Piers Dixon

Well-con­nected Con­ser­va­tive MP for Truro who was one of the last vis­i­tors to Churchill’s deathbed

The Daily Telegraph - - Obituaries -

PIERS DIXON, who has died aged 88, was a Con­ser­va­tive MP with ex­cep­tional con­nec­tions who lost his seat at Truro af­ter just four years to the Lib­eral David Pen­haligon.

He ar­rived at West­min­ster in 1970 sur­rounded by an aura. His wed­ding to Sir Win­ston Churchill’s grand­daugh­ter Ed­wina Sandys, the so­cial event of 1960 af­ter Princess Mar­garet’s nup­tials, had been at­tended by six Cab­i­net min­is­ters in­clud­ing the bride’s fa­ther. De­spite Churchill’s ab­sence af­ter a fall, it was one of the largest-ever fam­ily gath­er­ings. Bizarrely, it took place af­ter dark, with the 500 guests fer­ried to the Savoy in a fleet of coaches.

Dixon had also pub­lished an ac­claimed bi­og­ra­phy ( Dou­ble Di­ploma, 1968) of his fa­ther Sir Pier­son Dixon, who had been Bri­tish am­bas­sador in Paris and at the UN and had ad­vised Churchill at Yalta. And on the eve of the Truro cam­paign, Dixon’s wife had with­drawn as can­di­date for East Ham South to sup­port him, af­ter what she am­bigu­ously termed “strong rep­re­sen­ta­tions”.

Their mar­riage was over by 1973. Ed­wina Sandys em­barked on a new ca­reer as an artist, and Dixon went on to marry in 1976 Janet “Tiger” Cow­ley, who had been di­vorced by the 5th Earl Cow­ley weeks be­fore his death, and who said she was “tired of idling on yachts”. This mar­riage was brief, a fact Dixon’s bride at­trib­uted to her habit of sleep­ing in “my fa­ther’s old bal­a­clava and shoot­ing socks”. Dixon would marry twice more: Anne Cronin in 1984 and Ann Mavroleon in 1994.

Right-wing on the econ­omy and im­mi­gra­tion but rel­a­tively lib­eral on law and or­der, Dixon con­trived to be a mem­ber both of the Mon­day Club and the Bow Group. He ap­peared too gilded for the mer­i­to­cratic era of Ed­ward Heath, yet col­leagues elected him vice-chair­man of the Con­ser­va­tive back­bench fi­nance com­mit­tee and chair­man of the party’s group on Western Europe.

Dixon was the only MP to com­plain to An­thony Bar­ber when the Chan­cel­lor ex­empted chil­dren’s clothes from VAT. He also, dur­ing the brief ses­sion of 1974, got through the Re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion of Of­fend­ers Act, un­der which con­vic­tions are “spent” over time. The prod­uct of a re­view by Jus­tice, the Howard League for Pe­nal Re­form and Nacro, it en­joyed wide sup­port in Par­lia­ment, but was at­tacked by the Jus­tices’ Clerks for mak­ing it a crime for them to tell the truth.

When Dixon won Truro, Labour were the op­po­si­tion, hav­ing pre­vi­ously come close to tak­ing the seat. Dixon’s ma­jor­ity was 8,210, but in Fe­bru­ary 1974, with the Lib­eral tide run­ning strongly across the coun­try, the charis­matic Pen­haligon, the post­mas­ter at Chace­wa­ter, in­creased his party’s vote two and a half times, cut­ting the ma­jor­ity to 2,561.

That Oc­to­ber enough Labour vot­ers switched for Pen­haligon to cap­ture the seat by 464 votes. He would hold it un­til his death in a sleep­ing car fire in 1986.

Born on De­cem­ber 29 1928, Piers Dixon was a scholar at Eton and an ex­hi­bi­tioner of Mag­da­lene Col­lege, Cam­bridge, go­ing up af­ter Na­tional Ser­vice with the Gre­nadier Guards. From Har­vard Busi­ness School he went into mer­chant bank­ing in Lon­don and New York in 1954, then af­ter a decade joined the stock­bro­kers Shep­pards & Chase.

Dixon and his bride dined with Sir Win­ston when they an­nounced their en­gage­ment, and on Jan­uary 16 1965 were among the last vis­i­tors to his deathbed.

Look­ing for a seat, Dixon failed to se­cure Wandsworth Cen­tral, where his wife was a coun­cil­lor, but in 1966 took on Labour’s for­mi­da­ble Mar­cus Lip­ton at Brix­ton.

When Ge­of­frey Wil­son, the MP for Truro, stood down, Dixon was cho­sen from 70 ap­pli­cants af­ter the last eight – and their wives – were in­ter­viewed.

In the Com­mons he adopted a low key, save for ar­gu­ing in favour of sell­ing arms to South Africa. In 1971 he re­signed from both the Bow Group and the Mon­day Club, ap­plaud­ing the “mid­dle course” Heath was tak­ing. Dixon was con­fi­dent Heath – and he – were there for the long haul, ap­plaud­ing ris­ing liv­ing stan­dards af­ter hard years un­der Labour.

The wave of dock strikes in protest at Heath’s In­dus­trial Re­la­tions Act halted Corn­wall’s china clay ex­ports, and in Au­gust 1972 Dixon, clay com­pany ex­ec­u­tives and 6,000 work­ers marched through St Austell in protest; dock­ers were ad­vised to stay away for their own safety.

Af­ter los­ing his seat, Dixon be­came res­i­dent econ­o­mist at the Cen­tre for Pol­icy Stud­ies, the think tank founded by Sir Keith Joseph that de­vel­oped many of the strands of Thatcherism. He tried sev­eral times for an­other seat – Truro hav­ing got through three other Tory can­di­dates in short or­der – but was un­suc­cess­ful.

In later years he de­vised a board game based on 18th-cen­tury West­min­ster. Dixon ex­plained: “A game based on the present House would be ter­rif­i­cally dull, be­cause MPs tend to vote with their party in­stead of ac­cept­ing bribes.”

Dixon’s son Hugo be­came speech­writer to Robert Ma­clen­nan, briefly leader of the SDP. Hugo helped draft the pol­icy state­ment, nick­named the “Dead Par­rot” af­ter its re­lease early in 1988, which nearly de­railed the party’s merger with the Lib­er­als. SDP ne­go­tia­tors claimed it was the Dixon clan’s re­venge for his de­feat by Pen­haligon 14 years be­fore.

Piers Dixon is sur­vived by his wife, two sons from his first mar­riage, and one from his third.

Dixon tak­ing part in a march with clay work­ers at St Austell in 1972

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