|Member of Parliament
for Carshalton and Wallington
|Born||Francis Nigel Forman
25 March 1943
|Died||11 May 2017(aged 74)|
Francis Nigel Forman (25 March 1943 – 11 May 2017), known as Nigel Forman, was a British Conservative politician. After working in the Conservative Research Department from 1968 to 1976 he was elected as an MP. He became a prominent backbench MP and was appointed to the position of Minister of Higher Education in April 1992. In December 1992 he resigned from this post "for personal reasons".
Forman was born in Simla, India where his father served as a brigadier in the Indian Army. Forman was educated at the Dragon School Oxford, Shrewsbury School, New College, Oxford, the College of Europe (Bruges), Harvard University and Sussex University. He obtained various degrees from these institutions including a Master of Public Administration from Harvard, a Certificate of Advanced European Studies (equivalent to a master's degree) from the College of Europe (class of 1965-1966) and a Ph.D from Sussex University. In his Times obituary he was described as "something of a perpetual student". His first significant job was from 1967 to 1968 as an information officer at the Confederation of British Industry.
In 1968 he joined the Conservative Research Department ('CRD' - the research operation of the Conservative Party) and began the quest to find himself a seat in Parliament. He progressed rapidly in the CRD, acting as ‘external affairs adviser’ to Edward Heath while the latter was leader of the opposition. He served Margaret Thatcher in the same capacity from 1975 to 1976. He achieved the rank of assistant director with special responsibility for European affairs,
He contested the Coventry North East constituency for the Conservatives in the February 1974 general election but was not elected. After the elevation of Robert Carr MP to the peerage in 1976, Forman was adopted as the Conservative candidate for the parliamentary seat (Carshalton) that Carr was vacating.
Backbench MP, 1976 to 1992
Forman was elected to the House of Commons as Member of Parliament (MP) for Sutton, Carshalton at a by-election on 11 March 1976. He took the seat with a 10,000 majority over Labour, compared with Carr’s 4,000 majority in October 1974. When constituency boundaries were revised for the 1983 election, his seat was renamed Carshalton and Wallington.
His Carshalton parliamentary seat was part of the London Borough of Sutton and was very mixed in character. It contained large estates of Council housing and areas with expensive detached houses. All three major parties (Conservative, Labour and Liberal) had significant support in the seat and Forman’s position was therefore always potentially vulnerable to tactical voting. His constituency Conservative party and the Conservative leaders of Sutton Borough Council soon showed themselves to be resistant to concepts of modernisation that Forman sought to promote. Sutton was one of the few remaining councils in the UK that had retained selective education and council meetings were unusual in that Conservative councillors wore ceremonial robes in order to "give dignity" to the proceedings.
Forman soon established himself as a bright and enthusiastic MP. During his first three months in the House he asked 64 formal questions of Ministers in the Labour government. His particular areas of interest were nuclear power, incomes policy, education policy and ministerial patronage. After the Conservatives returned to government in 1979, it was widely expected that Forman would soon obtain ministerial office. He served as Parliamentary Private Secretary (PPS) first to Lord Carrington in the Foreign Office and later to Douglas Hurd in the Home Office. However, promotion beyond that was slow in coming.
Forman soon became known as a left-wing Conservative MP who differed with the policy of the Thatcher government on a number of key issues. In 1980 he spoke in favour of substantially increasing child benefits, he opposed reduction in the time limit for abortions, opposed capital punishment and spoke in favour of James Prior’s attempt to secure compulsory ballots in trade union votes through voluntary agreement with unions. He also expressed alarm at the manner in which unemployment was spiralling upwards as a result of the government’s economic policies. He frequently used the code word "one nation" in his speeches and writings – indicating disapproval of government policies which were perceived to be divisive. He favoured closer integration of Britain with the European Union.
In February 1981, Labour MPs cheered him in the House when he asked Chancellor Howe to act in order to halt the rise in unemployment. Forman advocated employment and economic policies which were broadly consistent with those pursued by the previous Labour government. He acquired the image of being a Conservative opponent of Thatcherism. All this raised his profile in the House but it did not enhance his promotion prospects. In a 1983 Times article, the senior Labour MP Gerald Kaufman noted that Forman had been overlooked for promotion and that his obvious abilities were not being used.
In 1984 Forman stood for the Chairmanship of the Conservative backbench finance committee as a left-wing "one nation" Tory – against incumbent right-winger Sir William Clark. Forman lost but had become clearly identified with "wets" and the one-nation group of Conservative MPs. In 1985, Forman published a pamphlet titled “Work to be done : employment policy for 1985 and beyond”. This was deeply critical of current government policy and advocated a package of measures to stimulate employment.
