Sir Anthony Meyer, 3rd Baronet


Sir Anthony Meyer, 3rd Baronet : biography

27 October 1920 – 24 December 2004

His liberalism made him almost untouchable in the Conservative party, and his applications to stand in six constituencies (including Windsor, where he lived) were rejected, but eventually fellow Old Etonian Nigel Birch recommended Meyer to replace him in the constituency of West Flintshire, in north-eastern Wales. He returned to Parliament at the 1970 General Election.

MP for West Flintshire

He became a popular MP in his new constituency, gaining a reputation for putting the interests of his constituency ahead of Conservative government policy, e.g. by voting against the closure of the Shotton steelworks, supporting the Airbus A300B whose wings some of his constituents built, against its all-British rival the BAC 3-11, while insisting on the importance of an effective pan-European technology. After Labour’s return to power in 1974, he opposed continued sanctions against the white minority government in Rhodesia, claiming that it was intended to transfer power "forcibly to a violent minority".

When the Conservative party returned to power under Margaret Thatcher in 1979, Meyer’s type of pro-Europeanism was at odds with the Euroscepticism of the bulk of the party. When his Flintshire West constituency’s boundaries were expanded and redrawn to form the Clwyd North West constituency in 1983, there was an attempt by local party activists to replace him with the more Thatcherite MEP, Beata Brookes, whom Meyer managed to defeat.

Failed leadership challenge

On 23 November 1989, at a time of both Thatcher’s and the Conservative Party’s waning popularity and shortly after Nigel Lawson’s resignation as chancellor, 69-year-old Meyer put himself forward as the pro-European stalking horse for the leadership of the Conservative Party, fully expecting that one of the more prominent pro-Europeans such as Sir Ian Gilmour or Michael Heseltine would take over the role; in the event, none of them did so, and Meyer had no illusions that he had any chance of success. He was derided as "Sir Anthony Whats’isname" by the pro-Thatcher Sun newspaper, who reported that he was the only Conservative MP to oppose the use of force to win back the Falkland Islands following the Argentine invasion of 1982 and had backed a number of Labour policies, including votes against Tory-led welfare benefit cuts and immigration issues. He was also slammed by the Daily Express as "Sir Nobody".

In the leadership election on 5 December, Meyer was defeated by 314 votes to 33, but when spoilt votes and abstentions were added it was discovered that 60 MPs – a full sixth of the parliamentary party – had failed to support Thatcher. As Meyer said, "people started to think the unthinkable", and Thatcher was ousted in November 1990 to be succeeded by John Major.

On 19 January 1990, Meyer was deselected as a candidate for the 1992 general election by the Clwyd North West constituency party for his "treachery", by a 2-1 majority. The deselection campaign was enlivened by a tabloid newspaper’s revelation that Meyer had for 26 years had an affair with black former model and blues singer, Simone Washington, who had kept a diary of their sex games. He and his wife Barbadee, could laugh about the affair, when the tabloid press telephoned, Meyer would call out "Darling, it’s someone from the Daily Sleaze asking about Simone".

Post-parliamentary career

After his forced career change in 1992 Meyer became policy director for the European Movement, and in 1998 he defected to the Pro-Euro Conservative Party before becoming a member of the Liberal Democrats. After 1999 he became a lecturer on European affairs until his death.