TORY LEADERSHIP ELECTION: Douglas Hurd goes out in style at Cannes

John Rentoul reviews the life and career of the Foreign Secretary

Douglas Hurd, the Foreign Secretary, completed his withdrawal from British politics yesterday with the announcement that he will stand down as an MP at the next election.

Mr Hurd, who announced his imminent retirement as Foreign Secretary on Friday, was speaking from the EU summit in Cannes.

"No, I won't be standing at the next election," he told reporters.

"I have decided by the end of the next Parliament certainly I will be over 70. I think the time will have come to move on."

Mike Osborne, the chairman of Mr Hurd's constituency Conservative association in Witney, Oxfordshire, said: "I can't tell you how much the man was respected here. We are all terribly sad to lose him. So many times constituency members have said they have had hand-written letters from him and then turned on the TV and seen he was in Timbuktu and they just say: "How does he do it?"

His retirement as Foreign Secretary after six years contributed to the sense of instability at the top of the Conservative party, and was seen as holding out the possibility that his successor might be more Euro-sceptical. Mr Hurd, along with Michael Heseltine and Kenneth Clarke, is a key member of the pro-European troika which has dominated the Cabinet since Baroness Thatcher's overthrow in 1990.

Malcolm Rifkind, Secretary of State for Defence, was the favourite to succeed him as Foreign Secretary, but the appointment has become an issue in the Tory leadership election.

Mr Hurd himself stood as a candidate for the leadership in 1990, coming third with 56 votes behind Mr Heseltine on 131 and John Major on 185.

Now 65, Mr Hurd's career began in the Foreign Office as a diplomat in London and Peking He worked for Edward Heath as a foreign affairs adviser at Conservative Central Office and became MP for mid-Oxfordshire in February 1974. Within two years he was Margaret Thatcher's foreign affairs spokesman, and became a junior Foreign Office minister when the Conservatives came to power in 1979. After a year in the Home Office, he joined the Cabinet as Northern Ireland Secretary in 1984, and was Home Secretary for five years, 1984-89.

He remarried in 1982 and his desire to spend more time with his young family, and resume writing novels, has been one of the worst-kept secrets of the past year. He is certain to be offered a peerage when he leaves the Commons.

The son of Lord (Anthony) Hurd, MP for Newbury 1945-64, he was educated at Eton and Trinity College, Cambridge. He is an old-fashioned Conservative but his diplomatic subtlety was applied to the almost impossible problem of keeping the Tory party united over Europe.

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