Obituary: Professor Gerald Fowler

Click to follow
The Independent Online
Gerald Teasdale Fowler, politician and administrator: born 1 January 1935; MP (Labour) for The Wrekin 1966-70, 1974- 79; Joint Parliamentary Secretary, Ministry of Technology 1967-69; Minister of State, Department of Education and Science 1969-70, 1974, 1976; Professor of Educational Studies, Open University 1972-74; Deputy Director, Preston Polytechnic 1980-81; Rector, Polytechnic of East London 1982-92; Chairman, Committee of Directors of Polytechnics 1988- 90; married 1982 Lorna Lloyd; died London 1 May 1993.

LIKE Enoch Powell and Richard Crossman, Gerry Fowler came to the House of Commons with a reputation for classical scholarship, writes Tam Dalyell. He was very, very clever in argument. Yet, in his personal relationships he was far from clever. No one in my generation of Labour MPs so infuriated his contemporaries. The cause of the resentment can only be partly explained by jealousy, following his promotion to a junior minister's position at the Ministry of Technology to which he was catapulted in 1967 after only 16 months as an MP.

The real source of resentment against Fowler was that he patronised us. But, for me, the fact that he extended his patronising to Cabinet ministers who were intellectually robust themselves was a redeeming element. I treasure the memory of Fowler at 31 years of age driving Dick Crossman to apoplexy with tactless insinuations that the author of Plato Today and sometimes Fellow and tutor in philosophy at New College, Oxford, did not comprehend nearly as much about Ancient Greece, as the newly arrived Fellow of Lincoln College. After all, Crossman, he pointed out, had not been a Craven Scholar and had not had the advantage of studying in Frankfurt under the pupils of the legendary Ulrich von Wiliamowits-Moellendorff (1848- 1931), the greatest classical scholar of the age - perhaps of any age.

If Crossman and many other ministers and backbenchers were incensed, James Callaghan was decisive. As soon as he became Prime Minister in 1976, he sacked Fowler peremptorily, 'by telephone, when I was sunbathing on a Greek island', as Fowler told me, to his credit, without rancour.

As a junior minister, Fowler had lectured British industry with all the authority of a young man who was strong on Euripides, but who was thought not to have dirtied his hands. As Minister of State for Education, he had made his colleagues cringe with embarrassment by labelling the vice- chancellors as fools. Later, as Minister of State at the Privy Council Office, he had devised fairy-tale schemes for the Scots at the beginning of the devolution saga. But, later he made a considerable contribution outside Parliament to British education, was enormously helpful to Giles Radice and other Labour education spokespersons and seemed, to me, infinitely nicer as a human being.

It was, in retrospect, Fowler's misfortune, not his good luck, that he was seen as the favourite of Marcia Williams (Lady Falkender). His success looked like that of a courtier. In fact, the truth, I suspect, is that Harold Wilson admired academic excellence in young MPs and believed that such persons advanced the cause of the Labour Party.

As a speaker at a May Day rally in Telford, I was fascinated that Fowler's erstwhile constituents perceived a totally different and much more agreeable Gerry Fowler. Bruce Grocott, the present MP for The Wrekin, tells me that Fowler is remembered with warmth and affection by people of all parties in Shropshire. As Leader of the Wrekin District Council in 1973-74, he is remembered for his imagination, drive, and good humour by members and officials of the local authority. I believe that they, rather than the House of Commons, saw the real Gerry Fowler.

(Photograph omitted)