ONCE a peacock, but now a feather duster.
That might be how Sir Tony Baldry’s wife sees him, but the House of Commons stalwart will take some time to settle into the quiet life.
The former MP for Banbury has described his 32-year-long career as MP for North Oxfordshire as “a great adventure”.
He officially stepped down from the role last Thursday when Parliament dissolved ahead of the General Election on May 7.
As MP, a post he has held continuously since 1983, he represented 90,000 people, two large towns and 50 villages. Speaking at the Whately Hall hotel, Banbury on Friday, he said: “It’s been enormous fun and a great privilege.
“The greatest challenge for me now will be being silent. Over three decades I have looked after a chunk of England and been concerned with everything happening in Banbury, Bicester and the surrounding villages.
“Now I have to hand that to my successor. It’s no longer for me to intervene or speak. As my wife kept saying, you might once have been a proud peacock – you’re now just a feather duster.”
- First day to last: The Banbury MP outside Parliament
Born in 1950, Sir Tony was educated at Leighton Park, a Quaker school in Reading.
He studied law at the University of Sussex before beginning his political career in the May 1974 General Election, as personal assistant to then-Chief Secretary of the Treasury Maurice MacMillan.
By the time a hung parliament triggered a second election in October, he was aide to Margaret Thatcher.
He said: “She was very professional. You had to get absolutely everything right, every quote, every statistic. But she was also incredibly kind.”
As leader of the opposition, Thatcher entrusted her 24-year-old assistant to be the link between herself and the Britain in Europe Campaign, and the “Yes” Campaign for the 1975 EU referendum.
He said: “It was an amazing privilege. At the time, with the arrogance of youth, I didn’t realise how daunting it was.”
- Congratulated by Sir Neil Martin with a big smile from his then-wife Catherine on his victory in Banbury in the 1983 General Election
Sir Tony first stood for election in 1979 in the Labour safe seat of Thurrock before being selected as a candidate for Banbury in 1981 and winning the seat in the 1983 election.
He was made a minister in the Department of Energy in 1990 and helped John Wakeham privatise the electricity industry.
At the time his son Edward, now 31, burst into tears at school.
Sir Tony said: “He told teachers: ‘The Queen has made Daddy responsible for all the electricity in the country and Mummy says he can’t even change a lightbulb.’”
Later Sir Tony moved to the Department for the Environment and in 1995 was promoted to Minister of State at the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food.
- Celebrating at the 1992 General Election
In 2012 he was knighted in the Queen’s Birthday Honours list for services to political and public life.
Closer to home, Sir Tony championed causes like the Keep the Horton General campaign. Oxfordshire Clinical Commissioning Group has now guaranteed the hospital’s survival.
He said: “It’s the most significant campaign during my time as MP. The Horton has an A&E department, consultant-led maternity and children’s services. There are many nearby towns that don’t have any of those.”
Overall, he said, North Oxfordshire is thriving, with the once “slightly scruffy” Banbury now boasting one of the lowest unemployment rates in the country and Bicester redeveloped with the ‘market town’ feel retained.
He believes the new issue will be how to retain the Cherwell countryside and accommodate an increasing population.
- Politics has not been all plain sailing - here at a charity event for St Paul's House in 1986
Despite the recent rise of smaller parties, Sir Tony was unconvinced any real change to parliament’s make-up would take place this May.
He said: “It will end up as a straightforward race between Cameron and Miliband. People vote for parties such as UKIP or the Greens between elections but I think we’ll see those votes dissipating.
“I am wholly confident David Cameron will be PM after the election.”
He added that he was certain his successor as Conservative candidate for the area Victoria Prentis would be “outstanding”, but it would be surreal not to see his own name on the ballot paper.
Sir Tony plans to remain in Bloxham with wife Pippa, and continue as a practising barrister in London. He has been volunteering with the Royal Voluntary Service and will shortly become a patron of Katharine House Hospice in Banbury.
He said: “I’ll have quite a bit of spare time now. I think my life will be just as active, but with different things.”
Grown-up children Ed, who lives in Bristol, and Honor, 29, in Leeds, are both creative souls working as an illustrator and in digital marketing respectively, he said.
- Sir Tony married Pippa Ishbell at Bodicote Register Office in 2001
Neither expressed any desire to follow in their father’s footsteps, but took his achievements in their stride. Sir Tony recalled that when he was knighted in 2012, they renamed him Sir Cumference Hippo.
Sir Tony said: “Ed did a spoof coat of arms, featuring a hippo and the motto ‘Circum et Felix’ – round and happy. I’m quite happy with that as a motto.”