10 Oct 2015

Former Tory Chancellor Lord Howe dies age 88

Former Conservative Chancellor Lord Geoffrey Howe has died aged 88 after a suspected heart attack, his family has announced.

The Tory grandee was Margaret Thatcher’s longest-serving Cabinet minister – but was widely held to have ended her premiership with a devastating resignation speech in 1990.

His 1981 Budget provided a severe dose of austerity at the depth of a recession with the aim of bringing down inflation. It was widely criticised at the time – and led to a huge increase in unemployment, but it did cut inflation and interest rates and gradually helped pull the economy out of recession.

After the 1983 election he was made foreign secretary, clashing privately with the PM on South Africa and Europe.

In 1989 he was moved aside to be replaced by John Major and effectively demoted to leader of the commons, with the honorary title of deputy prime minister. It was this snub – and growing discontent over Thatcher’s anti-European rhetoric – that eventually led to his resignation.

He was first elected to Parliament in 1964 and joined Edward Heath’s government in 1970, being given a knighthood as he was appointed solicitor general.

Leadership election

He stood against Thatcher in the 1975 leadership campaign and she then made him shadow chancellor. It was during this period – in 1978 – that he launched an attack in the Commons on Labour’s Chancellor, Denis Healey, which Healey described as “like being savaged by a dead sheep” – a jibe which stuck with Howe for the rest of his career.

He retired from the Commons in 1992 and was given a life peerage as Baron Howe of Aberavon.

Prime Minister David Cameron led the tributes, describing Lord Geoffrey Howe as “the quiet hero of the first Thatcher government.”

“George Osborne and I benefited greatly from his wisdom and determination to improve the state of the country,” he added. “The Conservative family has lost one of its greats.”

A statement issued by his family said: “It is with deep sadness that the Howe family today announced that Geoffrey Howe died suddenly late yesterday evening, aged 88, at his home in Warwickshire, of a suspected heart attack, after enjoying a local jazz concert with his wife Elspeth.

“There will be a private family funeral, followed by a memorial service in due course. The family would be grateful for privacy at this time.”