|Member of Parliament
for Wolverhampton South West
1 March 1974 – 6 June 1997
|Preceded by||Enoch Powell|
|Succeeded by||Jenny Jones|
3 November 1937|
Newport, Shropshire, United Kingdom
|Died||26 October 1998(aged 60)|
|Alma mater||Corpus Christi, Cambridge|
Early life and career
Named after St. Nicholas Church in Newport, Shropshire of which his grandfather was priest, Budgen was baptised at Lichfield Cathedral by his grandfather, who had also baptised Enoch Powell, as well as marrying his parents. Thirty-seven years later he would succeed Powell as the Conservative member of Parliament for Wolverhampton South West.
Nicholas Budgen was educated at St Edward's School in Oxford and Corpus Christi College, Cambridge. Budgen was raised by his grandfather after his father had been killed during the Second World War, one of his uncles having been killed during the First World War and another during the second. During his National Service he rose to the rank of Lieutenant in the North Staffordshire Regiment. In 1959 he transferred to the Staffordshire Yeomanry. He became a barrister at Gray's Inn in 1962.
In the 1970 general election he stood for the Conservatives in Birmingham, Small Heath, but failed to gain election. In 1974, when the Conservative MP Enoch Powell left the party and resigned from his seat over their policy on the EEC, only six weeks before the 1974 general election, Budgen was selected to stand for the Conservatives in Powell's old seat: Wolverhampton South West.
In 1975 he voted to remain in the Common Market. In 1981 he was made a Conservative whip, at the time a sure way of becoming a minister. On 8 May 1982, however, he resigned as a whip over his opposition to the creation of a Northern Ireland Assembly with no government powers. However, to compensate, The Spectator magazine selected him as their 1984 Backbencher of the Year. His speeches in 1985 against the Anglo-Irish Agreement persuaded his cousin Ian Gow to resign as a minister from Margaret Thatcher's government.
According to Michael Brown, who was at the time a government whip, Nick Budgen was the only critic of the 1988 Budget, which contained many "giveaways" and led to high inflation and the 1990 recession. Brown described the situation in the Commons tea room after the budget as one of congratulatory atmosphere until Nick Budgen entered and proceeded to tell those present, "It is the most irresponsible budget I have ever heard, it will be downhill from now on. In one fell swoop Mr Lawson has squandered five years of responsible economic management".
He was also opposed to immigration to the UK and on 10 October 1989, at the Conservative Party Conference, he, with Tim Janman, MP, and Jonathan Guinness (in the chair), addressed a controversial fringe meeting organized by the Young Monday Club, advertised as The End of the English? - Immigration and Repatriation. Charles Moore described at Budgen's memorial service how he once rang Budgen pretending to be a racist constituent.
He said that Budgen said he supported a firm immigration policy, but when pushed to agree that all immigrants should be sent home, he forcefully defended their right to be in Britain. "His distaste was palpable. I can think of many more liberal-minded MPs who might have given less firm answers to someone they thought might vote for them," he said.
He called for the Prime minister John Major to sack the then Chancellor Kenneth Clarke because Clarke had resuscitated the idea of the United Kingdom joining the European Single Currency. In spite of this Clarke who had been at Cambridge with Budgen, invited Budgen (who had at the time lost the Conservative party whip) to his 50th birthday party at 11 Downing Street.
But his real prominence came in the 1990s when he was one of the whipless eight; the Maastricht Rebels. The whipless eight had taken to having their own policy meetings, leading former pro-EU Prime Minister Edward Heath to describe them as "a party within a party". To Budgen the European question was an issue far more important than mere party loyalty. He had a contemptuous attitude towards both party and his leaders, having the second most rebellious voting record in the House of Commons for the period from 1979 to 1997. He is quoted as saying, "you know, this is a government you can push" and was acutely aware that John Major's government was reliant upon the right wing of its party because of its small majority in the House of Commons.
To this end, he helped lead a hardcore of approximately 50 right-wing Conservative Party MPs to influence government policy on Northern Ireland and Europe among other things. His hard line on the Northern Ireland situation was perhaps stiffened by the IRA murder of his cousin Ian Gow MP, who bled to death in his wife's arms in 1990. He was popular with right-wingers not only for his intelligence but also because he had been campaigning against the UK's gradual European drift since he resigned as a Whip in 1983.
The day after a conciliatory article in The Times by Budgen, John Major returned the Conservative whip to the rebels. Additionally, of the whipless rebels, he was the only one to vote with the government on VAT on fuel in November 1994; the government were, however, defeated, forcing the then Chancellor Ken Clarke to return to Parliament with a "mini budget", an unprecedented event.
It was Budgen who first mooted the idea of a referendum on the European Single Currency in 1993, with his proposed European Currency (Referendum) Bill.
