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Lord Flight

Last Updated: Friday, November 19th, 2010

The ennoblement of Howard Flight today brings to the red benches of the House of Lords someone whose involuntary departure from the Commons was extremely controversial.

At a meeting of the Right-wing faction, Conservative Way Forward, in late March 2005 – shortly before that year’s general election – he suggested that there was scope for greater cuts in public spending under a Conservative Government than Michael Howard was proposing.

A tape of the meeting was acquired by the Times and he was forced to resign his position as Deputy Chairman of the Conservative Party. However, this was not enough for Michael Howard, who then threw him out of the parliamentary party and barred Flight from standing as a Conservative candidate at the election, thus bringing to an end his eight year tenure as MP for Arundel and South Downs. It is thought that the move was partly influenced by Lynton Crosby, the ruthless Australian political operator who was the Tories’ election strategy supremo at that time.

Flight had strong local backing – including from then association President and now colleague Baroness O’Cathain – and considered a legal challenge. But in the end he opted to go quietly, with many angry MPs and supporters throughout the party believing he had been treated appallingly and that nothing short of rehabilitation in the House of Lords would be a fair conclusion to the saga.

Educated at Brentwood School, where he was a couple of years below Jack Straw, he went on to study Economics at Cambridge, where he also chaired the University Conservative Association. He did an MBA at the University of Michigan, embarked upon a career as an investment adviser in London and stood in Bermondsey at both general elections in 1974.

But he then spent the next two decades of his life concentrating on his career in the City, including spells working in Hong Kong and India, all ensuring that by the time he embarked on his political career he was one of the wealthiest MPs in the Commons.

Within two years of his election for Arundel and South Downs in 1997 he had joined the frontbench Treasury team (where he would remain until 2004), rising to become Shadow Chief Secretary in 2002. He was instrumental in setting up the James Review, which aimed to identify ways of cutting public spending, but  left the Treasury team in 2004 (to make way for George Osborne) and instead took on the Deputy Chairman role.

He was given responsibility for relations between the party and the City and did that through the network that is the Conservative City Circle – something with which he continued to involve himself after his defenestration. Indeed, along with his wife Christabel, a party treasurer and Westminster Councillor herself – he has remained a key player in terms of party fundraising.

Of all the newcomers to the House of Lords in the latest batch of appointments, Flight is probably the least “Cameroon”. He is an unapologetic low Tax Tory who curses political correctness and is highly sceptical about the direction of the European Union – he backs a referendum on Britain’s continued membership.

Over the last couple of years he has been a regular columnist for Conservative Home – you can read all his contributions here – and has a reputation for straight talking.

As recently as mid-October, after the CSR, he was lamenting that the Government was “missing a once in a generation opportunity for the sort of radical reforms needed to propel the productive private sector economy into better growth and achievement and to reverse the nanny state intrusions of the last 20 years.”

Expect some robust, no-nonsense, pro-business contributions from him in the Upper House.

Jonathan Isaby

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