Decision to depart aimed at pre-empting talk of sacking: Colin Brown looks at the career of a politician regarded by friends as a 'safe pair of hands'

THE TIMING of Sir Norman Fowler's statement yesterday that he was bowing out as Tory chairman avoided giving the impression that he had been sacked.

During his two years at Conservative Central Office, the Tories have been reduced to control of one county council, were heavily defeated in the local elections, lost safe Tory seats in Newbury, Christchurch and Eastleigh, and have had their seats reduced from 32 to 18 in the European elections.

Critics in the party called him 'Fowlup' and lobbied for him to be sacked for presentational failures that have contributed to the Conservatives' record low standing in the polls and a string of defeats. His friends said such criticism was extremely unfair. Sir Norman, they said, transformed the party's management and could not be blamed for the splits over Europe and the recession.

Sir Norman stood by John Major throughout the 1992 general election and proved the polls wrong - the Tories were returned with a record total of 14 million votes. After the election, a grateful Mr Major made him chairman, but he inherited a deficit of pounds 19m from his predecessor Chris Patten, now Governor of Hong Kong. He has reduced the debt to pounds 16m, by halving the staff and slashing spending on campaigns, to produce a surplus for the year of pounds 2m.

A former home affairs correspondent for the Times, Sir Norman first made his mark as transport minister (1979-81) by privatising the National Freight Corporation (NFC). He was also responsible for allowing service- station hoardings on motorways.

As Secretary of State for Social Services (1981-87), he was responsible for introducing in-line management in hospitals and far- reaching changes to pensions, including opting out of Serps. As Secretary of State for Employment (1987-90), he privatised the dock labour scheme.

He never made it to one of the top Cabinet jobs but coveted the post of Home Secretary.

He surprised colleagues by retiring from Baroness Thatcher's Cabinet before her downfall, 'to spend more time with my family'. Two years later, he came back to lead Mr Major's election campaign. This time, critics say, he is retiring to spend more time with his directorships, which include the NFC that he privatised, a quarrying group, and Midland Newspapers. He resigned last year from a directorship of Group Four, the security firm.

He leaves politics with a reputation as a safe pair of hands. Former civil servants said he had 'rat-like cunning' in avoiding pitfalls. Critics say he passed the ticking parcel to colleagues before it blew up. That view is dismissed by friends. 'He is a highly competent, professional politician,' said one party source. 'He is quite a shy man and a team player. He is not an ideologue.'

The Euro elections were the worst national defeat for the Tories since the war, but they held more seats than expected. The campaign, attacked as Euro-sceptic in tone, was largely responsible for shoring up Tory support, and for rescuing the party from a fatal bout of panic. That may be Sir Norman's lasting gift to his party.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
News
The two faces revealed by the ultraviolet light
newsScholars left shaken after shining ultraviolet light on 500-year-old Welsh manuscript
News
Rosamund Pike played Bond girld Miranda Frost, who died in Die Another Day (PA)
news
Arts and Entertainment
books
News
newsHow do you get your party leader to embrace a message and then stick to it? With people like this
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: In House Counsel - Contracts

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This leading supplier of compliance software a...

Recruitment Genius: Associate System Engineer

£24000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The Associate System Engineer r...

Recruitment Genius: Executive Assistant

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: An Executive Assistant is required to join a l...

Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager - B2B, Corporate - City, London

£45000 - £50000 per annum + benefits : Ashdown Group: A highly successful, glo...

Day In a Page

General Election 2015: The masterminds behind the scenes

The masterminds behind the election

How do you get your party leader to embrace a message and then stick to it? By employing these people
Machine Gun America: The amusement park where teenagers go to shoot a huge range of automatic weapons

Machine Gun America

The amusement park where teenagers go to shoot a huge range of automatic weapons
The ethics of pet food: Why are we are so selective in how we show animals our love?

The ethics of pet food

Why are we are so selective in how we show animals our love?
How Tansy Davies turned 9/11 into her opera 'Between Worlds'

How a composer turned 9/11 into her opera 'Between Worlds'

Tansy Davies makes her operatic debut with a work about the attack on the Twin Towers. Despite the topic, she says it is a life-affirming piece
11 best bedside tables

11 best bedside tables

It could be the first thing you see in the morning, so make it work for you. We find night stands, tables and cabinets to wake up to
Italy vs England player ratings: Did Andros Townsend's goal see him beat Harry Kane and Wayne Rooney to top marks?

Italy vs England player ratings

Did Townsend's goal see him beat Kane and Rooney to top marks?
Danny Higginbotham: An underdog's tale of making the most of it

An underdog's tale of making the most of it

Danny Higginbotham on being let go by Manchester United, annoying Gordon Strachan, utilising his talents to the full at Stoke and plunging into the world of analysis
Audley Harrison's abusers forget the debt he's due, but Errol Christie will always remember what he owes the police

Steve Bunce: Inside Boxing

Audley Harrison's abusers forget the debt he's due, but Errol Christie will always remember what he owes the police
No postcode? No vote

Floating voters

How living on a houseboat meant I didn't officially 'exist'
Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin

By Reason of Insanity

Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin
Power dressing is back – but no shoulderpads!

Power dressing is back

But banish all thoughts of Eighties shoulderpads
Spanish stone-age cave paintings 'under threat' after being re-opened to the public

Spanish stone-age cave paintings in Altamira 'under threat'

Caves were re-opened to the public
'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'

Vince Cable interview

'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'
Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

Promises, promises

But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

The death of a Gaza fisherman

He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat