Tributes paid to controversial former Luton MP John Carlisle

MP John Carlisle in 1987
MP John Carlisle in 1987

Tributes have been paid to an outspoken former Luton MP who gained a reputation as one of the most controversial politicians of his era.

John Carlisle, who served as Conservative MP for Luton West from 1979-1983 and Luton North from 1983-1997, has died at the age of 76.

Born in Henlow, Bedfordshire, and educated at the Bedford School, Mr Carlisle was a dapper figure who had a successful career in finance before turning to politics in his thirties.

He was an active member of the Conservative Monday Club, which sought to preserve traditional Tory principles.

Mr Carlisle was also well-known for his stunts – once wearing a straw hat in Parliament during a budget discussion – and blazing ‘The Land of Hope and Glory’ from his campaign van during the 1983 general election.

Cllr Michael Garrett, who served as Carlisle’s campaign manager, paid tribute to a “smashing” man.

He said: “He was an absolutely brilliant MP but some members of the public didn’t like him. They accused him of being a racist, which he certainly wasn’t.

“I once had a resident phone up with a Home Office problem and I told her I would contact the MP. She said, ‘Oh, I don’t wan’t to see him, he’s a racist’ but he got it sorted out and she thought he was brilliant.”

Cllr Garrett recalled summer barbeques hosted at the MP’s farm in Henlow, and said Mr Carlisle was much admired by young activists.

He added: “He was a man keen on helping people and keen on promoting the Conservative cause, both of which he did very well.”

As an MP, Mr Carlisle supported capital punishment, flogging and the gun lobby, opposed feminism and LGBT rights, and was a vocal Eurosceptic within the Conservative Party.

Although he claimed not to support apartheid, during a 1987 House of Commons debates, he stated: “The system of apartheid in South Africa has worked in terms of government.” The following year he described Nelson Mandela as a “terrorist”.

In 1991, he attracted headline news as part of a campaign by the Monday Club against Janet Street-Porter’s proposed appointment as the BBC’s head of arts and culture.

Married with two daughters, Mr Carlisle stepped down at the 1997 general election and retired to Seal Chart in Kent, where he died on February 18 of a suspected heart attack.