Obituary: Andrew Holmes
Monday 04 October 1993
A POWERFUL writer and a single-minded journalist, Andrew Holmes dominated the debate over electricity privatisation in the United Kingdom. His was a uniquely clear and principled voice in a discussion too often marked by equivocation and muddle.
From the moment in March 1988 that Cecil Parkinson announced the government's plan to divide up and sell off the electricity supply industry, Holmes's Power in Europe newsletter became required reading for the hundreds of merchant bankers, stockbrokers, civil servants and others who suddenly needed to understand this most complex business. Not only was PiE the sole publication in the UK that addressed the strategic and commercial issues at stake, but Holmes supplied a steady stream of scoops and analysis which usually kept his readers one step ahead of the evolving privatisation plan.
The electricity sell-off was a prime example of politicians and civil servants making it up as they went along. Holmes was not alone in seeing through the frailty of the original plan, especially the assumption that private investors would buy the nuclear power stations. But he exposed the shoddiness of the Government's thinking with unmatched ferocity.
His journalism was always informed by a strong moral purpose. He referred to himself jokingly as a Stalinist, although in truth he was an old-fashioned Scottish Labour man who believed that it would be criminal to leave certain matters, such as the provision of electricity, to the vagaries of the market.
Andy Holmes was born in Greenock and educated at Stirling University, where he took a First in English. His father, an engineer who worked on the construction of several Scottish power stations, died of cancer at a relatively early age. Holmes's suspicion of nuclear power dated from this time, although his emotional opposition was always supported by good information and hard reasoning.
Holmes worked for three years as a press officer in the Department of Energy, before joining the Financial Times's newsletter group in 1982. He proved himself a reliable and imaginative editor, taking delight in exposing the inefficiencies and vast hidden costs of Europe's nuclear power programmes. Power in Europe was conceived and launched by him in 1987.
Although sometimes dour in appearance, Holmes was the gentlest of men. His natural diffidence was transformed by his love for his wife, Claire, and for their two children. His sense of humour and fairness led to unlikely interests. Proust, Dickens and classical music were not surprising tastes in a serious-minded Scotsman, but his devotion to country-and-western music and the obituaries of retired British army officers at first astonished even his friends. Once, after recovering from his first brain tumour in 1990, this dyed-in-the- wool Presbyterian crossed himself with holy water on a visit to Worth Abbey, in East Sussex.
In his last months as editor of PiE, it became clear that most of Britain's remaining coal mines would be closed as a result of the privatised generators' choice of gas as a fuel. Holmes was constantly on television presenting the case for the defence. The economic arguments were secondary to the need to preserve what he, and many others, regarded as the decent order of things in Britain.
Andy Holmes knew by the end of 1992 that the battle to preserve the mines was lost, as he knew that the cancer he had struggled against was gaining on him. In both battles he fought hard, and gallantly.
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