Lord Biffen of Tanat

Posted by Tory Historian Tuesday, August 14, 2007

By now most of our readers (certainly, on this side of the Pond) would have heard of the death of Lord Biffen of Tanat. He was 76 and has been seriously ill for some time.

His name would be familiar to anyone who is interested in the Thatcher premiership. The BBC sums up his career as follows:

Lord Biffen had been the MP for Oswestry from 1961 to 1983 when he won a by-election, then for Shropshire North from 1983 to 1997 when he was given a peerage.

He became chief secretary to the Treasury in 1979, moving on to be trade secretary in 1981 and then leader of the House of Commons until 1987.
He was a man of strong principles, a true free-marketeer, a eurosceptic, one who stood by his ideas and, in some ways, managed to rise above party politics. This, of course, can be seen as sinking below party loyalties. Biffen was, famously, sacked from the Cabinet in 1987, having been described by Bernard Ingham as being semi-detached.

John Biffen’s own description of Margaret Thatcher was that “she was a tigress surrounded by hamsters”.

In the House of Lords, to which he was elevated in 1997 he was a notable, almost brooding presence, taking a habitual strong line on the Treaties of Amsterdam and Nice, until his illness prevented him from coming to London.

Below is a tribute paid to him by his successor as MP for Shropshire North, Owen Paterson:
John Biffen was an exceptional man. He was MP for North Shropshire for thirty five years and people of all parties and all interests owe him a great debt. He was greatly admired as a constituency MP for his conscientious hard work, his judgement and his kindness to all, regardless of their political affiliation.

On the national stage, he was first and foremost a great Parliamentarian, still remembered as one of the finest Leaders of the House of the last fifty years. Liked and respected by both friends and opponents, he handled the House with fairness and a deft sense of humour. He was a staunch believer in the sovereignty of the House of Commons.

He played a key role in the revival of the Conservative Party’s fortunes in the 1970s as a member of Margaret Thatcher's inner circle, rethinking and developing the policies that led to eighteen years of Conservative Government and the transformation of Great Britain.However, to the end he was brave and independent-minded, never afraid to part company with the party line if he believed it to be wrong.

My thoughts go out to his wife Sarah and his stepchildren Lucy and Nicholas. She has always been a tower of strength and in particular, has looked after him with unfailing care in recent years as his health declined.
Tory Historian can add nothing more to that.


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