Minister never forgot his Suffolk seat

John Gummer was part of the Conservative landslide that swept Margaret Thatcher into power in 1979.

SUFFOLK: John Gummer was part of the Conservative landslide that swept Margaret Thatcher into power in 1979.

But his seat then was very different to the Suffolk Coastal constituency he now represents.

He became MP for Eye, stretching from the Suffolk coast to the border with west Suffolk - although his seat then did not include Felixstowe or Woodbridge.

And this was not his first entry into the House of Commons - he had been MP for Lewisham during the Ted Heath's Conservative government from 1970 to 1974.

Once selected to fight Eye, Mr Gummer appeared everywhere in the constituency - building up a wide circle of friends and contacts that has sustained him during his ministerial career.

Within a few years of entering the House of Commons, Mr Gummer began his climb up the ministerial pole.

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But his big break came after the 1983 general election when he was propelled from virtual obscurity to become new Conservative Party chairman succeeding Cecil Parkinson.

What the public didn't know at the time of his appointment was that Mr Parkinson had the Sara Keays scandal about to break.

From party chairman Mr Gummer became junior agiculture minister, minister of agriculture, and environment minister under Mrs Thatcher and John Major.

He was close to both of them - he is rumoured to have fought back the tears when he told Mrs Thatcher she could not stand in the second ballot of the leadership election in November 1990 - and also retained very close relations with Ted Heath.

One of the most enduring images of his ministerial career came in 1990 when, at the start of the BSE controversy, Mr Gummer was pictured with his young daughter Cordelia tucking into a beefburger at an event in Ipswich.

As the BSE crisis became more serious later in the decade, the image became very familiar across the country.

But while Mr Gummer had a national profile, he never forgot his constituents - and was always very approachable.

It was easier to get a comment from a cabinet minister about a local issue in Felixstowe than it was from some of his back-bench colleagues about matters in their constituencies.

After the 1997 election and the arrival of a Labour government, Mr Gummer seemed to devote more of his time and energy to green issues - and was not seen in his constituency so much.

However a few years later he seemed re-invigorated and campaigns such as the need for better coastal defences, improved hospital services in Felixstowe, and most recently the need for heart attack treatment to remain at Ipswich Hospital brought him back to grass-root campaigning.

Now a new chapter awaits him - he has said he plans to spend more time working on environmental issues and as a former cabinet minister can expect a seat in the House of Lords.