A VETERAN Sussex MP who played a key role in Margaret Thatcher’s downfall has died aged 88.

Lord Renton served as Conservative MP for Mid Sussex between 1974 and 1997.

Prime Minister Thatcher appointed him as Chief Whip in 1989.

But the following November Lord Renton was instrumental in her resignation, privately urging her not to compete in a second leadership ballot against challenger Michael Heseltine after she fell four votes short of a majority.

Lord Renton died peacefully at his home in Offham near Lewes last Tuesday.

Born Ronald Timothy Renton in 1932, he won scholarships at Eton College and Oxford, graduating with a first-class degree in history.

After a career in merchant banking he was elected as MP for Mid Sussex in the February 1974 election, a seat he held for 23 years.

He gradually made his way up the ladder, holding junior minister posts in the Foreign Office and Home Office in the Eighties.

In October 1989 Prime Minister Thatcher appointed Mr Renton as her Chief Whip, a move which surprised the MP.

The appointment was an effort by Mrs Thatcher to appease pro-European Tories after the resignation of Chancellor Nigel Lawson.

For a short while it seemed to work.

“Until 1990, I thought we had built a real bridge,” the ex-MP told The Argus in 2004.

But as the party split over Europe widened, the damage became irreparable.

Deputy Prime Minister Sir Geoffrey Howe’s resignation in November 1990 sparked a leadership challenge against Ms Thatcher by pro-Europe backbencher Mr Heseltine.

Mr Renton could not bring himself to back her and abstained from the vote.

“I had agonised over it,” he said.

“It was only in the last month that I had painfully concluded I could not vote for the PM.”

The first leadership ballot was inconclusive. Ms Thatcher fell four votes short of the required majority and vowed to run again.

But on November 21 she decided to consult her Cabinet ministers. Mr Renton urged her to resign.

He later told The Argus he did not regret the decision.

“If anything, I thought I should have been more emphatic about the number of ministers who did not think she should go on to the second ballot,” he said.

“One accepts in retrospect that if someone else had been chief whip, Margaret would probably have got the extra votes she needed.”

Mr Renton resigned from his Chief Whip post after John Major was elected Conservative leader.

He then served as Arts Minister until April 1992, convincing Mr Major to adopt a national lottery as government policy.

He also collaborated with Mick Jagger to launch National Music Day.

Mr Renton stood down as Mid Sussex MP in 1997 and was shortly made Baron Renton of Mount Harry.

He is survived by wife Alice and children Alex, Christian, Daniel and Chelsea.