Howard Flight: a man with a record for right-wing soundbites
Self-made millionaire was sacked for controversial views in 2005
Friday 26 November 2010
Howard Flight cannot have spent much time in close proximity to anyone who is working-class. His upbringing, education, profession and political career have all generally kept him away from the sort of people he thinks are being encouraged by the welfare state to "breed" – which allows him to pass judgement with a confidence born of ignorance.
The 62-year-old prospective peer has described himself in the past as an "Essex boy", which gives the misleading impression of a working-class boy made good, a sort of Tory version of Alan Sugar.
He may have been made to feel a bit downmarket as a teenager when he arrived at Magdalen College, Cambridge, which was dominated by boys from the major public schools. Though his folks were not posh, they were comfortably middle class. His father was head of the Westminster Bank's Trustee department for East Anglia, and he grew up in Romford, part of the middle-class belt of Essex.
He was educated at Brentwood School, then what was called a "direct grant" school. Most of its pupils were charged fees. A minority were admitted for free after passing their 11-plus. If Mr Flight ever experienced financial worries when he was young, he had shed them by the time he was elected Conservative MP for Arundel and South Downs, in West Sussex, in 1997.
He had discovered a valuable talent for investing his own and other people's money profitably. Having worked for N M Rothschild and other merchant banks, in 1986 he went into business with Tim Guinness, the great-great-great grandson of Arthur Guinness, founder of the brewery, to set up the fund manager, Guinness Flight, which was bought in 1998 by a South African firm, Investec, as part of a complicated deal reputedly worth £95m.
One of his distinguishing features during his eight years as an MP was the length of his entry in the Register of Members' Interests, where, under the heading of "remunerated directorships", he declared his membership of no fewer than 19 company boards, of which 16 had "Flight" in their names.
With a self-generated fortune said to be around £6.5m, a home with a 70-acre garden in Worcestershire and another home in France, he was not one of those MPs desperate for a ministerial job to make needs meet.
Having first arrived in 1997, as MP for Arundel and South Downs, in West Sussex – the seventh safest Tory seat in the country – he knew that the Conservatives were in for a long period of opposition. This freedom from career ambitions allowed him to speak more frankly than most politicians struggling up the greasy pole – until the day he inadvisedly opened his mouth and brought his political career to a crashing halt.
Michael Howard, who was then leader of the Conservative Party, planned to fight the 2005 general election on a promise to reduce public spending by £35bn a year, which the Tories claimed to be able to do by cutting waste without hitting public services. It was essential to Mr Howard's strategy that everyone on the Tory front bench stuck to this message.
But with his sharp financial brain and hard right-wing opinions, Mr Flight privately thought this was nonsense. He was recorded telling the Conservative Way Forward group that the plans had been "sieved" to make them politically saleable. This so enraged the prickly Mr Howard that he not only immediately sacked Mr Flight from his post as the party's deputy chairman, but also ended his Commons career by barring him from standing again as a Tory candidate.
This was greatly resented in Arundel, where Mr Flight was a popular local MP, and among people on the right of the Conservative Party, who thought he was being victimised for saying something that needed saying.
David Cameron's decision to bring him back as a Conservative peer was bound to please the right of the party and its wealthy backers in the City of London, but it was also a risk. This morning Mr Cameron must be wondering whether the risk was worth it.
Flight's other interests
Howard Flight has always believed that MPs should have other interests, to keep them in touch. While he was an MP, his outside interests included:
* Nineteen directorships, the main one as paid deputy chairman of Guinness Flight Hambro Asset Management Ltd
* Sixteen of the companies of which he was a director had 'Flight' in their names
* Whenever he wrote for a newspaper or went on radio or television, the fee was paid into a family firm called Halliday Flight Halliday Ltd
* He had a house and 70 acres of rented farmland in Worcestershire, and half owned a small farmhouse in France
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