A Safe Pair of Hands

By Salisbury, Robert | The Spectator, October 4, 2008 | Go to article overview

A Safe Pair of Hands


Salisbury, Robert, The Spectator


A POLITICAL SUICIDE: THE CONSERVATIVES' VOYAGE INTO THE WILDERNESS by Norman Fowler Politico's, £14.99, pp. 238, ISBN 9781842752272 £11.99 (plus £2.45 p&p) 0870 429 6655 To write a political memoir is difficult.

Too bland, too afraid to be rude about former colleagues, you risk boring the general reader while disappointing your publisher. Too critical, you lose the few friends among your former colleagues you have left, while appearing spiteful and embittered to the general reader. We can all think of examples of ex-ministers in both categories. Nigel Lawson is one of the few among late-20thcentury politicians who have avoided both Pooh-traps and produced a memoir which is near to being required reading for the interested amateur.

Norman Fowler is no Nigel Lawson.

This reviewer never knew him as more than a passing acquaintance, even when he was a colleague in the dog days of the last Tory government and briefly in the early days in opposition after 1997. He has had a long and distinguished career as a minister and as a servant of the Conservative party. He served in the Thatcher cabinet both at Transport and as Health and Social Services Secretary, and as party chairman after the 1992 election. He is the man who coined the phrase that he was resigning 'to spend more time with my family'.

He is one of the few who, in uttering it, were telling the truth. He was generally well-liked, competent, loyal, middle-ofthe-road, quiet, unflashy. It is difficult to imagine that he ever harboured ambitions beyond the cabinet. Indeed, at one point in this book, he confesses that once he had hoped to be home secretary. It probably did him no harm that he had been at Cambridge with so many of those who came to grace both the Thatcher and Major cabinets. No wonder prime ministers and party leaders repeatedly sought his services. He was that rare but essential commodity, a safe pair of hands. As he says, Margaret Thatcher saw him as a good defender.

The book is consistent with the man.

As you would expect from a former Times journalist, the prose is workmanlike and his account of the events he describes, clear. He eschews gossip. There is a whiff of truth in his self-description as a 'media Jeeves for the politicallyoppressed'. …

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