Born 1920 Died 2005
An outstanding amateur chef, Anthony Meyer was an otherwise undistinguished Conservative Party Member of Parliament who enjoyed a brief moment of fame when he challenged the leadership of the Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher in November 1989.
Born Anthony John Charles Meyer in London on the 27th October 1920, his grandfather Carl Frederick Meyer was a Jewish immigrant from Hamburg who became a British citizen in 1877 and worked for Rothschilds, De Beers, before ending up as governor of the National Bank of Egypt. Along the way Carl Frederick made a great deal of money, £70,000 of which he donated to the cause of the National Theatre in 1909, and for which he received a baronetcy on the 18th July 1910. Anthony's father, Frank Cecil Meyer, the 2nd Baronet, became vice-chairman of the De Beers and was the Conservative MP for Great Yarmouth from 1924 and 1929.
Anthony duly followed in his father's footsteps, attending Eton College (where he was captain of Oppidans) and then New College, Oxford to read History. But he abandoned his studies after a year to participate in World War II and ended up in the Scots Guards. As First Lieutenant he was in command of an armoured communications tank engaged in the Allied assault on Caen on the 18th July 1944 when he ran into a German anti-tank screen and was hit by a shell, a fragment of which smashed through his armpit and lodged near his spine. Meyer spent the next nine months in hospital in Normandy and didn't completely recover from his injuries until some eighteen months later after a final operation in Manchester.
He decided not to return to university after the war and after briefly working for the Treasury (where he spent his time winding up the affairs of the London Polish government-in-exile), he took the Foreign Service examinations in 1946. Entering the Diplomatic Service he was posted to Paris from 1951, becoming first secretary in 1953. Anthony appears to have enjoyed himself in Paris, and became a thorough Francophile. However in 1956 he was transferred to Moscow where he was less happy particularly since he couldn't speak Russian but managed to escape from the Soviet Union after a somewhat clumsy attempt by the KGB to compromise him after a woman agent climbed into his taxi. This was sufficient to get him on the next plane home. Back in the United Kingdom he worked for the Foreign Office Common Market unit assisting Edward Heath, then Lord Privy Seal who was preparing the case for Britain's attempted entry into the Common Market.
Having inherited the baronetcy in 1935 when his father was killed in a horse riding accident, he had subsequently inherited the family money after his mother's death in 1951. Thus of independent means and happily not dependent on his Foreign Office salary to make ends meet, he promptly resigned in 1962 when he heard that his employers where planning to post him abroad once more. With time on his hands he decided to embark on a political career, and worked for the Common Market Campaign, promoting the cause of Britain's entry into Europe, whilst searching around for a suitable constituency. He was, it is said, uncertain about whether to become a Conservative or Liberal, but settled on the former due to this admiration for Harold Macmillan.
In 1963 he was selected to fight the marginal seat of Eton and Slough for the Conservative Party, then held by Fenner Brockway for the Labour Party. Anthony spent the next eighteen months canvassing the constituency and succeeded in defeating the Labour incumbent at the General Election in the following year by a margin of eleven votes. (Being one of the only two Conservative gains in the 1964 election, which saw the party defeated and the Labour Party returned to power after thirteen years). Once in the House of Commons he distinguished himself by voting to abolish hanging and in favour of sanctions against Rhodesia. (When most of his fellow Conservatives voted for precisely the opposite in each case.)
His tenure of the Eton and Slough constituency proved to be brief, as at the General Election in 1966 Joan Lestor reclaimed the seat for the Labour Party with a majority of 4,663 votes. Anthony began looking around for another seat, but found it hard going as the 'liberal' reputation that he had established for himself in Parliament did not endear him to the typical Conservative association. To keep himself occupied in the meantime he founded, and subsequently subsidised, the magazine Solon, which was edited by the Daily Telegraph journalist TE Utley.
After being rejected by five constituencies, Anthony eventually found a home in West Flintshire, largely due to the efforts of the retiring MP and fellow Old Etonian Nigel Birch. Once selected he brought himself a cottage in the constituency began researching local issue and was duly elected to parliament in 1970 with an increased majority of 3,000. On his return to Parliament he became Parliamentary Private Secretary to Maurice Macmillan, then Chief Secretary to the Treasury (1970-1972) and subsequently Secretary of State for Employment (1972-1974). Anthony does not seem to have been too keen on taking the job and only agreed because Maurice, the son of his former idol Harold Macmillan, was an old friend. In any event this was to be the nearest that Anthony ever got to a job in government.
By the time the Heath government had creaked to its somewhat ignominious end in 1974 Anthony was to be found calling for the establishment of a coalition government headed by Roy Jenkins. He also felt obliged to resign from the Conservative Bow Group when it's magazine Crossbow published an article attacking Edward Heath. At the time Anthony regarded such criticism of the party leader as unacceptable, although strangely enough whatever sense of loyalty he had to the Conservative Party disappeared when Margaret Thatcher became Conservative Party leader, as from then on "if his views coincided with official party policy, it was almost entirely accidental".
Thereafter he became one of the few persistent parliamentary rebels of the Thatcher years, voting against the government on a wide variety of issues, including the closure of Shotton steel works, devolution, on changes to unemployment benefit and on cuts in overseas aid. He again broke with the government over the Falklands War and even went on television to described as "an insane way of settling a problem"; when the Labour Party opposed the bombing of Libya from UK bases he was the only Conservative to vote with the opposition.