Forman’s progressive views did not endear him to the leadership of his constituency Conservatives in Carshalton. Many of them regarded him as disloyal to Margaret Thatcher and a traitor. There were repeated attempts to deselect him. Matters came to a head in 1986 after the Liberal SDP Alliance took control of Sutton Borough Council from the Conservatives. Forman publicly attributed this to the shortcomings of the local Conservative leadership.
The matter is described in the following extract from an article in the Times dated 21 May 1987:
“The Carshalton Conservative Association suffers from bigots and zealots who indulge in internecine warfare. Not Labour smear tactics, nor Alliance innuendo, but the words of its Conservative MP, Mr Nigel Forman. Several attempts to deselect Mr Forman failed. But when the election was called last week, five of the seven senior officers took their revenge on the beleaguered MP by resigning.” – The Times, May 1987.
However, Forman comfortably held his seat in the 1987 general election. His radical image tended to prevent Labour and Liberal supporters indulging in tactical voting (that is, jointly backing his strongest opponent) in order to turn him out. Forman appeared to be more popular in Carshalton than was the local Conservative party and his political fortunes seemed to be in the ascendant.
“Has Chancellor Nigel Lawson gone soft? Yesterday he appointed as his PPS a Tory so wet he drips. As recently as last year, Nigel Forman, vice-chairman of the party's backbench finance committee, was publicly calling on the Chancellor to 'give top priority to the unemployment challenge'. The year before, in Mastering British Politics, he wrote: 'Occasionally, in the course of its long history, the Conservative party has been swept along on the wave of some particular ideology, but such periods have not usually lasted or brought enduring political success'.” – "Rising Damp", The Times, June 1987.
The ideology Forman referred to was the then fashionable combination of supply side economics, monetarism, deregulation and privatisation known in the 1980s as Thatcherism. After Mrs Thatcher was forced from office in late 1990 it was considered only a matter of time before Forman would be promoted.
Minister of Higher Education, April 1992 to December 1992
“The omission of Nigel Forman, from successive ministerial reshuffles over the past few years has surprised many at Westminster when several apparently less talented politicians have secured top posts. But after 16 years in the Commons, he has become an under-secretary at the education department”
Immediately after the general election in April 1992 Forman was appointed Under Secretary of State for Education (with the job title Minister of Higher and Further Education) under Education Secretary John Patten. During his tenure of office, Forman dealt with high-profile issues such as the financing of student unions, student loans and the quality assurance of degrees issued by the new universities. Forman unexpectedly resigned from his ministerial post on 11 December 1992 for "personal reasons". The nature of those personal reasons was never disclosed. Colleagues commented that Forman was "a very private man" and nobody claimed to know why he had resigned.
Thereafter, Forman’s political career went into decline. His political interests appeared to become more theoretical in nature. In January 1996 the Demos 'think tank' published a paper written by him on reform of the income tax system. Demos was generally considered to be closely associated with New Labour. At the 1997 general election, Forman lost his seat to the Liberal Democrat candidate Tom Brake. Forman's 10,000 vote majority in the 1992 general election was converted into a 2,000 vote Liberal Democrat majority with a 12% swing from Conservative to Lib Dem.
Forman delivered courses for ‘Westminster Explained’, Parliament’s own in-house training facility which provides courses to members of both Houses and the wider public service. His later publications included "Constitutional Change in the UK" (Routledge, 2004 – a study of recent change introduced by New Labour) and "Mastering British Politics", (4th edition, update of a standard text, Macmillan, 1999). He was a visiting lecturer at Essex University and an honorary research fellow at University College London.
Forman died of dementia related issues on 11 May 2017. In the last year of his life he was reported to have been dismayed by the result of the 2016 Brexit referendum and to have stated that the UK had become a country he hardly knew. However, obituarists drew attention to his comment (quoted above) published thirty years earlier concerning the tendency of the Conservative party to be occasionally swept along in particular ideologies.
- STICS Dr Nigel Forman profile
- 'Junior Education Minister resigns', Times article 12 December 1992
- BBC Parliamentary profiles :Nigel Forman
- February 1974 general election results :Coventry North East
- Times 5 July 2017 obituary
- The Times, 15 April 1992.
- Forman research paper, demos.co.uk; accessed 12 October 2015.
- 1997 general election result:Carshalton & Wallington
- :Dr Nigel Forman profile, fdu.edu; accessed 12 October 2015.
- Nigel Forman, Conservative MP – obituary
|Parliament of the United Kingdom|
|Member of Parliament for Carshalton
|New constituency||Member of Parliament for Carshalton and Wallington