Geoffrey Howe: Wikis


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The Right Honourable
 The Lord Howe of Aberavon 

In office
24 July 1989 – 1 November 1990
Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher
Preceded by William Whitelaw
Succeeded by Michael Heseltine

In office
24 July 1989 – 1 November 1990
Preceded by John Wakeham
Succeeded by John MacGregor

In office
11 June 1983 – 24 July 1989
Preceded by Francis Pym
Succeeded by John Major

In office
4 May 1979 – 11 June 1983
Preceded by Denis Healey
Succeeded by Nigel Lawson

Born 20 December 1926 (1926-12-20) (age 83)
Port Talbot, Wales, UK
Political party Conservative

Richard Edward Geoffrey Howe, Baron Howe of Aberavon, CH, QC, PC (born 20 December 1926) is a British Conservative politician. He was Margaret Thatcher's longest-serving Cabinet minister, successively holding the posts of Chancellor of the Exchequer, Foreign Secretary, and finally Leader of the House of Commons and Deputy Prime Minister.

His resignation on 1 November 1990 is widely considered to have hastened Thatcher's own downfall three weeks later, in perhaps the most dramatic period of British Conservative politics in recent times.


Early life

Geoffrey Howe was born in 1926 at Port Talbot in Wales. A pupil of the Bridgend Preparatory School, Bryntirion, he then attended Abberley Hall School, Worcestershire and Winchester College. He then did National Service as a Lieutenant with the Royal Corps of Signals in East Africa, by his own account giving political lectures in Swahili about how Africans should avoid communism and remain loyal to "Bwana Kingy George". Having declined an offer to remain in the army as a captain, he went up to Trinity Hall, Cambridge, where he read Law and was chairman of the Cambridge University Conservative Association, and on the committee of the Cambridge Union Society. He was called to the Bar in 1952 and was made a QC in 1965. He stood as the Conservative Party candidate in Aberavon at the 1955 and 1959 general elections, losing in a very safe Labour Party seat. He became chairman of the Bow Group, an internal Conservative think tank of 'young modernisers' in the 1960s, and edited its magazine Crossbow.

Member of Parliament

Howe represented Bebington in the House of Commons from 1964 to 1966, Reigate from 1970 to 1974, and East Surrey from 1974 to 1992. In 1970 he was knighted and appointed Solicitor General in Edward Heath's government, and in 1972 became Minister of State at the Department of Trade and Industry, with a seat in the Cabinet, a post he held until Labour took power in March 1974.


Shadow Cabinet

In Opposition between 1974 and 1979, Howe contested the second ballot of the 1975 Conservative leadership election, in which Margaret Thatcher was elected, and then was appointed by Thatcher as Shadow Chancellor of the Exchequer. He masterminded the development of new economic policies embodied in an Opposition mini-manifesto The Right Approach to the Economy. Labour Chancellor Denis Healey described being attacked by Howe (at the time the Conservative shadow Chancellor) as "like being savaged by a dead sheep".

In government

With Conservative victory in the 1979 general election, Howe became Chancellor of the Exchequer himself. His tenure was characterised by radical policies to correct the public finances, reduce inflation and liberalise the economy. The shift from direct to indirect taxation, the development of a Medium-Term Financial Strategy, the abolition of exchange controls and the creation of tax-free enterprise zones were among important decisions of his Chancellorship. Howe's famous 1981 Budget defied conventional economic wisdom at the time by deflating the economy at a time of recession. At the time, his decision was fiercely criticised by 364 academic economists in a letter to The Times, who contended that there was no place for de-stimulatory policies in the economic climate of the time, remarking the Budget had "no basis in economic theory or supporting evidence". Many signatures were prominent members of the academic sphere, including now-Governor of the Bank of England, Mervyn King.

The logic in his proposals was that by reducing the deficit, and controlling inflation, long term interest rates would be able to decline, thus re-stimulating the economy. The budget did reduce inflation from 11.9% in Spring 1981 to 3.8% in February 1983. Long-term interest rates also declined from 14% in 1981 to 10% in 1983.[1] The economy slowly climbed out of recession. However, unemployment, already extremely high, was pushed to a 50 year high of 12% by 1984, narrowly avoiding the figure reached during the Great Depression of 13.5%. Some have argued that the budget, although ultimately successful, was ultimately over the top.[2]

Unlike Reaganomics, his macro-economic policy emphasised the need to narrow the budget deficit rather than engage in unilateral tax cuts. His micro-economic policy was designed to liberalise the economy and promote supply-side reform. This combination of policies became one of the defining features of Thatcherism in power. Some commentators regard Howe as the most successful Chancellor of his era.

