Paul Williams: Right-wing Conservative MP who resigned the whip over Suez and later chaired the Monday Club
Friday 03 October 2008
Paul Williams entered the House of Commons in 1953 at the age of 30, winning a by-election for the Conservatives in Sunderland. It was the first time that the governing party had gained a seat in a by-election since 1924.
But his thinking was never in tune with the way in which the central ground in British politics was moving and inevitably he found himself at odds with the Conservative leadership. He was one of the Suez rebels and resigned the whip in May 1957. After the whip was restored, he became something of a thorn in the Government's side over state aid to industries, but his major points of difference were over the Government's rush to decolonisation and its application to join the European Economic Community.
Following his defeat at the 1964 general election, he became Chairman of the Monday Club, and, contrary to many people's expectations, sought to steer its natural sympathies for the Ian Smith regime in Southern Rhodesia into more constructive paths. Nevertheless he found himself blocked from contesting the 1966 election and instead embraced an active and successful business career. Although he stood down from the chairmanship of the Monday Club in 1969, he continued to be a leading figure in attempts to prevent Britain's entry into Europe.
Williams was born in 1922 and educated at Marlborough College and Trinity Hall, Cambridge. He won a half blue for Athletics and was secretary of the University Conservative Association. On graduating in 1942 he joined the RAF and flew with Transport Command, ending the Second World War as a Flight Lieutenant.
His first acquaintance with politics came when he used a period of leave in 1945 to help in that year's election, and that seems to have stirred his own political ambitions. However, he built a business career on Tyneside, importing timber and exporting steel tubes. He had close business ties with South Africa and became a director of South African Cordage from 1947 to 1954. He married Barbara Hardy in 1947; two daughters were born but the couple divorced in 1964.
Williams fought Newcastle East in 1950 and was then selected to fight Sunderland South. In October 1951 he reduced the Labour majority from over 5,000 to 306, and when the Labour MP died 18 months later, he won the by-election in May 1953 by 1,175 votes. His maiden speech was devoted to a defence of the Federation that the Churchill government had established in Rhodesia and Nyasaland, calling it a "great new British venture in democratic development." It was a presage of things to come.
Williams soon fell out with the Government. In November 1953 he told the Commons that it was imperative that British troops remained in the Canal Zone to protect the Suez Canal and he went on to advocate British pressure on the Egyptian government to reopen the canal to Israeli shipping. In December he signed the motion for suspending negotiations with Egypt and became a member of the "Suez Group".
At first the rebels enjoyed covert sympathy from the Prime Minister, but when he changed his mind about the usefulness of the base in a nuclear war, the rebels were on their own. The decision to evacuate the base was taken in July 1954 and Williams was one of 13 MPs to vote against his party. He remained critical of the architect of the agreement, Anthony Eden, and when the latter became Prime Minister, he applauded the Daily Telegraph's call for "the smack of firm government", observing early in 1956 that it had yet to be felt.
Williams saw the retention of Britain's position in the Middle East as the test of whether she would remain great, and was therefore a staunch backer of the Prime Minister as the Suez Crisis developed. He insisted that Egypt was in breach of international law because it barred the canal against the Israelis, and he backed the British intervention. When the Americans forced an end to the operation and a withdrawal of British forces, he became an increasingly vocal critic of the US administration, describing it as "more anti-colonial than anti-Communist" and concluded that "our prime enemy in the Middle East is not Communism but the United States."
When the Government decided to withdraw from Suez he was one of 15 MPs to abstain on a vote of confidence, and he watched with increasing despair as the Government continued to appease the US and ended by capitulating to Nasser's terms. In disgust eight Conservatives resigned the whip, Williams among them.
He was one of five Members who successfully sought restoration of the whip in June 1958 and was re-elected for a second time in October 1959, but he remained an irritant to the Government. As the intention became clear to dismantle the colonial presence in Africa as speedily as possible, Williams was one of those resolved to fight the move. His conflicts with the leadership soon extended to another front as the Government decided in July 1961 to apply for membership of the EEC, and Williams warned of the dangers to national sovereignty.
Williams lost his seat by 1,566 votes in October 1964, and a month later he was elected Chairman of the Monday Club, which had been founded in 1961 to resist Iain Macleod's policies in Africa. He had called for immediate independence for Southern Rhodesia, but once in office he proved more moderate than many of the club's supporters. When the Smith government in Southern Rhodesia declared UDI, he coupled pressure for a re-opening of negotiations with resistance to overt support for Smith's actions.
Nevertheless he found his path back into the House blocked. He had given his backing to a former ally in the Suez Group, Angus Maude, when the latter resigned from the front bench, and had claimed that the party in Parliament appeared "to be neither Conservative nor an opposition... we must oppose socialism, not condone it." In response, Edward Heath declared his thorough disagreement with Williams' views. "They are not the views of the modern Tory party, nor the views of the great majority of people in this country."
Thereafter, Williams concentrated on his business career, among other ventures becoming the chairman of a hotel and restaurant group, Mount Charlotte Investments, restoring its fortunes and attracting widespread praise in the City.
His political career virtually came to an end in 1969 when he resigned the chairmanship of the Monday Club, although not before he had transformed it into an influential pressure group on the right of the party, campaigning on a range of issues, including opposition to Labour's plans for House of Lords reform and withdrawal from East of Suez. In contrast to his earlier views, he also led a Grosvenor Square demonstration in support of the US over the Vietnam war.
His term of office drew to a close amid controversy over the club's support for Enoch Powell. In his final chairman's address in April 1969, Williams called for "patriotism and moral rejuvenation, and a return for self-respect in the individual and the nation". When he stood down the following October he gave two reasons: his business commitments and his wish to concentrate on opposition to any new bid for membership of the EEC. He remained on the executive until 1973.
Paul Glyn Williams, politician and businessman: born 14 November 1922; MP (Conservative) for Sunderland South 1953-64 (Independent Conservative 1957-58); Chairman, Monday Club 1964-69; chairman and managing director, Mount Charlotte Investments 1966-77; married 1947 Barbara Hardy (two daughters, marriage dissolved), 1964 Gillian Foote (one daughter); died 10 September 2008.
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