Ian Gow

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Ian Gow : biography

11 February 1937 – 30 July 1990

Through his association with Neave, Gow was introduced to the inner circles of the Conservative Party. He was appointed parliamentary private secretary to Margaret Thatcher in May 1979 at the time she became Prime Minister. While serving in this capacity between 1979 and 1983, Gow became a close friend and confidante of the Prime Minister. He was deeply involved in the workings of Thatcher’s private office. He held junior ministerial office between 1983 and 1985, first as Minister for Housing and Construction and later at the Treasury. Although later identified with the right-wing of the Party, he took a liberal position on some issues. He visited Rhodesia at the time of UDI and was subsequently critical of that country’s white minority regime. As an MP, Gow consistently voted against the restoration of the death penalty. As Minister of State for Housing and Construction (from 1983 to June 1985) he showed a willingness to commit public funds to housing projects that alarmed some on the right-wing of the Conservative party. "After taking what was perhaps too principled a stand in a complex dispute over Housing Improvement Grants, he was moved sideways to the post of minister of state at the Treasury".

From 1982, Conservative policy began to move towards a more even handed position on Northern Ireland. In November 1985, Gow was persuaded by the speeches his cousin Nicholas Budgen made to resign as Minister of State in HM Treasury over the signing of the Anglo-Irish Agreement.A Secret History of the IRA, Ed Moloney, 2002; 9PB ISBN 0-393-32502-4 (HB) ISBN 0-7139-9665-X; p.336 This would ultimately lead to devolved government for Northern Ireland, power sharing in the province and engagement with the Republic. After his resignation from the government, Gow became chairman of the parliamentary Conservative backbench committee on Northern Ireland. He was a leading opponent of any compromise with republicans.

Although he was opposed to the broadcasting of Parliamentary debates, on 21 November 1989, Gow made history by becoming the first MP to deliver a speech in the British House of Commons with television cameras present. Gow was moving the Loyal Address at the opening of Parliament. In his speech, Gow referred to a letter he had received from a firm of consultants who had offered to improve his personal appearance and television image, making a few self-deprecating jokes about his baldness.Enemy of TV has say, The Times, 22 November 1989 Democracy Live, BBC News, 31 October 2009

In spite of his disagreement with the direction in which Government policy on Northern Ireland was moving, Gow remained on close terms with Thatcher. In November 1989, he worked in Thatcher’s leadership election campaign against the stalking horse candidate, Sir Anthony Meyer. But it was reported that by the time of his death he believed Thatcher’s premiership had reached a logical end and that she should retire. Gow enjoyed friendships with people of various political persuasions, including left-wing Labour MP Tony Banks.Andrew Roth and Byron Criddle’s Parliamentary A-Z (1989)

Aftermath

Evaluations of Gow’s political career by obituarists were mixed in tone. All commented on his personal charm and his skills in public speaking and political manoeuvre. But his obituary in The Times stated, "It could not be said that his resignation in 1985 cut short a brilliant ministerial career".The Times, 31 July 1990 A tendency toward political intrigue (for example, trying to covertly undermine Jim Prior’s Northern Ireland initiative after 1982) made him some enemies. Nicholas Budgen commented that Gow’s personal devotion to Thatcher may not have been good for Thatcher or her government.

Gow’s widow Jane was appointed a DBE in 1990 and thus became Dame Jane Gow. On 4 February 1994, she re-married in West Somerset findmypast.co.uk to Lt-Col. Michael Whiteley, and became known as Dame Jane Whiteley. She continues to promote the life and work of her first husband.

When the Eastbourne by-election for his seat in the House of Commons was won by the Liberal Democrat David Bellotti, the Conservative MP Ann Widdecombe sent a message to voters saying that the IRA would be "toasting their success".Andrew Roth "Ask Aristotle", guardian.co.uk, 20 March 2001

Early life

Ian Gow was born at 3 Upper Harley Street, London, the son of Alexander Edward Gow, a prominent London doctor attached to St Bartholomew’s Hospital who died in 1952. Ian Gow was educated at Winchester College, where he was president of the debating society. During a period of national service from 1955-58 he was commissioned in the 15th/19th Hussars and served in Northern Ireland, Germany and Malaya. He served in the territorial army until 1976, reaching the rank of Major.

After completing national service he took up a career in the law and qualified as a solicitor in 1962. He eventually became a partner in the London practice of Joynson-Hicks and Co.Obituary, The Times, 31 July 1990 He also became a Conservative Party activist. He stood for Parliament in the Coventry East constituency for the 1964 general election, but lost to Richard Crossman. He then stood for the Clapham constituency, a Labour held London marginal seat, in the 1966 general election. An account in The Times of his candidature described him in the following terms: He is a bachelor solicitor, aged 29, wearing his public school manner as prominently as his rosette. Words such as "overpowering", "arrogant", and "bellicose" are used to describe him.Key seats, The Times, 19 March 1966

After failing to take Clapham Political Science Resources, 13 February 2010 he continued his quest to find a seat. He eventually succeeded at Eastbourne in 1972 after the local Party de-selected its sitting member, Sir Charles Taylor. Sir Charles had represented Eastbourne since 1935 and did not take kindly to Gow."More trouble for Tories at Eastbourne", The Times, 11 February 1972