Obituary: Henry Usborne

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The Independent Online
Henry Usborne was an Englishman of a type now rare; a politician who neither thought factional politics the most profound form of public service, nor the nation state the best instrument for its expression. He took his sturdy independence with him into the House of Commons in 1945, and brought it out intact 14 years later. Thenceforth he pursued his cherished cause of world government, was a director of a company, Nu-way, which has now grown to become one of the largest heating distributors in Britain, and tended his orchards in the Vale of Evesham.

Usborne was born in 1909, the second son of an Indian Civil Service commissioner. His father, Charles Usborne, whose translations of the Punjabi epics still remain in print, passed his independence of mind on to his five children. But both parents died while Henry was still at school and the Usbornes moved in with the family of his father's sister, at their house, Windrush, in Inkpen, Berkshire. This boisterous family of nine grew up together in the late Twenties, more Dornford Yates than Arthur Ransome in their style. One happy outcome was Henry Usborne's marriage to his cousin Pamela Watson in 1936. Their 60 years together produced for their large extended family a long reprise of the life they had enjoyed at Inkpen.

Unlike his father and older brothers, all Charterhouse and Balliol classicists, Usborne, the engineer, went his own way, to Bradfield College and Corpus Christi, Cambridge. After graduation, he founded his own company, in oil combustion engineering, based in Droitwich, Worcestershire. He was then a member of the RAF Reserve, but was forced to leave when he returned from a training flight with the top of a tree stuck to his tailplane from a low swoop over Windrush to drop a message to his fiancee.

During the Second World War he converted his company to make fire extinguishers. His interest in politics and in federal union encouraged him to stand for Labour for an unwinnable Birmingham seat, but the 1945 landslide found him elected as Member for Acock's Green (later Yardley). He never achieved ministerial office, but while a backbencher was one of the founders of the Parliamentary Group for World Government, of which he remained the president for many years after his defeat in 1959. His enthusiasm for the cause never left him, and to the end he promoted the idea of "Minifed", by which nation states might pool sovereignty in the interest of common security.

Never a slavish party man, Usborne became disenchanted with the Labour Party of the Seventies. He did not follow his close friend Evelyn King across the spectrum, but he provided financial help to Dick Taverne when the latter fell out with the Lincoln Labour Party, and later made cameo appearances on Liberal platforms before their attraction also waned.

For most of his last 30 years he did what he did best; served his community as magistrate and marriage guidance counsellor, wrote books, letters, and articles on world government and disarmament, and gave unobtrusive help to deserving causes. He also presided benignly over the great tribal gatherings of the Usbornes and Watsons who assembled at his house, Totterdown, on the Avon at Evesham.

Watching this handsome old man move among his trees and his animals, while three fresh generations argued, flirted and played intense, arcane games around him, I always felt his was a fortunate life. He may not have achieved a nation beyond nationalism, but for all who crossed his threshold he had rediscovered the land of lost content.

Phillip Whitehead

Henry Charles Usborne, politician: born Hisar, Punjab 16 January 1909; founder, Parliamentary Group for World Government 1946; MP (Labour) for Acock's Green 1946-50, for Yardley 1950-59; married 1936 Pamela Watson (two sons, two daughters); died Evesham 16 March 1996.

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