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Obituary: Terry Dicks, Former Disabled MP

June 23, 2020

Every generation of parliamentarians produces its range of eccentric individuals and the former Conservative MP Terry Dicks, who has died aged 83, was certainly in that bracket during his tenure at the House of Commons in the 1980s and 90s. Dicks made a speciality of daring to speak his mind, and the shudders of distaste that habitually resulted, particularly among the more pompous of his party colleagues, served only to reinforce his satisfaction that he had achieved precisely the reaction he had hoped to secure.

Dicks regarded it as his personal mission to speak with the voice of the man on the street in his west London constituency of Hayes and Harlington, and to articulate what he believed were that man’s prejudices. Among his multitude of targets was Home Office policy on immigration, football hooligans (whom he felt should be birched), anyone he deemed a terrorist – in which category he included Nelson Mandela – and anything with a whiff of establishment elitism such as opera or ballet.

He celebrated his family nickname “Phil”, derived as an abbreviation of the word philistine, while endorsing his personal enthusiasm for works of popular culture such as plays written by Alan Ayckbourn or songs by Neil Diamond.

During his years in parliament from 1983 to 1997 Dicks voted repeatedly in favour of restoring capital punishment, advocated corporal punishment in schools and consistently supported moves to limit the availability of abortion.

He was born with cerebral palsy, which left him with a limp throughout his life and relished being able to use abusive terms about his own disability. The former clerk of the House of Commons, Robert Rogers (now Lord Lisvane), elegantly suggested in his published parliamentary miscellany, Who Goes Home, that Dicks shared with the singer Tom Lehrer the circumstance of “having a muse unfettered by considerations of taste”.

Dicks was raised in Bristol by his mother, Winifred, who was a cleaner. His father, Frank Dicks, did not play a part in his childhood. Terry failed the 11-plus exam and left school at 15 to become a clerk in the Imperial Tobacco Company. At the age of 22 he joined the Ministry of Labour, where he worked until 1966.

He became interested in politics during this time, and joined the Oxford University Conservative Association in 1964 while studying for a diploma in economics. He secured a BSc in economics at the London School of Economics, and in 1970 was an officer in the LSE Conservative Association during the fomenting student unrest of the period. In 1971 he became an administrative officer with the Greater London council, where he remained until it was abolished in 1985.

Dicks was already an MP by then, having first stood unsuccessfully in Bristol South in 1979 before being elected to Hayes and Harlington in 1983. He was also elected as a councillor in Hillingdon, west London, in 1974, where he remained until 1986. He won early notoriety as chairman of housing there in 1978 by refusing to provide council accommodation for a family of homeless Kenyan Asians, instead calling them a minicab and instructing the driver to “dump them on the Foreign Office steps”.

As a councillor and then MP for the area near Heathrow airport, he was much involved with immigration and aviation issues throughout his career. He was a member of the select committee on transport from 1986 to 1992 and the Council of Europe from 1993 to 1997.

Dicks successfully outraged a wide spectrum of public opinion by attacking individuals in unpleasant terms. He called the former chancellor Norman Lamont “a shit”, described the Labour MP Bernie Grant wearing traditional dress as looking “like a Nigerian washerwoman” and the Archbishop of Canterbury’s envoy Terry Waite as an “interfering busybody”.

He also repeatedly attacked what he termed the “race relations industry”, suggesting, in 1983, that those who did not like the British way of life “could always leave and go elsewhere”. In 1989 he endorsed the death sentence given to a British man with learning disabilities who was convicted of drug smuggling in Malaysia, and the following year he spoke approvingly of the execution of the Observer journalist Farzad Bazoft in Iraq.

During the subsequent general election campaign in 1992, his Labour challenger, John McDonnell, accused Dicks, who had visited Iraq as a guest of that government, of being an apologist for Saddam Hussein. Dicks sued McDonnell for libel and won £15,000 in damages and £55,000 in costs. He also held on to the seat, by 53 votes, following three recounts.

Dicks did not seek selection as the Conservative candidate at Hayes and Harlington in 1997 and failed to win selection to stand at St Ives in Cornwall. He stood down as an MP and was elected to Surrey county council between 1999 and 2009. From 2011 to 2018 he was a councillor for Runnymede district council in Surrey.

After his first marriage ended in divorce, Dicks married Janet Cross. He had two daughters and a son with his first wife and a daughter with his second.

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