Original sleaze MP loses cancer battle
PUBLISHED: 17:21 30 September 2009 | UPDATED: 15:52 16 August 2010
A FORMER Conservative MP whose career was to epitomise the sleaze scandal of the 1990s has died. Tributes have been paid to Piers Merchant,
A FORMER Conservative MP whose career was to epitomise the sleaze scandal of the 1990s has died.
Tributes have been paid to Piers Merchant, who represented Beckenham from 1992 to 1997 before he was forced to resign following an affair with a 17-year-old Soho hostess.
Mr Merchant, who later joined the UK Independence Party (UKIP) died aged 58 at a hospice on September 21 after battling cancer.
The scandal, by which he will be remembered, erupted in 1997 when he was photographed kissing Soho hostess Anna Cox in a park in Beckenham just a week before the general election.
But friends and colleagues said his "wisdom" and "dry sense of humour" would be missed.
When the scandal broke, Mr Merchant denied having an affair with her and was famously quoted as saying: 'That may well be me kissing her in the picture, but I see nothing wrong with that. I am sure my wife will not be the slightest bit concerned."
Merchant maintained that he had been set up by The Sun newspaper, claiming he had met the blonde on only a few occasions.
He went on to retain the Beckenham seat with a considerable majority, surprising many of his contemporaries.
He and his wife Helen, who was at his bedside in his final hours, appeared on their doorstep a few days after the scandal broke and kissed passionately in an attempt to shoo the allegations away.
But the saga deepened when the then 46-year-old went on to befriend the teenager and make her his assistant, taking her to the Conservative conference in Blackpool.
Less than six months after the first exposé, the two were pictured again in a passionate clinch, blowing open the full scale of their affair.
Merchant was forced to resign to avoid causing any further embarrassment to his party.
He went on to join UKIP in 1992 as an advisor but failed to win a north-eastern seat in the European parliamentary election in 2004.
Rod Reed, who was deputy chairman of the Beckenham Conservative Association when Mr Merchant was MP, said: "Despite everything else that he was known for he was an extremely hard working MP and you could count thousands of people who benefited from his prompt correspondence and the cases that he took on. It's a tremendous loss to his family.
"He was great fun and very, very good company.
"He also had a supreme intellect and was always good in debates. He learned in great detail about people and was a very kind person.
"Piers was very active in the regeneration of Penge before it was fashionable for people to do that. He didn't just care about the affluent areas."
UKIP chairman Paul Nuttall said: "Piers was always regarded as a safe pair of hands. His wisdom, his experience in politics, his dry sense of humour and ability to calm a situation with a few words will all be greatly missed."
Meanwhile UKIP Leader Nigel Farage said: "Piers made a huge contribution to this party over the years. Our thoughts are with his family at this very sad time.