Obituary: Lord Ridley of Liddesdale

Nicholas Ridley, politician, born 17 February 1929, Civil Engineering Contractor Brims & Co Ltd Newcastle upon Tyne 1950-59, Director 1954-70, MP (Conservative) Cirencester and Tewkesbury Division of Gloucestershire 1959-92, Director Heenan Group Ltd 1961-68, PPS to Minister of Education 1962-64, Delegate to Council of Europe and WEU 1962-66, Member Royal Commission on Historical Manuscripts 1967-79, Parliamentary Secretary Ministry of Technology 1970, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State Department of Trade and Industry 1970-72, Director Ausonia Finance 1973-79, Marshall Andrew Ltd 1975-79, Minister of State Foreign and Commonwealth Office 1979-81, Financial Secretary to HM Treasury 1981-83, PC 1983, Secretary of State for Transport 1983-86, for the Environment 1986-89, for Trade and Industry 1989-90, created 1992 Baron Ridley of Liddesdale, author of My Style of Government: the Thatcher years 1991, married 1950 The Hon Clayre Campbell (three daughters; marriage dissolved 1974), 1979 Judy Kendall, died 4 March 1993.

FORTUNATELY for me, I was never Nicholas Ridley's fag at Eton, writes Tam Dalyell. I say fortunately because, as the late Tom Brocklebank's first house- captain, he was rough with tongue and cane on those whom he considered less than perfect. I suspect he rather enjoyed the intense dislike of the small boys in the house, as he certainly enjoyed the intense fury - and dislike - of most of the Parliamentary Labour Party, and a good number of his own colleagues on the Conservative benches in the House of Commons.

Ridley was the most arrogant boy, intellectually, that I ever knew at Eton, and the most arrogant MP I ever knew in the House of Commons. He was also the best schoolboy artist whose work I ever saw, at Eton or any other school. I used to watch him, when he was 17, and I was 12, and run errands for water, paints and brushes. Our art teacher, the late Wilfrid Blunt, observed, 'More talented than his grandfather]' (Edwin Lutyens). Ridley's entries to the annual display of MPs' artistic efforts in the Upper Waiting Hall of the Commons were, by cross- party consent, superb.

Had Ridley been a painter, or an engineer - a subject in which he had a First Class honours degree at Balliol - he would have been more acceptable than as a politician and cabinet minister. But then mollifying others was not in Ridley's nature. Only Ted Heath can know precisely why he gave Ridley the boot as a minister - a reversal which made Ridley incandescent with anger, and revenge. What is certain is that the Scots on the Clyde, with shipbuilding connections, were never so glad to see the back of any minister. It was the way he presented his views, as much as the actual views themselves.

Ridley had the dangerous trait, sometimes found in the clever younger brothers of the aristocracy, of spoiling a respectable case by wallowing with a tinge of enjoyment in being gratuitously confrontational. He enjoyed being rude - though, not I think, to Margaret Thatcher.

On the other hand, Ridley was often right. If he had got his way as the responsible Foreign Office minister after visiting the Falklands, the chances are that the islanders would have compromised, and, ironically, there would have been no Falklands war. His case for recognising the reality of the need for negotiations with Argentina, Britain's then friend, was powerful. It came unstuck because Ridley was like a red rag to the bull of the Falkland islanders, and then upset the House of Commons during a ministerial statement, as only he could, by off-handed and offensive disdain - even for those of us who agreed with him.

Ridley was surely the most undiplomatic man ever to be a Foreign Office minister. Nor was he suited to be Secretary of State for the Environment, albeit that the poll tax was not his idea in the first place.

Ridley's autobiography is a deeply interesting and well-written work which will be one of the principal sources for historians who wish to understand Britain in the 1980s. The history of the government, and Margaret Thatcher herself, might have been different had she appointed Nick Ridley to the one post for which he was, by temperament and ability, suited, and which he craved - Chancellor of the Exchequer.

(Photograph omitted)

ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs People

Chief Executive

£28, 700: Whiskey Whiskey Tango: Property Management Company is seeking a brig...

COO / Chief Operating Officer

£80 - 100k + Bonus: Guru Careers: A COO / Chief Operating Officer is needed to...

HR Manager - Kent - £45,000

£40000 - £45000 per annum: Ashdown Group: HR Manager / Training Manager (L&D /...

HR Manager - Edgware, London - £45,000

£40000 - £45000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: HR Manager - Edgware, Lon...

Day In a Page

Isis is an hour from Baghdad, the Iraq army has little chance against it, and air strikes won't help

Isis an hour away from Baghdad -

and with no sign of Iraq army being able to make a successful counter-attack
Turner Prize 2014 is frustratingly timid

Turner Prize 2014 is frustratingly timid

The exhibition nods to rich and potentially brilliant ideas, but steps back
Last chance to see: Half the world’s animals have disappeared over the last 40 years

Last chance to see...

The Earth’s animal wildlife population has halved in 40 years
So here's why teenagers are always grumpy - and it's not what you think

Truth behind teens' grumpiness

Early school hours mess with their biological clocks
Why can no one stop hackers putting celebrities' private photos online?

Hacked photos: the third wave

Why can no one stop hackers putting celebrities' private photos online?
Royal Ballet star dubbed 'Charlize Theron in pointe shoes' takes on Manon

Homegrown ballerina is on the rise

Royal Ballet star Melissa Hamilton is about to tackle the role of Manon
Education, eduction, education? Our growing fascination with what really goes on in school

Education, education, education

TV documentaries filmed in classrooms are now a genre in their own right
It’s reasonable to negotiate with the likes of Isis, so why don’t we do it and save lives?

It’s perfectly reasonable to negotiate with villains like Isis

So why don’t we do it and save some lives?
This man just ran a marathon in under 2 hours 3 minutes. Is a 2-hour race in sight?

Is a sub-2-hour race now within sight?

Dennis Kimetto breaks marathon record
We shall not be moved, say Stratford's single parents fighting eviction

Inside the E15 'occupation'

We shall not be moved, say Stratford single parents
Air strikes alone will fail to stop Isis

Air strikes alone will fail to stop Isis

Talks between all touched by the crisis in Syria and Iraq can achieve as much as the Tornadoes, says Patrick Cockburn
Nadhim Zahawi: From a refugee on welfare to the heart of No 10

Nadhim Zahawi: From a refugee on welfare to the heart of No 10

The Tory MP speaks for the first time about the devastating effect of his father's bankruptcy
Witches: A history of misogyny

Witches: A history of misogyny

The sexist abuse that haunts modern life is nothing new: women have been 'trolled' in art for 500 years
Shona Rhimes interview: Meet the most powerful woman in US television

Meet the most powerful woman in US television

Writer and producer of shows like Grey's Anatomy, Shonda Rhimes now has her own evening of primetime TV – but she’s taking it in her stride
'Before They Pass Away': Endangered communities photographed 'like Kate Moss'

Endangered communities photographed 'like Kate Moss'

Jimmy Nelson travelled the world to photograph 35 threatened tribes in an unashamedly glamorous style