He became MP for Enfield West in 1970, and after the 1979 General Election, was made a junior trade minister. In 1982 he was made the Chairman of the Conservative Party, and Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster. He worked on the 1983 election campaign, and as a result of his success, was promoted to Secretary of State for Trade and Industry.
He was forced to resign in October 1983 after it was revealed that his former secretary, Sara Keays was bearing his child (Flora Keays).
After four years on the back benches, he was appointed Secretary of State for Energy in 1987, and for Transport in 1989. He resigned along with Margaret Thatcher when she was replaced by John Major, and did not contest the 1992 general election.
He was created Lord Parkinson of Carnforth after the 1992 elections, and returned to front-line politics when he was made Conservative Party Chairman again by William Hague in June 1997. He retired from this role in 1998. He is a vice-chairman of the Conservative Way Forward group.