OLIVER POOLE was one of the Conservative Party's wisest political strategists, writes Patrick Cosgrave. He was wise in himself; but he was also wise in the way he scorned the more fashionable tools of modern politics.
He had a reputation for getting general-election results right. When I first met him in 1970 he had a pile of opinion-poll reports on his desk. 'Ignore them,' he said, pushing the reports to one side. He paused for a moment, and looked at me with a twinkle in his eyes.
'I will tell you, young man,' he went on, 'how to predict general-election results. Once the prime minister of the day calls an election, go into a pub. Sit there for an hour or so and listen to what people are saying. Then saunter down a high street, still listening. Finally, count the number of posters in people's windows noting their affiliations. Once you put all this information together you know who is going to win.'
Poole had a gift for seeking out the nuances of politics which was beyond compare. He lit up - and this is not too fanciful a way to put it - whenever he was presented with a political conundrum. To watch Poole sorting out the problem of the day was like watching a skilful violinist tuning up his instrument. But he was not a great man for policy: what fascinated him were the mechanics of the business.
He was a member of parliament from 1945 to 1950, for Oswestry, but, though assiduous, his heart was never in that side of the game. He enjoyed much more his stints as chairman (1955-57), and later deputy chairman (1957-59), of the Conservative Party. For here his gifts came in to full play. He gave excellent advice to a succession of Conservative leaders.
I recall on one occasion, pushing his wheelchair into Margaret Thatcher's room. I fetched him out somewhat later and returned to her. She was inclined, at the time, to favour doctrinal answers to problems. But the old pragmatist had captured her heart: she started telling me how wonderful he was; but I knew that already.
(Photograph omitted)Reuse content