Sir Julian Ridsdale

Independent-minded Conservative MP for Harwich
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The Independent Online

Julian Errington Ridsdale, politician: born 8 June 1915; MP (Conservative) for Harwich 1954-92; PPS to the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Colonies 1957-58; PPS to the Minister of State for Foreign Affairs 1958-60; Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Air 1962-64; Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Defence for the Royal Air Force 1964; CBE 1977; Kt 1981; married 1942 Paddy Bennett (DBE 1991; one daughter); died 22 July 2004.

A believer in operating behind the scenes rather than on the stage - "good government flourishes in the dark", he once observed - Julian Ridsdale probably did more to further Anglo-Japanese relations in the post-war period than any of his contemporaries.

His contribution was recognised when he was appointed to the Japanese Order of the Sacred Treasure in 1967 and raised to the Grand Cordon of the Order in 1990. Ironically, when serving as the Military Attaché at the British Embassy in Tokyo in 1940, he had been forced to make a hurried exit from the country, narrowly escaping arrest for spying.

Ridsdale served his Harwich constituents well over 38 years as their MP before standing down in 1992, but never made much impact in debate. Service as a junior minister in the governments of Harold Macmillan and Alec Douglas-Home could not mask the independence of mind that questioned the direction the Conservative government was taking and later made him an early supporter of Margaret Thatcher.

Although his aunt had married Stanley Baldwin, Julian Errington Ridsdale came of a Liberal family. His uncle Aurelian was the only Liberal to be elected for Brighton. He was educated at Brighton College preparatory school and Tonbridge, but, instead of going on to university, chose to attend Sandhurst and become a regular soldier. He sensed that war was coming and that politics could wait.

In 1935 he was commissioned into the Royal Norfolk Regiment and found himself posted to Gibraltar rather than taking part in the preventive war against Hitler. He allayed his boredom by studying Japanese and persuaded the War Office to let him study the language at Soas (the School of Oriental and African Studies of London University).

Two years at the Embassy in Tokyo were followed by service as GSO3 with the Far Eastern section of the General Staff 1941-43. After service with the Norfolk Regiment in Europe and North Africa, Ridsdale was posted to the Joint Staff Mission in Washington in 1945, ending the war as a Major.

He left the Army in 1946 and refused an offer to become a Liberal MP since he believed that co-operation between the Conservative and Liberal parties was essential. Instead he contested the London County Council elections unsuccessfully as a Conservative in 1949, and was adopted for Paddington North, but failed to take the seat, in the October 1951 election.

He was the joint choice of the Conservatives and Liberals to contest the seat at Harwich and he won it at a by-election in 1954, holding it at 10 general elections before indicating that he would not run in 1992. Representing a seat with a high proportion of the elderly and retired, he became a vehement critic of inflationary policies and a campaigner for rates reform. He also opposed Schedule A taxation on owner occupiers.

In 1961 he threatened to resign the whip if the Government did not stabilise the economy and he was a strong supporter of Selwyn Lloyd's pay pause. Shrewdly Macmillan made him the junior minister at the Air Ministry as part of the 1962 reshuffle in which Lloyd was sacked and when the Ministry of Defence came into being in 1964 Ridsdale became Under-Secretary for the Air Force.

In general, he stood on the right of the party, supporting capital punishment, opposing defence cuts and sanctions on Rhodesia. Ridsdale was essentially an economic liberal, opposed to subsidies for the nationalised coal industry, a believer in low tax and a staunch free trader. But he was also strongly in favour of employee share ownership and was delighted when elements of a Bill he had introduced to that end were reintroduced in a Healey budget after being talked out in the Commons. In 1959 he persuaded the Government to exempt invalid vehicles from road tax.

But Ridsdale will be best remembered for his staunch support for the Anglo-American alliance and his fascination with Japanese culture. The two went hand-in-hand. Attacks on Japan were regarded as a facet of anti-Americanism and he believed that the British should have accepted the apology for the war which the Japanese prime minister Shigeru Yoshida had given in 1954. He was critical of the unsympathetic reaction of the British people when the Emperor Hirohito died in 1989. President in 1962-64 and then Chairman of the Anglo-Japanese parliamentary group, he led parliamentary delegations to Japan in 1973, 1975 and 1977.

Ridsdale's advice was frequently sought by the Foreign Office, and he recalled with some pleasure that Margaret Thatcher had consulted him before undertaking her own visit to Japan in 1977 and that he had then been in Tokyo to greet her on her arrival. He made annual visits to the country, was a strong supporter of Japanese investment in Britain and from 1986 advised the Japanese construction firm Shimizu and the car manufacturers Nissan. In 1990 he persuaded Thatcher to back British participation in the Osaka Expo, with himself as Commissioner-General.

Ridsdale's judgement was not always sound. He campaigned enthusiastically for Edward du Cann to be made Chancellor of the Exchequer in 1973 and one of his business consultancies subsequently proved an embarrassment. He had advised the Bank of Credit and Commerce International (BCCI) since 1984, helping set up its Tokyo branch, but when it was accused of laundering drug money in 1988, he considered resigning. Instead, unwisely, he hung on and was forced to leave when the bank collapsed in 1991.

John Barnes