The Cash-for-Questions Affair: The miners' grandson who found a niche in the right

Partricia Wynn Davies
Thursday 20 October 1994 23:02

IT IS far easier to spotlight what the ultra-right Neil Hamilton is against than causes he is actually for. Unions, state industry, the European Union, child benefit are just some of his abiding hates, along with red- tape since taking up his job as Under-Secretary of State for Corporate Affairs.

The grandson of two Welsh miners who became an ardent fan of the privatisation of British Coal, he was a grammar school boy who went on to the universities of Wales and Cambridge and then the Bar. The right to speak Welsh in Welsh Grand Committee is among the few liberal, or libertarian, causes he has promoted, along with the freedom to smoke and the right of people to sell their organs.

In the political mainstream, however, he has campaigned for a legally enforceable right to interest on late payment of debts, a move backed by the opposition parties.

Mr Hamilton, 45 and married, joined Parliament as MP for Tatton in 1983, becoming chief thorn in the flesh of Neil Kinnock, the former Labour leader, but had to wait nine years for his first ministerial role.

He was among the handful of anti-European right-wingers who decided Margaret Thatcher had been wrong to sign the Single European Act, and lost no sleep over rebelling when the measure reached the Commons for ratification.

He was ahead of his otherwise highly favoured leader on other issues. As early as 1970 he was urging private insurance for sickness, injury and unemployment.

The career break came after the 1992 election when John Major gave him his current job in the Department of Trade and Industry, which Mr Hamilton swiftly dubbed the Department of Incomprehensible Affairs. An evangelising former vice-chairman of the now much diminished Federation of Conservative Students, he is known for his often engaging humour - he took the Spectator's parliamentary wit of the year award in 1989 - and for a talent in amusing mimicry of such figures as Enoch Powell, Ted Heath and Hitler.

People tend to love or hate him. While a clear darling of the Tory party conference for the last couple of years, he confounded his detractors in 1984-86 by pressing on with, and winning, a libel suit over the BBC Panorama programme 'Maggie's Militant Tendency'. He successfully claimed that the programme falsely portrayed him as a right-wing racist. He was aided in the action by fellow Euro-sceptic, Sir James Goldsmith. The favour was duly returned later when Mr Hamilton spoke up for Sir James's attempted take-over of BAT Industries.

A couple of years later he was criticising the BBC again for broadcasting the Nelson Mandela concert in 1988. At about the same time he began urging Tiny Rowland to call off his 'continuing barrage of libellous and vicious attacks' on the House of Fraser.

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