Lord Ridley, 'a great Englishman', dies

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The Independent Online
AT THE END, Lord Ridley of Liddesdale, the former cabinet minister whose death was announced yesterday, could not have hoped for a more fitting tribute than that paid to him by Baroness Thatcher. 'His contribution to our country was immense. Truly, he was a great Englishman,' she said.

The patrician Englishness of Nicholas Ridley, 64, who died from cancer at his Gloucestershire home on Thursday night, was one of the driving forces behind his political career. It was also his ultimate undoing as he poured out his heart over Germany to the editor of the Spectator in 1990, and was consequently forced to resign in one of the more dramatic exits from public life in recent years.

In that article, Ridley, then Trade and Industry Secretary, described the French as 'behaving like poodles to the Germans' over Europe, and said: 'I'm not against giving up sovereignty in principle, but not to this lot. You might just as well give it to Adolf Hitler, frankly.'

To friends, the remarks would not have been unfamiliar. He was well known for his opposition to European monetary union, and was vivid and rumbustious in the way he put this opposition across. But as the minister in charge of trade and industry, the public expression of these views could not be forgiven in the way of previous gaffes. He retired to the Lords after years of controversy, during which his public and private personae were always at odds.

In private, he was enormously respected and liked by colleagues, particularly his junior ministers and civil servants; he often gave them credit for his successes and shouldered the blame for their failures. But in public, his courteous side was not always on show. In the Commons, he often treated opponents with withering disdain, seldom conceding ground even in straightened circumstances.

There were many such difficulties. As a Foreign Office minister, he was criticised for his failure to anticipate the events in Argentina which led to the Falklands conflict. Within days of the Zeebrugge disaster, he was apologising about an 'inappropriate, inopportune and insensitive' remark about his junior minister piloting through a Bill 'with his bow doors open'.

As Secretary of State for the Environment, he took charge of the poll tax, and angered his party with his approach to building in open spaces. Despite criticising the Nimby mentality of his opponents - Not In My Back Yard - he was later discovered to have objected to plans by a farmer to build near his own home.

He also caused anger by suggesting that people sleeping rough in London should move to other towns, and advocating more golf courses and luxury houses to attract executives to the North.

The Prime Minister, John Major, said: 'He inspired great affection among those who worked closely with him.'

Obituary, page 48