IN 1967 Angus Maude wrote an article for Encounter which changed the direction of his political life. At the time he was Opposition spokesman on matters aeronautical, but with particular reference to defence. The article was mildly critical of the Conservative Party's air defence policy and Edward Heath promptly dismissed him from the front bench. 'I had thought,' Maude said later, 'that Ted had meant it when he said that he wanted to encourage open debate.'
Maude went on to become a pillar of Margaret Thatcher's campaign for the leadership of the Tory party in 1975. From 1979 to 1981 he served in the Cabinet as Paymaster General, a post which left him free of departmental responsibilities but free, also, to speak his mind. When he left the government in 1981 he did so very much against the wishes of the Prime Minister, but not least because he did not want to stand in the way of the burgeoning political career of his son Francis.
If one word can be found to describe Angus Maude's political and personal style it is caustic. The Encounter article advanced no new propositions. It did not challenge the authority of his party leader. The style, however, was dismissive and that was what gave offence.
In private conversation, as well as in public speech, Maude took no prisoners. I recall, for example, a Conservative Party conference when we travelled together in a lift in the Imperial Hotel in Blackpool. I had been quizzing Maude on economic policy. One of our fellow passengers was the deputy chairman of Maude's constituency association. This unfortunate man wanted to ask Maude a question. 'I have no desire to talk to you,' was the reply. 'I am having a talk.'
Caustic, dismissive - even arrogant - that may have been. But it is, surely, refreshing when compared to the flattery so many MPs lavish on local officials. Angus Maude was always his own man.
He was born in 1912, the son of a soldier. He went to Rugby and then to Oxford. Neither at school nor university, however, did he achieve the distinction that his undoubted intellectual ability seemed to merit. This was perhaps because of a certain laziness that was part of his character: Maude never felt he had to prove anything to anybody, and thus exerted himself far less than, say, his contemporary, friend and co-author (of the volume Biography of a Nation, 1955) Enoch Powell.
Maude spent three years as a prisoner of war, married Barbara Sutcliffe in 1946, and won South Ealing for the Conservative Party in 1950. A year later he was made Director of the Conservative Political Centre: the appointment was a recognition of his interest in, and capacity for, long-term thinking on policy. He held that post until 1955.
Still, no ministerial preferment came his way. So, in 1958 Maude made a wholly unexpected decision. An accomplished writer, and a successful freelance journalist (he had worked for the financial pages of the Times and the Daily Mail before the war), he accepted an offer made over dinner, resigned his seat and departed for Australia to become editor of the Sydney Morning Herald. His political friends in Britain were sad at his decision, for they - and Powell in particular - concluded that Angus Maude had left British politics for good.
They were wrong. After three successful years in Sydney Maude was back, and in August 1963 he won a by-election in the (then) constituency of Stratford. I have mentioned his unhappy experience as a front-bench spokesman under Edward Heath. But in 1975, with the advent of Margaret Thatcher, Maude's fortunes revived. She was anxious to change the intellectual direction of the Conservative Party and, in particular, to turn the party away from the collectivist notions Edward Heath had come to espouse. Major changes were made at Conservative Central Office. Maude became a deputy chairman (under Peter Thorneycroft) and, in addition - and more to his liking - Chairman of the Conservative Research Department. Maude was never an enthusiast for administration, but guiding the thinking of the Research Department was a task wholly suited to his talents. His contribution, not only in opposition, but in government after 1979, to Thatcher's complete reversal of Conservative policy has been gravely underestimated.
Angus Maude was a quirky man, and often difficult. But he had tremendous independence and integrity. He never bent for the sake of bending to a prevailing political wind. Having decided not to seek re-election in 1983 he accepted a well-deserved peerage. He never, unfortunately, held office commensurate with his ability but then his nature was quizzical as well as rebarbative, and he enjoyed a satisfying and an influential life.
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