Budgen was also a leading member of the Treasury Select Committee, who questioned every tax rise and attacked Kenneth Clarke as being "intellectually dishonest". It was his position on this committee that persuaded him that the Bank of England should be made independent of political interference, this led to his private members bill in 1994, an attempt to privatise the Bank of England. The bill failed; however, in 1997 when the Labour Party was in government, it made the Bank of England independent as one of its first measures.
Budgen was also vociferous in protecting the rights of gun owners following the Dunblane massacre. His speech was described in the left-leaning Guardian newspaper by columnist Simon Hoggart as "one of the last great parliamentary speeches". The Dunblane bill created a situation where small calibre pistols were illegal in the UK (apart from a 3 week period in 2002 for the Commonwealth Games being held in Manchester, with the British team being forced to practice in France).
Due to his support for a referendum on the question of European integration, James Goldsmith's Referendum Party decided not to run a candidate against him. Budgen had in fact suggested to the seatless former Conservative Government minister Alan Clark that he should stand for the Referendum Party. He had said that the Conservatives "in the West Midlands will be running on alternative manifesto", presumably meaning with other local Maastricht Rebels, Christopher Gill (Ludlow) and Richard Shepherd (Aldridge & Brownhills). Despite losing with a 9.9% swing from the Conservatives to Labour, of the 144 seats that Labour gained from the Conservatives it had the joint-tenth lowest swing, and was one of only 13 seats that changed hands with a swing in single figures.
Whilst Budgen was in favour of limiting immigration and opposed a ban on handguns, unusually for a right-wing MP (but like Powell), he voted against capital punishment.
Budgen was a keen huntsman. He had hunted in 29 of the UK's counties, and in his youth was well known as a particularly fearless rider; he wrote regularly for Horse and Hound and occasionally for the Wall Street Journal, The Times, Daily Mail, Glasgow Herald and The Irish Times. Budgen was described in the Commons by one former minister as being "worth ten placeman" and by the Daily Telegraph as the "late, great Nicholas Budgen". He seemed to take great joy in continuing Wolverhampton South West's feud (begun by Enoch Powell) with Edward Heath, heckling him at any opportunity.
Powell had let it be known that he would refuse a peerage while Heath was still in the Commons, and the latter refused to retire from the Commons for so long as he thought Powell might have a chance of a peerage. According to Julian Critchley, Budgen purchased his suits from Oxfam and rarely bought anyone a drink.
He attempted to stand for the European Parliament along with the fellow euro-sceptic ex-MPs Norman Lamont and Winston Churchill: all failed. Diagnosed with liver cancer and given only months to live he faced his fate matter of factly. Whilst on his deathbed, he rediscovered the Anglicanism of his youth, organised the sale of his many horses and planned his funeral. His funeral service was near his Lichfield farm at Lichfield Cathedral, where he had been baptised and where his grandfather had been Dean; the eulogy was given by his close friend and fellow Maastricht rebel Richard Shepherd, at his memorial service at St Margaret's Church, Westminster another close friend Charles Moore gave a eulogy.
On the Downing Street Declaration which stated that Britain has "no selfish, strategic or economic interest" in maintaining the Union with Northern Ireland. Budgen asked John Major the question - "Can I reassure my constituents that the United Kingdom has an interest in maintaining Wolverhampton in the Union?"
On the 1988 Budget - "It is the most irresponsible budget I have ever heard, it will be downhill from now on. In one fell swoop Mr Lawson has squandered five years of responsible economic management."
On supporting Douglas Hurd in the 1990 Conservative leadership contest: "it is the Conservative worker's fate to be betrayed by his leader, so we may at least be betrayed elegantly."
"New Labour will not nationalise industry, it will instead nationalise people."
"If the Conservatives say beggars should be kicked once, then New Labour will say that beggars should be kicked twice."
"It would be my general feeling that the transference of power to Europe was so important a matter as to require a vote against any organisation and any party that wished to transfer that power."
On John Major: "he would make a reasonably competent head of a Wolverhampton Social Security office."
"If it [Labour] comes to power, those solid citizens will put pressure on the fresh-faced public school boy (Tony Blair) and we shall be back to the old story of an enormous public sector borrowing requirement, higher taxes and higher interest rates, and there will be no difference whatsoever in substance between the fresh-faced public school boy and all the old chaps who are in favour of old Labour."
- Tim Jones, "Tory rebels unlikely to defeat Ulster Bill", The Times, 10 May 1982, p. 2.
- Politicians are not self-interested shysters - Telegraph
- What Reasons Are There for Supposing a Blair Government Will Not Be as Stricken by Party Dissenters as Major's Has Been? Plenty, Actually
- Hansard 1803–2005: contributions in Parliament by Nicholas Budgen
- Spectator Obituary by Jonathan Aitken
- Daily Telegraph Article by Andrew Gimson
New Statesman Article
|Parliament of the United Kingdom|
|Member of Parliament for Wolverhampton South West