Baroness Trumpington, wartime codebreaker

Baroness Trumpington, who has died at 96, was a Bletchley Park code-breaker famed for flicking two fingers up at a fellow Tory peer.

Baroness Trumpington
Baroness Trumpington

An imposing, uninhibited and redoubtable figure, of whom it was said would feel most at home directing a team of Sherpas across the Himalayas, she served the Government in the House of Lords in a series of ministerial posts spanning many years.

She was a daunting, but kindly figure, the arch-enemy of political correctness and one of the most outspoken - some would say outrageous but never malicious – figures in Parliament.

The gesture towards the former Defence Secretary Lord King, which was caught on camera, came after he had good-humouredly made some disobliging remark about her. But there was no ill-feeling on either side.

Lady Trumpington was a tireless campaigner for the causes which she thought worth fighting for, and, although she did not reach Cabinet level, she was a lynchpin for the Tory Government where she handled innumerable portfolios with firmness and good humour.

She was born Jean Alys Campbell-Harris on October 23, 1922 and educated privately in England and France. During the war she was a land girl and later served with Naval Intelligence at Bletchley Park.

“I hated being a land girl. There were only old men there. The young men had joined up. And it was all apples - no animals,” she said.

Afterwards she went to the United States to work for an advertising agency, setting off with £5 in her pocket and subsisting for the first few weeks on cocktail snacks until her first pay cheque came through.

On her return to England she married Alan Barker, a Cambridge don, who was to become headmaster of the Leys School.

But politics was in her blood and she tried unsuccessfully to be selected as a Conservative candidate in East Anglia. Undaunted by this rebuff, she threw herself into local government.

Eventually she became Mayor of Cambridge, a magistrate and a tax commissioner. In 1980, to her surprise and delight, she was awarded a life peerage and took her title from the name of a Cambridgeshire village.

She quickly became a character in the House of Lords, as well as a forthright and controversial speaker.

She once enraged thousands of animal-lovers who sent her letters of abuse after she had suggested that Falklands sheep should be used as sacrificial mine detectors.

“My point was that sheep could be put out of their misery and eaten, whereas men could not.”

She was never an ardent feminist, but supported equal opportunity on merit.

“The problem is that strong feminists are apt to put people’s backs up by over-emphasis - just women, women, women, and you cannot have women without men,” she said.

“On the other hand it is very difficult to win a fight unless you exaggerate.”

Over the years she was a Government front-bench spokeswoman on the Home Office, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, Health and Social Security, and Agriculture, Fisheries and Food.

She bowed out after 37 years as a Conservative peer in October last year.