Saturday 10 October 2015

Sir Geoffrey Howe, Mogadon Man, the dead sheep, the man who did for Mrs. Thatcher, has died.


Lord Howe of Aberavon, better knowns as Sir Geoffrey Howe, the man who did for Mrs. Thatcher, has died, a week after his long-time Labour opponent Denis Healey

They used to say the least inviting sentence you could overhear on arriving at a party was 'Geoffrey Howe's in sparkling form tonight'. He was famously a very boring speaker. Both his delivery and the content was soporific. Denis Healey called him Mogadon Man, said being attacked by him was like being savaged by a dead sheep, a line he made famous but stole from the sketch-writer, Andrew Alexander. Healey asked a propos of something that he'd done or not done how he could sleep at night, said he had no difficulty sleeping. 'And if I did I would open a copy of Geoffrey Howe's speeches. (Everyone is dying at the same time - Andrew Alexander died recently too.)

But Geoffrey Howe's speech following his resignation, which caused Margaret Thatcher's downfall (how recent it seems), though he read it, was the least boring speech made by anyone in the House since the Norway debate in 1940 which brought down Chamberlain. The Commons had started to be televised a couple of years before and 'that speech' was seen live by millions, including me. It was like watching a political assassination live. It was watching a political assassination live.

Shortly after the speech Denis Healey met Howe in the division lobby and said
Geoffrey, I didn’t know you had it in you!
The Labour MP Rhodri Morgan who was present said
Geoffrey just smiled his shy little half smile and wedged his way past, knowing that on that day his place in history was secure.
Of course that was his invariable smile.

It's charming to know that Healey and Howe, who clashed for  more than ten years at the dispatch box were friends. When Healey was on This Is Your Life in 1989 Howe paid him a warm tribute. It's odd that Howe died within days of Healey - their lives were entwined for so long, like characters in a roman fleuve. They shadowed each other for much of the 1970s and 1980s. Lord Healey was introduced into the House of Lords the day before Lord Howe and acted as a supporter during the latter's introduction ceremony.

The last time I heard him he was making a quite incredibly boring and very objectionable speech in the House of Lords in favour of the UK getting rid of miles, pints etc. I realised the that he was never a conservative.

I cheered on his famous resignation speech which brought about her fall. I now think that with all her faults she was right on very many things and on the most important thing of all, resisting the EEC, as the European Union was then called.

Charles Moore, Margaret Thatcher's biographer, who enormously admired her, wrote a good piece today about her nemesis. It ends:
In private, Howe was charming and funny, and had many real friends. In public life, he was close to being a pillar of state. History will surely see him as one of the most conscientious, able and honourable ministers. Critics who say that he lacked the killer instinct should remember what he did to Margaret Thatcher.


  1. Everything surrounding the knifing of Thatcher was revolting. Howe is known for two speeches. One was excellent; his foundational budget speech and this, disloyal and limping with strained metaphors. Christian

    1. I loathed her in those days but despite all the things she did that I don't approve she was on the side of the angels and would not have given us devolution or mass immigration. Charles Powell thinks she would have signed Maastricht treaty.

    2. I'm the other way around. Before she was elected my family left England for France, believing it was finished. I think they were right and it's astonishing it was in any way turned around. But, in spite of admiring this, more recently I have found that many of the flaws today can be traced back to her policies. The chief example being deregulation in the City.

    3. If she had used the language of distributism or had been more intellectual, less Daily Mail. And she was not trying to put the clock back. Had she abolished the sex equality council for example I'd have liked her. instead I wrongly saw her as a class warrior who didn't care about the working class. And I bought the BBC and tory wet propaganda. In fact as Roger Scruton said she had nothing to offer people who were nostalgic for the past.

  2. Roger Scruton is always right. And he definitely is here. I don't even know I believe she offered anything to the working class in the end except a bigger whip.

    (PS. I love your editing of my comments. Harsh and merciless, but brilliant! It's coming up to pruning time and I think I'm feeling sorry for any shrubs in your garden.)

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