking if he could

be known as Lord Stansgate - the title Tony Benn renounced in 1960 so that he could stay

in the Commons. He settled, however, for Baron Cocks

of Hartcliffe.

Lord Hogg of Cumbernauld, formerly Norman Hogg, MP for Kilsyth and Cumbernauld, writes: ''I served as deputy chief whip to Michael Cocks in parliament following the disastrous 1983 general election which resulted in Labour's ranks being decimated and

the rise of the SDP. He was a tower of strength in that situation and kept both his judgment and his principles.

''Michael Cocks was a

highly moral man. The son of a congregational theologian, he conducted his public life

to the highest of standards.

He was a chief whip of outstanding ability. He saw the Wilson/Callaghan administrations to an almost full term of office with little, and latterly no, majority. He set the highest standards for himself. He required high standards of the MPs. But he was the first person to help any MP who found himself in any kind of trouble, either political or personal.

''He had the reputation of

a disciplinarian. It was a

reputation he relished but

he was essentially a highly effective political manager. An outstanding House of Commons man who commanded universal respect.

''He was loyal to the Labour Party even when it was gripped by collective folly that saw him de-selected from his Bristol constituency. He was a constructive critic, while holding to Labour's best ideals. Latterly he made a significant contribution to the regeneration of London's docklands and also served as vice-chairman of the BBC's board of governors.

''It was a singular honour to serve as a deputy to such a

big man.''

Lord Cocks of Hartcliffe, Labour chief whip 1976-85; born August 19, 1929, died March 26, 2001.