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Conservative grandee Edward Du Cann went to school in Woodbridge

PUBLISHED: 14:30 08 September 2017 | UPDATED: 14:30 08 September 2017

Edward Du Cann with Conservative leader Edward Heath in 1966, before he was replaced as Party Chairman. Picture: PA

Edward Du Cann with Conservative leader Edward Heath in 1966, before he was replaced as Party Chairman. Picture: PA

PA Archive/PA Images

One of the most influential figures in the Tory party of the 1970s, Sir Edward Du Cann, has died at the age of 93.

Edward Du Cann in 1989. Picture: PA Edward Du Cann in 1989. Picture: PA

While he represented the Somerset seat of Taunton in the House of Commons for more than 30 years, he had been a pupil at Woodbridge School in the 1930s.

His family was from Kent, but he was sent to be a border at Woodbridge School in 1933. He was educated there until 1941 when he left to become a student at St John’s College in Oxford and also served in the Royal Navy as an officer on a Motor Torpedo Boat operating off the East Anglian coast.

After leaving the Navy he joined an investment firm and also became active in Conservative Party politics.

He fought, and lost, seats in the 1951 and 1955 general elections before winning Taunton in a by-election in 1956.

Although he never served in any cabinet, Du Cann was a key figure among Conservative MPs – he was appointed Party Chairman by Sir Alec Douglas Home in 1963 and retained that position when Edward Heath was elected leader two years later.

But the two men did not get on. Du Cann was replaced as party chairman in 1967 and was not offered a ministerial role when Heath became Prime Minister in 1970.

Their relationship did not get any better when Heath described Lonrho, a company of which Du Cann was a director, as “The unacceptable face of British capitalism” following the publication of a report into its business operation in 1973.

Two years, and two general election defeats, later Du Cann had his revenge on Heath.

Du Cann had been elected chairman of the backbench 1922 Committee of Conservative MPs which elected the party leader.

He engineered a position which led to Margaret Thatcher challenging Heath for the leadership – and threw his support behind her.

She won the leadership – but there was still no place for Du Cann on the front bench and he remained chairman of the 1922 Committee until 1984.

His business life was taking up more of his time and he became chairman of Lonrho and other businesses after leaving the House of Commons in 1987. He was knighted in 1985. Over recent years he had been living in Cyprus where he owned a vineyard.

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