Magazine article The Spectator

No Cynic Where It Mattered

Magazine article The Spectator

No Cynic Where It Mattered

Article excerpt

I've had a pretty good life. A bit dowdy and provincial compared to yours, but then I've hunted in twenty-four English counties which is more than you've ever done . . . still we had some good sport together on the backbenches. . . got it right on the big issues more often than not . . . so no regrets and no complaints . . . it's a bore having the pain which comes with my sort of cancer but it will be over soon . . . decent of you to ring.... G'bye.

Quintessential Budgen. My eyes were moist as his staccato phrases faded from this valedictory conversation, but his realism at death's door did not surprise me, for the Nick I admired for over a quarter of a century with just about equal measures of affection and exasperation rarely hesitated at a difficult fence and never lacked courage.

Hewn from the same quarry of West Midlands granite as his parliamentary predecessor, Enoch Powell, whom he succeeded in 1974, Nicholas Budgen swiftly made his mark in the House as a backbencher of acute intelligence and awkward independence. In opposition his mordant wit and penetrating questioning floored many a hapless Labour minister, and since he saw no reason to desist from his role as a critic of government policy just because his own party had won the 1979 election, it was unsurprising that early promotion should have eluded him.

The emergence of a second Wolverhampton wanderer scoring unwelcome goals against the first Thatcher government on issues such as immigration, public expenditure and Europe, caused the powers that be to have second thoughts about the wisdom of blackballing Budgen from the Treasury bench. So in 1981 he was persuaded to become an assistant whip, a post he stuck to for a year with exemplary outward loyalty but growing inner frustration.

No respecter of persons, yet with a paradoxical reverence for institutions, Budgen was ill-suited to be a minor functionary of the party machine. As a parliamentarian, however, he had few equals, particularly when exercising his skills in the arcane arts of points of order and interventions in ministerial speeches which he cast like the snare of the fowler. Armed with these talents, he flourished as soon as he returned to the backbenches in 1982, not only on account of his nuisance value, which was considerable, but also because on certain issues he was a stern, unbending man of principle. …

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