Foreign Secretary

After the 1983 general election Thatcher appointed Howe Foreign Secretary, a post he held for six years. He became in effect the ambassador for a Britain whose international stature had been revived by the growing success of the 'Thatcher revolution'. He played an important part in reasserting the role of the five permanent members of the UN Security Council, and developed a strong working relationship with US Secretary of State George Schultz, paralleling the bond of Reagan and Thatcher. His tenure was made difficult, however, by growing behind-the-scenes tensions with the Prime Minister on a number of issues, first on South Africa and then on Britain's relations with the European Community. In June 1989, Howe, and his successor as Chancellor, Nigel Lawson, secretly threatened to both resign over Thatcher's opposition to British membership in the exchange rate mechanism of the European Monetary System.

Deputy Prime Minister

In the following month of July 1989, the little-known John Major was unexpectedly appointed to replace Howe as Foreign Secretary, and the latter became Leader of the House of Commons, Lord President of the Council and Deputy Prime Minister. In the reshuffle, Howe was also offered, but turned down, the post of Home Secretary. Although attempts were made to present it positively, Howe's move back to domestic politics was generally seen as a demotion, especially after Thatcher's press secretary Bernard Ingham belittled the significance of the Deputy Prime Minister appointment at his morning lobby briefing the following day. The personal insult to Howe was compounded by having to give up the Foreign Secretary's country residence Chevening. The sceptical attitude towards Howe in Number 10 weakened him politically — even if it may have been driven to some degree by fear of him as a possible successor — a problem compounded by the resignation from the Treasury of his principal ally Nigel Lawson later in the same year. During his time as Deputy Prime Minister, Howe made a series of coded calls on Thatcher to re-position her administration, which was suffering rising unpopularity because of opposition to the Poll Tax, as a 'listening government'.


With pressures mounting on Thatcher, Howe resigned from the Cabinet on 1 November 1990 — in the aftermath of the Prime Minister's position at the Rome European Council meeting the previous weekend, at which she had declared for the first time that Britain would never enter a single currency — writing a cautiously-worded letter of resignation in which he criticised Thatcher's overall handling of UK relations with the European Union. After largely successful attempts by Number 10 to claim that there were differences only of style, rather than substance, in Howe's disagreement with Thatcher on Europe, Howe chose to send a powerful message of dissent. In the famous resignation speech in the Commons on 13 November, he attacked Thatcher for running increasingly serious risks for the future of the country and chastised her for undermining the policies on EMU proposed by her own Chancellor and Governor of the Bank of England. He offered a striking cricket metaphor for British negotiations on EMU in Europe: "It is rather like sending your opening batsmen to the crease, only for them to find, as the first balls are being bowled, that their bats have been broken before the game by the team captain". He called on others to "consider their own response to the tragic conflict of loyalties with which I have myself wrestled for perhaps too long". Although Howe said subsequently that his intention was only to constrain any shift in European policy by the Cabinet under the existing Prime Minister, his dramatic speech is widely seen as the key catalyst for the leadership challenge of Michael Heseltine a few days later, as well as Thatcher's subsequent resignation as Prime Minister and party leader on 22 November 1990, after failing to win an outright vote on the first ballot.


Howe retired from the House of Commons in 1992 and was made a life peer as Baron Howe of Aberavon of Tandridge in the County of Surrey. He published his memoirs "Conflict of Loyalty" (Macmillan, 1994) soon after. In the Lords, Howe has continued to speak on a wide range of foreign-policy and European issues, and more recently led opposition to the Labour government's plan to convert the second chamber into a largely elected body.

In his early retirement, Howe took on a number of non-executive directorships in business and advisory posts in law and academia, including as international political adviser to the US law firm Jones Day, a director of Glaxo and J P Morgan, and visitor at the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London. His wife Elspeth Howe, a former Chairman of the Broadcasting Standards Commission, was made a life peer in 2001, as Baroness Howe of Idlicote. They are one of the few couples to both hold titles in their own right. Lord Howe is a patron of the UK Metric Association.

Howe was a close personal friend of Ian Gow, the former MP, parliamentary private secretary, and personal confidant of Margaret Thatcher. He delivered the principal appreciation of Gow at the latter's memorial service after Gow was murdered by the IRA.


