Speeches, etc.

Margaret Thatcher

Article for The House Magazine (obituary-tribute to Ian Gow)

Document type: Speeches, interviews, etc.
Source: The House Magazine, October 1990 (p7)
Editorial comments: Item listed by date of publication.
Importance ranking: Major
Word count: 1056
Themes: Autobiographical comments, Executive, Parliament, Conservative Party (organization), Conservative Party (history), Defence (Falklands), Northern Ireland, Terrorism


A Tribute to Ian Gow by The Prime Minister, The Rt Hon Margaret Thatcher MP

Ian Gow was murdered by the Provisional IRA on Monday 30 July. His death has been mourned by all sides of the House of Commons, by his East-bourne constituents and by people of all occupations and persuasions. He was a marvellous person, widely respected and greatly loved.

He was elected to the House of Commons as Member for Eastbourne in February 1974. It was obvious from the first day that he entered Parliament that Ian Gow was going to be a true House of Commons member. With the great support that he had from Jane and his sons, his love for Eastbourne and pride in it, from the very beginning of his Parliamentary career Ian entered whole-heartedly into the spirit of it all.

It was not long before he made an impression among all of his political colleagues, whether friend or foe in the Party sense. His debating abilities both on the floor of the Chamber and late at night in Standing Committees became a legend. However serious the point he was making, he was always capable of making the best of jokes—hard-hitting and to the point, but always with a twinkle in his eye. He was quick to spot a flaw in another's argument, and the first to take advantage of it. But not one of us could ever say that he did so maliciously or from any standpoint other than to promote his and his Party's beliefs. Above all, Ian was fun and wanted everyone around him to have fun too.

Ian made his mark in the House by assisting Airey Neave with Northern Ireland issues in Opposition at the same time as belonging to a band of combatants, led by Nick Ridley, who harried the Labour Government night and day. He will be remembered by Ministers of that Government for tormenting them with the IMF's letter of intent and the name of its author: Dr Wittewein. But Ian 's role was not primarily destructive. He advanced the virtues of the free market and privatisation, before they become accepted wisdom, and his Ten Minute Rule Bill speeches were gems of wit and clarity.

When I became Prime Minister in 1979, I knew that the job of Parliamentary Private Secretary would be a key appointment. I needed an enthusiast with an instinctive feel for the House of Commons, whose loyalty to the Government's aims was beyond question. An indispensable asset was a constitution to enjoy long working days without losing judgment under pressure.

A search for candidates was unnecessary because one person stood out: Ian Gow. He was offered the job, over the telephone, late at night after our election victory. By seven o'clock the next morning, he was at work in Downing Street bubbling with vitality, rattling off streams of memos and letters into an ancient dictaphone and solidifying a network of friendships and contacts already established and envied throughout the political world.

A daily delight for me during Ian 's four years as PPS was his daily account of the proceedings of Party committees and debates on the floor of the House. These reports were spiced with news from the tea and smoking rooms as well as the Fleet Street editorial offices and other haunts where politicians and opinion-formers gather to discuss what Ian delighted in calling “the course of men and events” . The style of the accounts blended seriousness of purpose and acute analysis with a lightness of touch, which brought extra resolution and laughter to Number 10 especially when the political swell was rough.

The early years contained many difficulties. The Rhodesian negotiations, the 1981 and 1982 Budgets and the Falklands War (Ian had visited the islands in the 1970s) all required especially close and sensitive handling with Parliament and the Party. It was at moments like this that Ian was in his element and at his unmatchable best—encouraging here, mollifying there, explaining issues to colleagues and anticipating difficulties with astuteness and flair.

Ian 's own office next to the Cabinet Room was where political news came first, to be sifted at speed. The surface of his desk was seldom visible yet the ‘in’ tray was always empty, a testament to Ian 's meticulous working regime honed during his days as a distinguished family solicitor.

Ian set standards as a PPS by which others will be judged for years and years to come—his political eyes and ears were sharp beyond measure and his iron will was unshakeable. These qualities coupled with warmth and humour, as well as an immense zest for life, made him invaluable.

In 1983, I came to the reluctant conclusion that the development of Ian 's political career required that he should cease to be my PPS and take on Ministerial office. I believe that Ian left Number 10 with equal reluctance. But he threw himself into his role as Minister for Housing and Construction with his characteristic energy and enthusiasm; and he quickly became known to, and made his impact on, those concerned with housing issues up and down the country.

In 1985, he moved on to the Treasury but before he had time to make his full contribution there he felt that he had to resign from the Government over the completion of the Anglo-Irish Agreement. His decision was a great sadness to me, although I recognised that it was consistent with the strength of his personal feelings and his adherence to his beliefs. Characteristically he did not let this disagreement affect his loyalty or his support for the Government.

Although I missed very much having Ian as a member of the Government in the last few years, he was always ready to show his personal support and friendship, particularly when times were difficult for me or other colleagues. It was at these moments above all that he showed the generosity and warmth of his spirit. I believe that he would have loved to be with us in Government. But he never allowed his personal disappointment to turn to bitterness or to interfere in any way with his personal loyalty and affection. He was a sure friend who could be trusted in all weathers and all circumstances; and he stood firm to his principles.

Now that he is no longer with us, there is a gap in all of our lives. It is difficult not to grieve for him, as well as for Jane and his sons. But Ian, of all people, would have been the first to have felt contempt for those who killed him and for the way that they killed him. And he would have been the first to urge us to hold unswervingly to our course.