Naturally such consistent contrarianism earned him many enemies and in 1983, when boundary reorganisation replaced his old seat of Flintshire West with that of Clwyd North-West, he was forced to go to court to re-establish his right to contest the seat, having initially been outmanoeuvred his opponents who sought to replace him with the pro-Thatcherite Euro MP Beata Brookes. This did not nothing to temper Anthony's political views and from 1985 onwards he began openly calling on the party to replace Thatcher as leader. His eventual decision to launch his own challenge Thatcher for the Conservative Party leadership was later prompted by a conversation with Chris Moncrieff of the Press Association. According to Meyer "He talked me into saying that if somebody had to stand it had better be me". The press soon described him as a "stalking horse", or a "stalking donkey" as Anthony Beaumont-Dark dubbed him, although Meyer preferred to describe himself as a "burnt offering". This was because everyone expected that one of the more prominent pro-Europeans such as Ian Gilmour or Michael Heseltine would emerge to take over the challenge and allow Anthony to gracefully retire. In the event neither came forward - "The Wets were wet indeed" is how Anthony himself viewed the situation - and so he was forced to carry on with his challenge.
The result was unsurprisingly a resounding defeat by a margin of 314 votes to 33 with 24 spoilt ballot papers. Some have interpreted the result as demonstrating that Thatcher had lost the support of a sixth of her parliamentary party, forgetting that there was always a considerable anti-Thatcher faction within the Conservative Party and it is likely that she never had their support in the first place.
Although his stand against the Prime Minister led him to come second to Mikhail Gorbachev as Radio 4's Man of the Year, it was the last straw as far as his constituency party in Clwyd North-West was concerned, and in the following year he was deselected as its candidate by 206 votes to 107. He was in the process of trying to get this decision reversed when the story appeared in the press of his twenty-six year long affair with Simone Washington, a former model and blues singer. Although his wife knew of the relationship and even approved of it, (she apparently once answered the telephone with the words "Darling, it's someone from the Daily Sleaze asking about Simone"), - Ms Washington had kept a detailed diary of their various sex games over the years, and the subsequent embarrassment forced him to abandon any ideas of retaining his seat.
In his remaining time as an MP he had the satisfaction of having his wish fulfilled when the Conservative party duly dispensed with the services of Margaret Thatcher as leader. However his chosen candidate Michael Heseltine ("the only politician capable of firing the imagination and appealing to the young" according to Anthony) lost out in the end to John Major who, of course, succeeded in somehow retaining office at the next election.
Forced therefore to abandon his parliamentary career after the 1992 General Election, Anthony became policy director for the European Movement until 1999, after which he took to lecturing schools and universities on the supposed merits of European integration. He remained in the Conservative Party until 1998 when he defected to the Pro-Euro Conservative Party, whose electoral performance was so dismal that it collapsed almost as soon as it had been established; ("The stalking-horse has finally ended up in the knackers yard" was how one wag described Anthony's experience.) He ended up in the Liberal Democrats which is where many people believed he should have been from the beginning.
Meyer always believed that he had played some part in Thatcher's downfall, believing that by standing against her in 1989 he had "made the unthinkable thinkable" as he put it himself, and thus helped to pave the way for Heseltine's more serious challenge in the following year. However Heseltine was largely driven by his own ambition to become Prime Minister rather than any specific policy considerations; doubtless he would have stood against Thatcher at whatever time he felt he had a chance of defeating her, irrespective of the actions of an otherwise obscure backbench Member of Parliament.
Although regarded as something of a wet, and describing himself as "an old-fashioned sloppy wet", he was actually quite right wing in his economic views. His dislike of Thatcher had was largely motivated by his disapproval of her confrontational style of politics and her attitude to Europe. Indeed he was fanatically pro-European; as he put it himself, "Europe was the reason I came into politics", his enthusiasm for Europe arising as a result of his experiences in World War II. As Anthony was to explain "Of the dozen closest friends of my youth, ten were killed in the war - a tragic waste of life." He therefore believed that a federal Europe was the best guarantee of peace and was genuinely dismayed by the rising tide of Euro-Scepticism within his own party. As it happens the dislike was mutual; it has been said that he "epitomised everything about the old-style Conservative Party that Mrs Thatcher most disliked". He was thoroughly upper class, rather laid back and effecting the very kind of languid paternalism that made him the very model of the patrician Tory that was anathema to the Thatcherite vision of the party.
For much of his life he was active in the such bodies as the Federal Union, the British European Movement and Franco-British Council for many years and for which he was awarded the Légion d’Honneur in 1983. He died in his London home on the 24th December 2004 at the age of eighty-four after suffering from cancer for many months.
Anthony was married in 1941 to Barbadee Knight, by whom he had three daughters, Carolyn, Tessa and Sally, and a son, Anthony Ashley Frank Meyer, born 1944, who succeeded him as the 4th Baronet Meyer.
- History of the NT
- Tory 'stalking horse' Meyer dies, 9 January, 2005
- Obituary: Sir Anthony Meyer 10 January 2005
- Andrew Roth, Obituary: Sir Anthony Meyer, January 8, 2005