  • Mr Geoffrey Howe (1926–1964)
  • Mr Geoffrey Howe, MP (1964–1965)
  • Mr Geoffrey Howe, QC MP (1965–1966)
  • Mr Geoffrey Howe, QC (1966–1970)
  • Sir Geoffrey Howe, QC MP (1970–1972)
  • The Rt. Hon. Sir Geoffrey Howe, QC MP (1974–1992)
  • The Rt. Hon. The Lord Howe of Aberavon, PC QC (1992–1996)
  • The Rt. Hon. The Lord Howe of Aberavon, CH PC QC (1996-)


External links

Parliament of the United Kingdom
Preceded by
Hendrie Oakshott
Member of Parliament for Bebington
Succeeded by
Edwin Brooks
Preceded by
John Vaughan-Morgan
Member of Parliament for Reigate
1970Feb 1974
Succeeded by
George Gardiner
Preceded by
William Clark
Member of Parliament for East Surrey
Feb 19741992
Succeeded by
Peter Ainsworth
Legal offices
Preceded by
Sir Arthur Irvine
Solicitor General for England and Wales
1970 – 1972
Succeeded by
Sir Michael Havers
Political offices
Preceded by
Denis Healey
Chancellor of the Exchequer
1979 – 1983
Succeeded by
Nigel Lawson
Preceded by
Francis Pym
Foreign Secretary
1983 – 1989
Succeeded by
John Major
Title last held by
William Whitelaw
Deputy Prime Minister of the United Kingdom
1989 – 1990
Title next held by
Michael Heseltine
Preceded by
John Wakeham
Lord President of the Council
1989 – 1990
Succeeded by
John MacGregor
Leader of the House of Commons
1989 – 1990


Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From Wikiquote

Richard Edward Geoffrey Howe, Baron Howe of Aberavon, CH, PC, QC (born 20 December, 1926), known until 1992 as Sir Geoffrey Howe, is a senior British Conservative politician. He was Margaret Thatcher's longest-serving Cabinet minister, successively holding the posts of Chancellor of the Exchequer, Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, and finally Leader of the House of Commons and Deputy Prime Minister. His resignation on 1 November 1990 is widely thought to have hastened Thatcher's own downfall three weeks later, in perhaps the most dramatic period of British Conservative politics in recent times.


  • The well-being of the British people and the health of our economy are far more important than any government's commitment to a particular strategy, but to change course now would be fatal to the whole counter-inflation strategy.
    • "Chancellor determined not to change course in the fight against inflation", The Times, 11 March 1981, p. 6.
    • 1981 budget speech.
  • Denis Healey: Can he assure us there is no question of American military intervention as this could only make the situation worse?
    Sir Geoffrey Howe: There is no question of that.
    • "British and American warships standing by", The Times, 25 October 1983, p. 4.
    • Answering a question on Grenada in the House of Commons, 24 October 1983. The United States invaded that night.
  • In this case, the United States had particular reason to consult most closely with those Caribbean countries which had called on it to help resolve the crisis. Nevertheless, their lack of consultation was regrettably less than we would have wished.
    • "Foreign Secretary regrets lack of consultation by US", The Times, 27 October 1983; p. 4.
    • Remarks in the House of Commons, 26 October 1983, on the United States' decision to invade Grenada (a Commonwealth country) without consultation with the United Kingdom.
  • How on earth are the Chancellor and the Governor of the Bank of England, commending the 'Hard ECU' as they strive to, to be taken as serious participants in the debate against that kind of background noise? I believe that both the Chancellor and the Governor are cricketing enthusiasts, so I hope that there is no monopoly of cricketing metaphors. It is rather like sending your opening batsmen to the crease only for them to find, the moment the first balls are bowled, that their bats have been broken before the game by the team captain.
    • Hansard, House of Commons, 6th series, vol. 180 col. 464.
    • Personal statement in the House of Commons on his resignation, 13 November 1990.
  • The conflict of loyalty, of loyalty to my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister--and, after all, in two decades together that instinct of loyalty is still very real--and of loyalty to what I perceive to be the true interests of the nation, has become all too great. I no longer believe it possible to resolve that conflict from within this Government. That is why I have resigned. In doing so, I have done what I believe to be right for my party and my country. The time has come for others to consider their own response to the tragic conflict of loyalties with which I have myself wrestled for perhaps too long.
    • Hansard, House of Commons, 6th series, vol. 180 col. 465.
    • Conclusion of personal statement in the House of Commons on his resignation, 13 November 1990. Howe's invitation to "others to consider their own response" was interpreted as a direct call to Michael Heseltine to challenge Margaret Thatcher for the leadership of the Conservative Party.


  • I start with the measures which the Government announced last Thursday, and which are the immediate occasion of today's debate, and to which the right hon. Gentleman finally came round – a trifle nervously, I thought - after ploughing through that tedious and tendentious farrago of moth-eaten cuttings presented to him by the Conservative Research Department. I must say that part of his speech was rather like being savaged by a dead sheep.
    • Hansard, House of Commons, 5th series, vol. 951 col. 1027.
    • Denis Healey, Howe's opposite number as Chancellor of the Exchequer in the Labour government, speaking in the House of Commons on 14 June, 1978.

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