David Cameron has paid tribute to John Maples, the former MP for Stratford-on-Avon, who played a key role in modernising the Conservative Party.
Lord Maples has died at the age of 69 after a battle with cancer.
As the deputy party chairman in charge of candidate selection, he helped ensure the party picked more women and candidates from ethnic minorities in winnable seats.
But his efforts were bitterly opposed by some activists who felt he was undermining the independence traditionally enjoyed by Conservative constituency organisations, and eroding the party’s commitment to selecting candidates purely on merit.
Mr Cameron said: “John Maples was a tireless representative for the constituencies he represented over his long and distinguished political career, and one of the kindest and most compassionate politicians I have had the pleasure to work with.
“A loyal and determined Conservative, John played a key role as my Deputy Chairman for Candidates prior to the last election.
"He recognised the need to change and modernise our Party from an early time and, under his leadership, we selected – in some innovative ways – an unprecedented number of new and talented Parliamentary candidates, with nearly one hundred and fifty elected to the House of Commons two years ago.
“These Members represent the future of our Party – ensuring that, through their work, John’s legacy will live on for many years to come.”
The Conservative leader added: “He will be hugely missed by his many friends and colleagues from both within the Conservative Party, and from across the political divide. He was widely respected, and a mentor to many of those he helped realise their own ambition of public service. I remember John’s wise and friendly support when I first entered Parliament and, over the years since, I have been fortunate to be able to call John, not just a colleague, but a friend.
“My thoughts today are with John’s wife, Jane, and his whole family at this devastating time for them. John fought his cancer with typical courage and dignity. The end came all too soon, but at least his suffering is now over. His passing is a loss to the Conservative Party and to politics more generally.”
Lord Maples, who studied at Cambridge University and Harvard, was a barrister who became MP for Lewisham, London, in 1983. He served as a junior treasury minister under John Major before losing his seat in 1992, returning to the Commons as MP for Stratford in 1997.
He held a number of senior shadow cabinet roles, including Shadow Foreign Secretary under William Hague’s leadership, and was appointed Deputy Chairman of the Conservative Party by David Cameron.
He was seen as one of the party’s few remaining high-profile europhiles, along with the likes of Ken Clarke. He was also a former president of Conservative Friends of Israel, although he called for UN action to force Israel, as well as other neighbouring states, to comply with UN resolutions and allow the creation of an independent Palestinian state alongside the Jewish state.
Nadhim Zahawi (Con), the current MP for Stratford-on-Avon, said: “John will be remembered as a great Parliamentarian and a dedicated Constituency MP. He was a gentle and decent man and a real source of help and advice to me when I was selected as the Conservative candidate for Stratford on Avon and later when I was elected as the MP.”