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Former Tory MP Cecil Franks dies
AN uncompromising former Conservative MP who shook up the Labour stronghold of Barrow by winning the ‘safe’ Labour seat has died at the age of 79.
Cecil Franks served as Barrow and Furness MP from 1983 until 1992 - eventually losing to New Labour candidate John Hutton who went on to hold the Furness constituency for 18 years.
Mr Franks died at his home near Altrincham on Sunday February 2 and a funeral service took place on Tuesday.
During his time in office, he devised an enduring political slogan for Barrow.
He would ask of those determined to elect a Labour candidate for the shipyard town: “What will the lads do on Monday?”
It was directed at the Labour Party, which in the 1980s, had links with the Campaign For Nuclear Disarmament (CND) which wanted nuclear missiles scrapping - despite the implications for Barrow shipyard.
Rarely far from controversy or the front pages, the Manchester-born solicitor was renowned for being confrontational and highly litigious.
He was involved in a long-running row with the Conservative-run South Lakeland District Council and the Labour-dominated Lake District Planning Board, now the development control committee of the Lake District National Park Authority.
During a 45 minute speech to Parliament in 1986 where he used parliamentary privilege to make a number of allegations, he was warned several times by the Tory committee chairman to sit down and stop making remarks “too wide of the mark”.
But friends and associates spoke highly of Mr Franks and his political service to Furness.
His father was a Labour councillor in Salford and Mr Franks himself a Labour Party agent in the Knutsford Constituency for the 1959 general election.
He also represented the Labour Party on Salford City Council between 1960-63, then joined the Tories in 1964.
In the 1983 General Election, he unseated the long-standing Labour MP Albert Booth who had been MP for 17 years, and won by 4,577 votes.
During his time in office, he campaigned for the future of Barrow Shipyard, Trident submarines and for a Dalton Bypass - as well as against plans to nationalise Glaxo in UIverston.
Privately, he also regularly raised money for charity and was a keen fan of chess - representing Lancashire - as well as being fond of skiing and bridge.
In a nod to his love of the theatre, he was appointed as a director of Opera 80 - a touring theatre company threatened with being dissolved.
Long-serving Coun Jack Richardson, the leader of the Conservatives on Barrow Borough Council, said today: “You either liked or loathed Cecil. There was no half measures with him, but what always came across was his interest in serving the interests of Barrow and its constituents.”
"As an MP for Barrow and Furness, he was extremely good and projected the area very well."
“When he spoke in parliament you knew where he came from and everyone knew Barrow-in-Furness was the place they built nuclear submarines."
Of losing the 1992 election by 3578 votes to a young John Hutton, Coun Richardson said: “Cecil took it very badly because he did an awful lot for Barrow.”
During the last 20 years of his life, he also supported numerous causes but never returned to politics.
Said Mr Richardson: “Cecil became Barrow’s MP in 1983 at a time when the Labour Party was then very anti-nuclear. Parts of the Labour Party in Barrow wanted the town made a nuclear free zone - can you imagine that?
"He highlighted this ridiculous anomaly and played on it quite openly by asking: ‘What will the lads do on Monday?”
Pauline Halfpenny, chairwoman of the Barrow and Furness Conservative Association, maintained a friendship with Mr Franks long after he lost the Barrow seat.
Mrs Halfpenny, from Ulverston, said: “I first met him in 1983 when Ulverston and Low Furness became part of the Barrow and Furness constituency and he became our candidate.
"We had about four weeks to get Cecil elected and get a Conservative in Barrow which hadn’t been done for quite some time!
"But Cecil was not like what a few people thought of him. I always found him to be very caring and considerate and he was a good MP for Barrow.
“He was a very forthright speaker and told people the truth when people don’t always like to hear it, do they?"
"He worked very hard for the constituency. Barrow was seen as a bit far away but he brought to the area Margaret Thatcher, Michael Heseltine, Michael Portillo and Jeffrey Archer.”
In an interview with the Gazette in 1987, Franks gave some typically uncompromising views on issues like the health service, the welfare state and law and order.
Of education, he said of teachers: “I would like to see teachers wearing jackets and ties instead of the dirty, tatty jeans which seem to be the uniform for trendy teachers.”
And of the benefits culture, he added: “Money which should go to the disadvantaged is going to those who are well able to make their own way.”
On local authorities and the rates system, he said: “I have nothing but contempt for the utter waste of resources by officers who are nothing but the professional rejects of the private sector.”
Mr Franks, separated from his wife, but had a long-standing partner. She was away in Dubai at the time of his death. His adopted son died a couple of years ago.
Mr Franks lived at Bowdon near Altrincham.
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