Obituary – Lord David Chidgey 9th July 1942 – 15th February 2022
Originally published by South Central Region Liberal Democrats
It is with great sadness that the Region heard about the passing of Lord David Chidgey. He was a good friend to this region and many of our members. He was the MP for Eastleigh before standing down and becoming ennobled in 2005.
We asked Cllr Keith Howes Leader of Eastleigh Borough Council to write an obituary for our members newsletter.
Keith writes - I have struggled with what to write about David Chidgey. And then I found my introduction to David's award of the Freedom of the Borough in 2005 when he retired as Eastleigh's MP. It brought back so many memories. Here it is and here's to you, Chidgey.
David Chidgey's successful defence of Eastleigh constituency in 1997 after winning his seat in a June 1994 by-election helped to demonstrate, along with the success of David Rendel in Newbury, that by-election victors could still go on to hold their seats in the following general election. His by-election win, the final gain in a string of southern by-elections which saw Christchurch and Newbury fall to the Liberal Democrats in the 1992-7 Parliament, helped rebuild confidence in the party in south-central England.
Chidgey was born in Basingstoke, Hampshire, on July 9th 1942. He began his career as a civilian student Mechanical and Aeronautical Engineer with the Admiralty in Portsmouth. After qualifying as a Mechanical Engineer he studied Civil Engineering at Portsmouth Polytechnic launching a thirty year career in civil, structural and building services engineering works.
A five-year period with Hampshire County Council in Winchester developed a speciality in traffic engineering projects. During this time he married, to April Idris-Jones, in 1965, and had three children; a son, David (1965) and two daughters, Joanna (1969) and Caitlin (1971). Leaving local government in 1973 he joined consulting engineers Brian Colquhoun and Partners. Traffic management projects took him to West Africa and Oman, as well as developing integrated transport planning systems in Dublin before he set up the firm's regional office in Eastleigh in 1989.
David Chidgey's political activities developed, like so many of the era, through local government. First elected to his local Town Council in New Alresford in 1976, he later served on Winchester City Council from 1987 to 1991.
It was Chidgey's wider European interests which led to his emergence into national politics in the autumn of 1988, soon after the merger of the Liberal Party and SDP. Selected to fight the Hampshire Central European By-election, he contested the same seat in the European Parliamentary elections of the following year. Chidgey was selected for his neighbouring Parliamentary constituency of Eastleigh, within Hampshire Central, in 1989. He contested the 1992 General Election and retained second place for the Liberal Democrats.
The death of Eastleigh Conservative MP Stephen Milligan in the spring of 1994 led to one of the longest drawn-out by-election campaigns of recent years. The Conservative Government, not wanting an almost certain by-election loss on local election polling day in May in advance of that year's June European Elections, held off calling the election in the spring. The local elections became a by-election by proxy; the Liberal Democrats won 13 of the 15 seats contested and all looked set for a traditional by-election with a comfortable win for Chidgey.
John Smith's sudden death in May changed the political landscape. A suspension of campaigning, a sympathy for Labour's position and the early emergence of Tony Blair as the likely new Labour Leader all worked in the railway town to boost Labour's chances. Chidgey had a fight on this hands. Labour had run the local Council until 1976 and in the early 1970s had come close to winning the parliamentary seat. What became a three-cornered contest ultimately saw Chidgey win with a 9,000 majority on a 22% swing and the Conservative candidate pushed into third place.
Chidgey brought his engineering experience to bear in the House of Commons. As one of just a small number of engineers in the House, and with his background in transport, Chidgey was a natural as the Party's Transport Spokesman at a time when railway privatisation was being fiercely debated.
It gave David a national profile and helped him in Eastleigh too; railway interests and the decline of a major rail engineering works in the town played heavily on the psyche of his constituency. The political challenge for David was to reverse what was then the frequent fate of Lib Dem by-election winners - to lose at the following election. David's energy and commitment - to his constituency, to his party - carried him through such that, after holding Eastleigh by the finest of margins, with a 754 vote majority, in 1997, he would go on to win again in 2001 by 3,058. Those look comfortable by 2005's results and are a tribute to David.
David's political interests increasingly took him oversees and following on from his 1990s re-election he joined the Foreign Affairs Select Committee, taking him to trouble spots and areas of British and European political interest all over the globe. As now a long-serving member of that Committee, as a member of the House of Lords, David's contributions are valued across the political spectrum and he has carved out a clear and on-going role for himself in Parliament.
David continued to campaign tirelessly up until very recently, notably speaking out about the untreated sewage being dumped into Hampshire's chalk streams.