Ian Gow

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Ian Gow
Minister of State for the Treasury
In office
2 September 1985 – 19 November 1985
Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher
Preceded by Barney Hayhoe
Succeeded by Peter Brooke
Minister for Housing
In office
13 June 1983 – 2 September 1985
Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher
Preceded by John Stanley
Succeeded by John Patten
Parliamentary Private Secretary
to the Prime Minister
In office
4 May 1979 – 13 June 1983
Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher
Preceded by Roger Stott
Succeeded by Michael Alison
Member of Parliament
for Eastbourne
In office
28 February 1974 – 30 July 1990
Preceded by Charles Stuart Taylor
Succeeded by David Bellotti
Personal details
Born (1937-02-11)11 February 1937
London, United Kingdom
Died 30 July 1990(1990-07-30) (aged 53)
Hankham, United Kingdom
Nationality British
Political party Conservative
Spouse(s) Jane Elizabeth Packe
(m. 1966–1990; his death)
Children 2
Occupation Solicitor
Religion Anglican (Anglo-Catholic)
Military service
Allegiance  United Kingdom
Service/branch  British Army
Years of service 1955–1976
Rank Major
Unit 15th/19th The King's Royal Hussars

Ian Reginald Edward Gow, TD (11 February 1937 – 30 July 1990) was a British Conservative politician and solicitor. While serving as Member of Parliament (MP) for Eastbourne, he was assassinated by the Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA) who exploded a bomb under his car outside his home in East Sussex.[1]

Early life

Ian Gow was born at 3 Upper Harley Street, London, the son of Alexander Edward Gow, a prominent London doctor attached to St Bartholomew's Hospital who died in 1952.[2] Ian Gow was educated at Winchester College, where he was president of the debating society. During a period of national service from 1955–58 he was commissioned in the 15th/19th Hussars and served in Northern Ireland, Germany and Malaya. He served in the territorial army until 1976, reaching the rank of Major.

After completing national service he took up a career in the law and qualified as a solicitor in 1962. He eventually became a partner in the London practice of Joynson-Hicks and Co.[3] He also became a Conservative Party activist. He stood for Parliament in the Coventry East constituency for the 1964 general election, but lost to Richard Crossman. He then stood for the Clapham constituency, a Labour-held London marginal seat, in the 1966 general election. An account in The Times of his candidature described him in the following terms: He is a bachelor solicitor, aged 29, wearing his public school manner as prominently as his rosette. Words such as "overpowering", "arrogant", and "bellicose" are used to describe him.[4]

After failing to take Clapham[5] he continued his quest to find a seat. He eventually succeeded at Eastbourne in 1972 after the local Party de-selected its sitting member, Sir Charles Taylor. Sir Charles had represented Eastbourne since 1935 and did not take kindly to Gow.[6]


Gow married Jane Elizabeth Packe (born 1944)[7] in Yorkshire on 10 September 1966. They had two sons, Charles Edward (born 1968) and James Alexander (born 1970).[2]

Parliamentary career

Gow entered Parliament as the member for Eastbourne in the general election of February 1974.[8] For a home in his constituency, Gow acquired a 16th-century manor house known as 'The Doghouse' located in the village of Hankham. Eastbourne was a traditional Conservative seat but, in common with other English south coast towns in the 1970s, it was coming under some pressure from the Liberals. Gow proved to be a popular and communicative constituency member. In the general election of October 1974, he was able to secure a 10% swing from Liberal to Conservative, thereby doubling his majority.[9] He held his seat with a comfortable majority at every election thereafter. His local supporters included the infamous John Bodkin Adams, ".... Dr. Adams used to send our late friend [Gow] £5 at every general election for the Tory party fighting fund, which used to cause our late friend great embarrassment?".[10]

