George Gardiner (politician)
Born in Waltham Abbey, Essex, Gardiner was the son of Stanley Gardiner, a gasworks manager, and Emma, a book-keeper. Gardiner's parents divorced when he was ten, at the end of World War II. Gardiner was educated at the Harvey Grammar School, Folkestone and at Balliol College, Oxford where he read PPE, in which he obtained a first-class honours degree in 1958.
Gardiner joined the Conservative Party aged 15 in 1950, and whilst at Oxford University, organised a petition in support of Anthony Eden's Suez policy. There, he became secretary of the University Conservative Association. During an election for the post of president of the association, Gardiner printed scores of forged ballot papers for a postal vote backing his own candidacy. His deception was discovered, and he had to withdraw.
He worked as a journalist and in advertising after leaving university. Gardiner was political correspondent for the Western Daily Press from 1961–1964, and then was lobby correspondent for Thomson Regional newspapers, and then chief political correspondent for Thomson from 1964-1974. There he was mistrusted by some of his colleagues because of his close affiliation with the Conservative party. From 1978-1997 Gardiner had a column in the Sunday Express.
Gardiner stood unsuccessfully as Conservative candidate for Coventry South at the 1970 general election, where he distanced himself from supporters of Enoch Powell, and built a close relationship with many of the immigrant community.
In later life Gardiner was well known for his vehemently eurosceptic views, though originally he was a supporter of the UK's entry into the EEC. He was a founder member of the Conservative Group for Europe and had argued in A Europe for the Regions (1971) that they would benefit from entry into the EEC.
On 22 January 1973, the local Conservative Party accepted a put-forward Gardiner as their prospective candidate and he was elected as the Conservative Member of Parliament (MP) for Reigate, a safe seat, on 28 February 1974. He served as the Conservative MP for the constituency for the next 23 years.
Although a right-winger, Gardiner was a Heath loyalist after the 1972 economic u-turn to fiscally stretch to combat rising unemployment, producing the Barber boom by injecting more spending yet cutting taxes. After the party's loss of government at the February 1974 general election he remained loyal, but after another party defeat in the October 1974 election he concluded that Heath must resign, and sought a replacement within the Conservative Party.
Gardiner was always proudest of the role he played in the election of Margaret Thatcher as Conservative Party leader. Along with Thatcher, Norman Tebbit and Airey Neave, he formed what was dubbed by the Tribune newspaper 'The Gang of Four' in her leadership race. As a former lobby journalist, George Gardiner acted as the press officer for the team and prepared "the traps into which the Labour Prime Minister James Callaghan regularly fell at Prime Minister's Questions". In 1975, Gardiner wrote a biography about Thatcher, named From Childhood to Leadership. Despite his long, enthusiastic and loyal support, Thatcher never offered Gardiner a ministerial or front bench position during her years as party leader or as Prime Minister.
From the 1979 general election, the first of four 4–5 year terms of Conservative government, Gardiner was vociferous in urging the government to go faster on trade union reform, and rebuked the Thatcher Government on 25 February 1981 when it climbed down against the coal miners. In March 1985 he urged the government to abolish wage councils – this took some time to implement as in some industries wage councils formed the backbone of trade union negotiations and this occurred in September 1993.
Gardiner became a leading member of the Conservative's Monday Club: in 1984 he was a member of the Club's National Executive Council, and was also Chairman of their Privatisation Policy Committee which produced, in September 1984, a policy paper entitled Killing the Dinosaur of State Ownership. He was on the editorial board which prepared the Club's October 1985 Conservative Party Conference issue of their newspaper, Right Ahead, and contributed an article: 'Why Margaret - Still?', in support of Margaret Thatcher. Gardiner continued writing for the Club, and in the October 1989 edition of Right Ahead contributed the leading front-page article entitled 'Murders that should lie on the conscience of MPs', calling for the return of capital punishment. Gardiner was also a strong supporter of the largely indiscriminate and short-lived Community Charge.
