The Daily Telegraph
Conservative MP for Dover who cultivated a tough image and campaigned on Right-wing issues
DAVID SHAW, who has died aged 71 after a long illness, became over 10 years as Conservative MP for Dover until his defeat in 1997 one of the most controversial members of the House of Commons.
Despite his assiduous attendance at committees and pioneering use of the internet at Westminster, Shaw cultivated the image of a bullet-headed partisan.
Firmly on the Right of his party, he campaigned for tighter controls on abortion, sporting links with white South Africa, the return of the death penalty, and privatising British Rail. In 1996 he tried to insert a dress code for teachers into Gillian Shephard’s Education Bill.
But he went further, being branded the Commons’ “number one smear merchant” after responding to the Westminster council “homes for votes” scandal by accusing a Labour councillor of corruption.
Shaw blamed the fire that closed the Channel Tunnel in 1996 on sabotage by a striking French lorry driver and, attempting a comeback five years later, suggested that the popular Labour minister Mo Mowlam’s fatal brain tumour was due to excessive inhalation of dope.
The Tunnel – which he opposed even before being selected for Dover and was not popular in the town – was a prime target for Shaw. During its excavation he claimed Irish tunnelers were raising funds for the IRA, and after its completion in 1994 he tried to have it closed when electric grids preventing rabid animals passing through had to be switched off after water dripping from lorries made them short-circuit.
However, Shaw – outside politics an accountant who developed a successful corporate financing boutique – did cannily predict as work began in 1987 that if the cost were to increase, investors in Eurotunnel could be left with almost nothing.
In common with any other MP for Dover, he had to navigate the tense relationship between P&O Ferries and its fractious workforce. He had no doubt which side he was on; in 1988 Labour threatened to suspend the usual parliamentary courtesies after Shaw accused the party’s National Executive Committee of supporting “violence and intimidation” by striking crew members.
Tony Benn ironically observed that if P&O had been involved in Shaw’s selection, they had “made a wise choice”. It was no coincidence that the Labour candidate who nearly won Dover from him in 1992, then took it next time round with a five-figure majority, was a ferry man: Gwyn Prosser, chief engineer with P&O’S rival Sealink.
Shaw also had the misfortune to take on a part-time unpaid researcher late in 1988, after an introduction from the editor of Boardroom magazine. She was Pamella Bordes, exposed soon after by the tabloids as a call-girl who was dating two national newspaper editors, a junior Tory minister and a Saudi arms dealer. Unaware of these other talents, Shaw had secured her a Commons pass to help with a Bill he was promoting to end the price-fixing Net Book Agreement.
Shaw tried to wrestle a camera from a female photographer from Today, the newspaper branding him “the vilest MP in Britain”. He was fined £180 for assault, Judge Percy Harris saying he had “acted like a child fighting for his favourite toy” and that his defence was “far-fetched and specious”.
David Lawrence Shaw was born at Hampton Court on November 14 1950, the son of an international marketing executive and a voluntary worker.
Educated at King’s College School, Wimbledon, and City of London Polytechnic, Shaw joined Coopers & Lybrand in 1970, gaining his accountancy qualifications in 1974. From 1979 he was a merchant banker with County Bank.
In 1983 Shaw founded the corporate finance advisors Sabrelance, building the business over three decades.
He joined the Young Conservatives in Twickenham, and in 1974 was elected to Kingston upon Thames council. Over the next four years he reorganised its management structure to save £250,000 a year.
At the 1979 election he fought the safe Labour seat of Leigh. He wrote an early paper for the Bow Group on how British Gas could be privatised, chaired the Group in 1983-84, and founded its Transatlantic Conference.
Shaw was selected for Dover in 1986 after the former Cabinet minister Peter Rees announced his retirement; he took the seat the following year with a reduced majority of 6,541. He was reckoned the new MP with the most directorships: 13.
From 1991, Shaw served on the Social Security Select Committee. He also chaired the Conservative backbench Smaller Business Committee, and the all-party committee on dolphins.
At the 1992 election, Prosser cut Shaw’s majority to 833. And in 1997, as New Labour swept to power under Tony Blair, he captured Dover by 11,739 votes.
This was not the end of Shaw’s political career. He tried for several seats, and for the 2001 election was picked to take on the future Liberal Democrat leader Ed Davey on the familiar turf of Kingston and Surbiton.
The Conservatives had lost the seat in 1997 by just 56 votes, and had every confidence of winning it back. But in one of the most remarkable results of an election that generated a minimal national swing, Davey’s majority rocketed to 15,676 as Shaw’s candidacy haemorrhaged 6,000 Conservative votes.
Shaw was vice-president of the Institute of Patentees and Inventors; an active member of the Quoted Companies’ Alliance, the Business Council for International Understanding and the International Trade and Investment Centre; and a senior advisor to the Centre for Global Economic Growth in Washington. From 2004 to 2017 he also administered his own charitable trust, benefiting young people.
David Shaw married, in 1986, Dr Lesley Brown; she survives him with their son and daughter. His son’s birth in September 1989 coincided with the IRA’S bombing of the Royal Marines school of Music at Deal, with the loss of 11 lives; Shaw left his wife’s bedside in London to attend to the injured. His daughter, Annabel, addressed the 2009 Conservative conference when just 15, winning an ovation when she said Gordon Brown owed her generation an apology for having “mismanaged” the economy.