Conservative MP

born February 20, 1929

Died June 6th, 2017

Bill Walker, who has died aged 88, was for 18 years a Conservative MP, representing the same area, firstly as Perth and East Perthshire and later Tayside North.

The Scottish Conservatives have long been portrayed by their political opponents as a party of toffs, yet no one could have been less of a toff than Mr Walker, who sat in parliament from 1979 to 1997.

He was born William Connell Walker in a tenement in Blackness Road, Dundee, the third of eight children, on February 20, 1929. After minimal schooling at Blackness and Logie schools, he started work at 14 as a message boy at GL Wilson’s department store in Commercial Street, Dundee, to help family finances after his father was made redundant.

At 15 he joined the Air Training Corps as a cadet, flying gliders at Scone and went solo at 16, just as the war ended. He joined the RAF at 18 for two years, then was moved to the RAF’s Volunteer Reserve—where he was retained virtually until the end of his life. Flying, and teaching youngsters to fly, remained throughout his life a dominant passion. He taught more than 1000 cadets to fly a glider and sent them solo. Some rose to be Air Marshals.

On leaving the RAF he worked on Dundee Corporation buses, then joined Malcolm’s, Dundee house furnishers, as a trainee and by the mid-1950s had risen to be general manager. He remained closely involved with the RAF Reserve and Air Cadets, and one year took a group from 1232 Dundee ATC Squadron to the RAF Experimental Station near Nottingham.

Some were invited to a nurses’ ball and there he met a trainee nurse, Mavis Lambert—though his request for a dance was turned down. Back in Nottingham a year later, he went to the city’s main dance hall and by chance met the same nurse. After a long distance romance, they were married on March 31, 1956.

They lived initially in a Dundee flat provided by Malcolm’s, while Bill also worked as a glider flying instructor every weekend at No 5 Gliding School, based at then RAF Edzell, though it moved in the late 1950s to RNS Condor at Arbroath.

He was then approached to be a senior instructor at the new No 2 Gliding Centre based at Kirton-on-Lindsey in Lincolnshire. After renting accommodation on a farm, the couple bought a plot and built their own home. Their eldest daughter, Clova, was born at nearby Caistor Hospital in 1963.

Not long after, the gliding centre was moved to Spitalgate, near Grantham, so the family had to sell their just-built house at a loss and move. The senior instructors’ employment terms were changed, too: they remained flying instructors and wore RAF uniform, but were now de facto civil servants on lower pay.

By then, Bill wanted to become an MP and joined the Conservative candidates’ list, but needed more income to finance the path to Parliament. In 1968, the Association of Retail Furnishers recruited him to set up a training department.

He was then headhunted by the Birmingham family-run furnishing company Lee Longlands, still going strong today, as a director. The firm had a good reputation and turnover but was then running at a loss. Within a year, Bill turned it into profit and, through a shrewd approach to a local newspaper and TV station, started appearing twice a week on TV. His elder daughters Clova and Fiona would occasionally appear in TV clips and Bill became known as “One-take Walker” for memorising his script.

The family having moved to Birmingham, their youngest daughter, Justine, was born there.

At one point he submitted a paper noting the Conservative Party’s shortcomings in Scotland and suggesting ways to improve matters. Invited back to present prizes at his old school, Logie in Dundee, he was over lunch offered a senior position in Conservative Central Office.

On replying he said would rather become an MP, and was chosen to contest Dundee East, held by then SNP leader Gordon Wilson. He stood unsuccessfully in the second 1974 election, then was asked to apply for the candidature in Perth and East Perthshire, later Tayside North. There was massive competition – 44 other applicants – but Bill was chosen and, in the 1979 election, won the seat from the Nationalists.

His victory was also remarkable as he had badly damaged his back, crushing seven vertebrae, in a gliding accident and fought the entire campaign in a wheelchair, then spent several months wearing a metal brace. One of his abiding early memories of Margaret Thatcher was that, at the Commons swearing-in ceremony for the new MPs, she had heard of his accident and told him, “Go now and get well – your first duty is to your family.”

Being a staunch believer in private enterprise and personal initiative made him a natural Thatcher supporter. Also, during his candidacy years, he read the entire Treaty of Rome and deduced that it was not a free trade treaty but one for political union. That made him a convinced and unwavering Euro-Sceptic but also a prime target for the left-of-centre Scottish commentariat who never really appreciated him.

However, he retained his seat, despite boundary changes, in 1983, 1987 and 1992 and only lost it—to the SNP’s John Swinney—in the great Scots Tory wipe-out in 1997. Interestingly, many former colleagues and others later agreed that his views on the Treaty of Rome and the EU were correct.

Throughout his Commons years he chose to remain a backbencher, though he managed to get five Private Member’s Bills passed—many MPs are lucky if they achieve one. These included the Term and Quarter Days Act, which regularised farm leasing arrangements, and the Scotch Whisky Act which, with later additions, greatly helped the industry achieve its thriving position today. And in cooperation with Dundee Labour MP Ernie Ross, he helped to save the closure-threatened Dundee Dental Hospital.

He has held various directorships and chairmanships in the private sector, was deputy chairman of the Scottish Conservative Party 2000-2002 and was made an OBE in 1998. He held three senior posts linked to the Air Cadets and gliding and listed gliding, youth work and the RAF Volunteer Reserve, where he was a Group Captain, under “recreations” in Who’s Who.

Bill Walker leaves a widow, Mavis; three daughters Clova, Fiona and Justine; and six grandchildren.

Brian Townsend