When, in November 1990, Margaret Thatcher was on the verge of resignation, Gardiner led a last gasp deputation of loyal MPs to Number 10 to try to persuade her to fight on. She listened politely to their pleas, but her mind was already made up and she announced her departure the following day. Gardiner was rewarded with a knighthood in her resignation honours list. Gardiner voted for John Major in the leadership contest to replace Thatcher, and was delighted when Major defeated Michael Heseltine and Douglas Hurd to become Prime Minister and Conservative party leader. However, he later became disillusioned with Major for his apparent lack of Thatcherite beliefs, and plotted against his leadership. He was vice-president of the conservative Selsdon Group named after the key swing voters the conservatives say they need to win elections, the Selsdon resident. In 1986 he was elected to the 1922 Committee executive.
In January 1991, following the demise of his friend, David Storey, the Club's ousted chairman, Gardiner left the Monday Club. That year, he was knighted.
In attempt to keep the Thatcherite torch burning, Gardiner was instrumental in setting up Conservative Way Forward - with the express aim of providing a focal point for Thatcherites in the party organisation and to support those seen as ideologically sympathetic in government - people like Michael Portillo and John Redwood. Some credit the organisation with success in ensuring a shift to the right in the new prospective parliamentary candidates being selected within the party after 1992.
In February 1994, Gardiner was given short shrift by John Major, after it was disclosed by the press that a delegation of MPs he led intended to tell Major that he must promote key right-wing ministers as a condition of their continued support. In July 1994, Gardiner left the Church of England and became a Roman Catholic, in protest against the Anglican church's ordination of women priests.
In the July 1995 leadership election contest, Gardiner voted for John Redwood as party leader, although he preferred Portillo to Redwood. After Redwood was defeated, Gardiner told Major to bring him back to the cabinet, which Major refused to do.
Gardiner resigned from the Conservative Party after being deselected by his local party association. He had survived one deselection attempt on 28 June 1996, but an article six months later in the Sunday Express, where he compared John Major to a ventriloquist's dummy for pro-European Chancellor Ken Clarke proved to be the last straw for his constituency party, and Gardiner was deselected as Conservative candidate for the next general election, by 291 votes to 226 votes, on 30 January 1997.
After unsuccessfully challenging the decision in the courts, on 8 March 1997 Gardiner joined the Referendum Party with whom he contested the 1997 general election. He was, for two weeks, the only person ever to have sat as a Referendum Party MP. On 1 May 1997, Gardiner stood in Reigate as a Referendum Party candidate. He was defeated, obtaining 3,352 votes or 7% of the vote. He came fourth out of six candidates. This was the end of Gardiner's political career.
After William Hague became Conservative party leader in June 1997, Gardiner rejoined the Conservative party. Two years later, in 1999, he published his autobiography covering mainly his years in politics, named A Bastard's Tale, a reference to Major's remark six years earlier to Michael Brunson, although it did touch upon his life before becoming a Conservative MP. Gardiner revealed that he cried himself to sleep on the night of Thatcher's resignation, and described John Major as 'a walking disaster' and a 'Walter Mitty' with no beliefs. In his autobiography later that year, Major claimed that Gardiner was 'so convoluted he could have featured in a book of knots'. Of Gardiner's deselection in 1997, Major wrote that 'the Conservative Party was able to bear his departure with fortitude.'
In July 1982, Gardiner underwent a heart by-pass operation. Although in 1996 he dismissed claims that he was in ill health, Gardiner died on 16 November 2002 of polycystic kidney disease and chronic renal failure, and was buried nine days later, in Brompton Cemetery, London.
Gardiner married twice. His first marriage was in Bristol in 1961 to Juliet D Wells, with whom he had two sons and a daughter. This marriage broke up just before the 1979 General Election. His second marriage was in London in September 1980 to Helen Hackett. There were no children of his second marriage.
- Hansard 1803–2005: contributions in Parliament by George Gardiner
|Parliament of the United Kingdom|
|Member of Parliament for Reigate