In the 1975 Conservative leadership election, Gow voted for Margaret Thatcher in the first round ballot. Once Thatcher had forced Edward Heath out of the contest, several new candidates appeared and Gow switched his support to Geoffrey Howe in the second round. Gow was brought onto the Conservative front bench in 1978 to share the duties of opposition spokesman on Northern Ireland with Airey Neave. The two men developed a Conservative policy on Northern Ireland which favoured integration of the province with Great Britain. This approach appeared to avoid compromise with the province's nationalist minority and with the government of the Republic of Ireland. Both Neave and Gow were killed by car bomb attacks in 1979 and 1990 respectively. Irish republican paramilitaries claimed responsibility in both cases, but nobody was ever charged with causing the deaths and rumours later circulated concerning possible involvement of the CIA and intelligence community.[11]

Through his association with Neave, Gow was introduced to the inner circles of the Conservative Party. He was appointed parliamentary private secretary to Margaret Thatcher in May 1979 at the time she became Prime Minister. While serving in this capacity between 1979 and 1983, Gow became a close friend and confidante of the Prime Minister. He was deeply involved in the workings of Thatcher's private office. He held junior ministerial office between 1983 and 1985, first as Minister for Housing and Construction and later at the Treasury.

Although later identified with the right-wing of the Party, he took a liberal position on some issues. He visited Rhodesia at the time of UDI and was subsequently critical of that country's white minority regime. As an MP, Gow consistently voted against the restoration of the death penalty. As Minister of State for Housing and Construction (from 1983 to June 1985) he showed a willingness to commit public funds to housing projects that alarmed some on the right-wing of the Conservative party. "After taking what was perhaps too principled a stand in a complex dispute over Housing Improvement Grants, he was moved sideways to the post of minister of state at the Treasury".[12]

From 1982, Conservative policy began to move towards a more flexible position on Northern Ireland. In November 1985, Gow was persuaded by the speeches his cousin Nicholas Budgen made to resign as Minister of State in HM Treasury over the signing of the Anglo-Irish Agreement.[13][14] This would ultimately lead to devolved government for Northern Ireland, power sharing in the province and engagement with the Republic. After his resignation from the government, Gow became chairman of the parliamentary Conservative backbench committee on Northern Ireland. He was a leading opponent of any compromise with republicans.

Although he was opposed to the broadcasting of Parliamentary debates, on 21 November 1989, Gow made history by becoming the first MP to deliver a speech in the British House of Commons with television cameras present. Gow was moving the Loyal Address at the opening of Parliament. In his speech, Gow referred to a letter he had received from a firm of consultants who had offered to improve his personal appearance and television image, making a few self-deprecating jokes about his baldness.[15][16]

In spite of his disagreement with the direction in which Government policy on Northern Ireland was moving, Gow remained on close terms with Thatcher. In November 1989, he worked in Thatcher's leadership election campaign against the stalking horse candidate, Sir Anthony Meyer. But it was reported that by the time of his death he believed Thatcher's premiership had reached a logical end and that she should retire.[12] Gow enjoyed friendships with people of various political persuasions, including left-wing Labour MP Tony Banks.[17]


Although aware that he was a potential IRA assassination target, Gow declined to take anything more than routine security precautions. Unlike most British MPs of that era, he left his telephone number and home address in the local telephone directory.[18] On 30 July 1990, a bomb was planted under Gow's Austin Montego car in the early hours, which exploded in the driveway of his house in Hankham, near Pevensey in East Sussex.[12] The 4½-lb Semtex bomb detonated at 08:39 as Gow reversed out of his driveway, leaving him with severe wounds to his lower body.[19][20] He died 10 minutes later.

