Good Politics Costs Less

By Lewis, John | Marketing, February 24, 1994 | Go to article overview

Good Politics Costs Less


Lewis, John, Marketing


Tim Sainsbury carries effortlessly the burdensome reputation of being the richest man in the House of Commons (reputedly worth more than [pound]100m). He is considered approachable, affable, humorous -- except it seems when he's having his snap taken. Marketing's photographer was unable to shift him from his favourite chair or his favoured cross-legged position, despite cajoling in the cause of a better picture. It seems, in true Thatcher style, Sainsbury's "not for turning".

He lost patience after two quick flashes and left our bewildered snapper to shoot an empty leather chair.

Though he's difficult to pin down, he was nevertheless very much the anchor man after Michael Heseltine's heart attack last year when he took over the running of the Board of Trade, and maintained the momentum of Heseltine's departmental reforms designed to make UK industry more competitive.

Colleagues describe him as a "safe pair of hands", a "shrewd cookie".

The Board of Trade President clearly trusts him completely. It was Sainsbury who made the Commons statement this month that BMW was taking over Rover. And when Heseltine was advised, on medical grounds, against making the set piece Tory Party conference speech last October, it was Sainsbury who stepped in.

His association with his boss goes back a long way. After he won the plush Hove seat in 1973, Sainsbury became an officer of the Tory backbench environment committee at the same time as Heseltine became Environment Secretary in 1979. Sainsbury went with him as his Parliamentary Private Secretary. He split only in 1983 when Heseltine went to the Ministry of Defence and he was given his first Government job, as a Whip.

Earlier influences include his father, Lord Sainsbury, who was a Liberal until he turned to Labour. Hugh Gaitskell made him a Labour life peer, but he late joined the SDP. Tim's brother John, Lord Sainsbury of Preston Candover, has just finished advising the Government on its deregulation bill. His cousin David was a prominent backer of the SDP.

Sainsbury's father and mother were divorced in 1939 and Timothy went to live with his mother near Eton. An interest in politics came late.

"My first election was in 1945. Until that time I don't think I was aware that my father was not a Conservative. Even when I went to university after National Service at 21, I was not particularly interested in politics." If there was a family influence on his early politics it was his mother, Doreen. She was chairman of the local Conservative ward association.

The young Sainsbury was educated at Lewes, Eton and then Worcester College, Oxford, where he played bridge and was Oxford's captain of winetasting. He says he has not tried to influence Sainsbury's supermarkets choice of wines "though I enjoy drinking them".

Like many others after the war, National Service came between school and university. He spent it in the Life Guards.

It was when he came down from Oxford in 1956 that his political interest was fired by the Suez crisis and the invasion of Hungary. He supported the Suez invasion while he thought Hungary was proof of the deadening hand of Communism. He became a member of the Tory Bow Group, was put on the GLC environmental planning committee and advised the Government on property.

In business, he joined the Sainsbury board in 1962, was responsible for development and stayed there until 1974 after being returned in the Hove by-election. …

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