Tony Howard, establishment radical

Roy Hattersley pays tribute to the former <em>New Statesman</em> editor and leaker of secrets from S

An obituary - as Anthony Howard, who has died aged 76, would sternly remind me - should be an objective assessment of the subject's life and achievements, not a highly personal description of the author's sense of loss. But, for me, it is impossible to write about Tony's death without acknowledging the debt that I owe to him. For more than 40 years, he was the ungrudging source of help and advice: professional, political and personal. Throughout that time, his company never failed to delight me. With the exception of sport - at the mention of which he would go into a trance - he had something interesting and informative to say on every subject. It was the breadth of his knowledge, combined with an unassuming though unquestionable authority, that made him such a compelling broadcaster. It also made him as entertaining a companion as he was a true friend.

The obituaries quite rightly wrote of Tony as a journalist of genius. Had he chosen another trade - he would not allow his vocation to be called a profession - he would have done just as well. Perhaps he would have done even better. Stubborn integrity and an endearing inclination to give gratuitously frank opinions of his superiors were not traits that guaranteed success in what used to be called Fleet Street.

To Suez and back

There were occasions when he was reckless in expressing what he saw as the truth. Because I was writing for the paper that weekend, I was present when Howard, then deputy editor of the Observer, made a presentation to the editor, Donald Trelford, theoretically to mark ten years of service. It turned into a not very thinly disguised explanation of why the recipient was not up to the job - illustrated by the gift of a billiard cue that was intended to indicate the paper's increasing triviality. Had Howard waited, the top job at the Observer would have fallen into his lap. As it was, he lost his last chance to lead a national newspaper and a great editor was lost to British journalism.

Tony Howard was a complex man. Indeed, complexity was an important ingredient of his charm. He fitted as snugly into the metropolitan establishment as his background - Westminster School, Christ Church, Oxford, and the Royal Fusiliers, with a slightly irregular allegiance to the Church of England - suggested. But he was also a genuine radical. It was the bullying of Jewish boys at Westminster 60 years ago that made him a socialist who believed in the need to create a society free from prejudice and privilege.

It was his opposition to the Suez conspiracy and invasion that made him a journalist. Second Lieutenant Howard kept and sent to the New Statesman a diary of the invasion's folly. After its publication, he was spared a court martial because the general staff sensibly assumed that Howard in the witness box would only add to the damage he had done in print. From then on, although he had been called to the Bar and there were two brief flirtations with Labour politics, he was a journalist in his heart and in his head.

At Reynolds News, the long-forgotten Co-operative movement's Sunday paper, he made his name by exposing the fascist connections of Conservative constituency parties. As a result, he was offered a job on the (then Manchester) Guardian and worked in the northern newsroom with Michael Frayn and Michael Parkinson. After a spell in the US, he joined the New Statesman as political correspondent; he returned as editor between 1972 and 1978 after an unsuccessful attempt to expose the secrets of Whitehall for the Sunday Times and a joyous stint in Washington as correspondent for the Observer. It was there that I discovered his secret fault - highly selective hero worship. Robert McNamara lived close by. Whenever they met in the street, the usually composed Tony Howard radiated boyish delight. And, for years, he spoke of Richard Crossman in hushed tones of admiration.

After editing the Listener and his turbulent years at the Observer, Howard was appointed obituaries editor of the Times - a job with which, he announced, he had always wanted to end his career. Sceptics were confounded to discover that, when interviewing the young Peter Stothard 30 years earlier, he had told the future editor of the Times that he hoped that the obits page of the "Thunderer" would be his final destination.

Those of us who knew him understood why. Accuracy, a passion that often took the form of punctuating book reviews with the correction of minor errors, was essential. Good - plain rather than ostentatious - writing fitted the task exactly. The end result was a personalised form of contemporary history that allowed Howard to indulge his interest in obscure bishops and equally obscure politicians. Above all else, the quality of the result was determined by its integrity.

Nurturing talent

In print, Tony Howard was a hard man. In the rest of his life, he was gentle, considerate and wonderfully willing to promote and enjoy the success of others. He took great pride in encouraging young writers. Martin Amis, James Fenton, Julian Barnes, Robert Harris and Jonathan Dimbleby were all protégés of Howard. Bel Mooney wrote that she learned most of what she knew about writing from him.

His affection for his discoveries endured. At his 70th birthday party, it was neither Michael Heseltine nor Jeremy Isaacs - friends of 50 years from his Oxford days - who was invited to make the speech, but Harris. The gallery of talent that Tony nurtured remains part of his lasting memorial.

Roy Hattersley's most recent book is "David Lloyd George: the Great Outsider" (Little, Brown, £25).

This article first appeared in the 03 January 2011 issue of the New Statesman, The siege of Gaza

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Geoffrey Howe dies, aged 88

Howe was Margaret Thatcher's longest serving Cabinet minister – and the man credited with precipitating her downfall.

The former Conservative chancellor Lord Howe, a key figure in the Thatcher government, has died of a suspected heart attack, his family has said. He was 88.

Geoffrey Howe was the longest-serving member of Margaret Thatcher's Cabinet, playing a key role in both her government and her downfall. Born in Port Talbot in 1926, he began his career as a lawyer, and was first elected to parliament in 1964, but lost his seat just 18 months later.

Returning as MP for Reigate in the Conservative election victory of 1970, he served in the government of Edward Heath, first as Solicitor General for England & Wales, then as a Minister of State for Trade. When Margaret Thatcher became opposition leader in 1975, she named Howe as her shadow chancellor.

He retained this brief when the party returned to government in 1979. In the controversial budget of 1981, he outlined a radical monetarist programme, abandoning then-mainstream economic thinking by attempting to rapidly tackle the deficit at a time of recession and unemployment. Following the 1983 election, he was appointed as foreign secretary, in which post he negotiated the return of Hong Kong to China.

In 1989, Thatcher demoted Howe to the position of leader of the house and deputy prime minister. And on 1 November 1990, following disagreements over Britain's relationship with Europe, he resigned from the Cabinet altogether. 

Twelve days later, in a powerful speech explaining his resignation, he attacked the prime minister's attitude to Brussels, and called on his former colleagues to "consider their own response to the tragic conflict of loyalties with which I have myself wrestled for perhaps too long".

Labour Chancellor Denis Healey once described an attack from Howe as "like being savaged by a dead sheep" - but his resignation speech is widely credited for triggering the process that led to Thatcher's downfall. Nine days later, her premiership was over.

Howe retired from the Commons in 1992, and was made a life peer as Baron Howe of Aberavon. He later said that his resignation speech "was not intended as a challenge, it was intended as a way of summarising the importance of Europe". 

Nonetheless, he added: "I am sure that, without [Thatcher's] resignation, we would not have won the 1992 election... If there had been a Labour government from 1992 onwards, New Labour would never have been born."

Jonn Elledge is the editor of the New Statesman's sister site CityMetric. He is on Twitter, far too much, as @JonnElledge.