When hearing of Gow's death, Labour Party leader Neil Kinnock commented, "This is a terrible atrocity against a man whose only offence was to speak his mind.... I had great disagreement with Ian Gow and he with me, but no one can doubt his sincerity or his courage, and it is appalling that he should lose his life because of these qualities."[21] In her autobiography, The Downing Street Years, Margaret Thatcher described his murder as an 'irreplaceable loss'.[22]

The IRA claimed responsibility for killing Gow, stating that he was targeted because he was a "close personal associate" of Margaret Thatcher and because of his role in developing British policy on Northern Ireland.[23]


Evaluations of Gow's political career by obituarists were mixed in tone. All commented on his personal charm and his skills in public speaking and political manoeuvre. But his obituary in The Times stated, "It could not be said that his resignation in 1985 cut short a brilliant ministerial career".[24] A tendency toward political intrigue (for example, trying to covertly undermine Jim Prior's Northern Ireland initiative after 1982) made him enemies. Nicholas Budgen commented that Gow's personal devotion to Thatcher may not have been good for Thatcher or her government.

Gow's widow Jane was appointed a DBE in 1990 and thus became Dame Jane Gow. On 4 February 1994,[7] she remarried in West Somerset[25] to Lt-Col. Michael Whiteley, and became known as Dame Jane Whiteley.[19] She continues to promote the life and work of her first husband.

When the Eastbourne by-election for his seat in the House of Commons was won by the Liberal Democrat David Bellotti, the Conservative MP Ann Widdecombe sent a message to voters saying "Beloitti is the innocent beneficiary of murder. I suspect as last night as the Liberal Democrats were toasting their success, in its hideouts the IRA were doing the same thing".[26]

In popular culture

Gow was portrayed by Paul Brooke in the 2004 BBC production of The Alan Clark Diaries, and in the film The Iron Lady.


  1. "1990–92: Start of the talks process". BBC News. 18 March 1999.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  2. 2.0 2.1 Lundy, Darryl. "Person Page 14309: Ian Gow". The Peerage. External link in |publisher= (help)<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>[unreliable source?]
  3. Obituary, The Times, 31 July 1990
  4. Key seats, The Times, 19 March 1966
  5. UK General Election results March 1966 Political Science Resources, 13 February 2010
  6. "More trouble for Tories at Eastbourne", The Times, 11 February 1972
  7. 7.0 7.1 Lundy, Darryl. "Person Page 14308: Jane Elizabeth Packe". The Peerage. External link in |publisher= (help)<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>[unreliable source?]
  8. UK General Election results February 1974 Political Science Resources, 13 February 2010
  9. UK General Election results March 1966 Political Science Resources, 13 February 2010
  10. Nicholas Soames, col 565 Hansard, UK Parliament, 22 February 1991
  11. A tangled web of intrigue Irish Democrat, 16 March 2006
  12. 12.0 12.1 12.2 Ian Gow – A Thatcherite romantic The Guardian, 31 July 1990
  13. "On this Day, 15 November". BBC News. 15 November 1985. Retrieved 4 May 2010.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  14. A Secret History of the IRA, Ed Moloney, 2002; 9PB ISBN 0-393-32502-4 (HB) ISBN 0-7139-9665-X; p.336
  15. Enemy of TV has say, The Times, 22 November 1989
  16. 21 November 1989: First Commons speech on TV Democracy Live, BBC News, 31 October 2009
  17. Andrew Roth and Byron Criddle's Parliamentary A-Z (1989)
  18. article New Concern About 'Soft Targets' Chicago Tribune, 7 August 1990
  19. 19.0 19.1 "MP's widow outraged by release of terrorists". The Argus. Newsquest. 31 July 2000.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  20. Frederick, Painton (13 August 1990). "Europe Don't Count Them Out". Time Magazine.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  21. "Bomb kills British lawmaker who was leading foe of IRA", Chicago Sun-Times, 31 July 1990
  22. Margaret Thatcher, The Downing Street Years (HarperCollins, 1993), p. 30.
  23. "IRA Says It Attacked Lawmaker" The Washington Post, 1 August 1990
  24. The Times, 31 July 1990
  25. Marriages England and Wales 1984–2005 findmypast.co.uk
  26. The Guardian - 20 October 1990

External links

Parliament of the United Kingdom
Preceded by
Sir Charles Taylor
Member of Parliament for Eastbourne
February 19741990
Succeeded by
David Bellotti