Newspaper article The Journal (Newcastle, England)

Tributes Paid to MP Hit by Sex Scandal; Tory Was a 'Larger Than Life' Character

Newspaper article The Journal (Newcastle, England)

Tributes Paid to MP Hit by Sex Scandal; Tory Was a 'Larger Than Life' Character

Article excerpt

Byline: Adrian Pearson

TRIBUTES have been paid to Piers Merchant, the former Tyneside MP who shot to fame after an affair with a 17-year-old girl.

The Conservative MP, who held the Newcastle central seat from 1983-87, died this week from cancer aged 58.

Mr Merchant, a former news editor for The Journal, was the subject of two tabloid tales which revealed his first affair and then a subsequent fling with the same Soho 'hostess' Anna Cox.

His affair was one the many exposed in the years running up to the 1997 election. Mr Merchant was secretly filmed in bed with Ms Cox, who was by then employed as an assistant to the MP.

Before he was exposed for his affairs the MP had courted controversy by claiming it would be easy to live on benefits in Newcastle as millions of unemployed struggled to get back to work.

To put his claim to the test Mr Merchant swapped homes for a week with two art students living in the city's Scotswood neighbourhood.

He later backed down from those claims after seeing for himself the struggle to survive on state handouts.

Last night leading North East Conservative Lord Michael Bates lead tributes to the man behind the headlines.

He said: "Piers was very influential on a whole generation of young Conservatives in Tyneside. He was a good MP and a great journalist.

"A great many of us in the region were inspired by his enthusiasm for the party and for politics at a time when it was often quite difficult to be a Conservative in parts of Newcastle.

"And although we had political differences in later years we are all clearly very saddened to hear of his death. I think his inspirational role will be one of the ways in which people remember him.

"Unlike a lot of politicians who forget who helped them get to where they are when they come to Parliament, he was always helpful and very interested in ensuring the next generation of Conservatives were supported. …

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