British Conservative politician
Born 1944 Died 2006
"There are millions of people in this country who are
white, Anglo-Saxon and bigoted and they need to be represented."
(Eric Forth in private conversation)
Although perhaps little known to the general public, Eric Forth was rather better known amongst his fellow members of parliament. Famous for his loud ties and waistcoats he was a flamboyant and energetic Commons performer. A solid right-wing Conservative said to represent the 'Doc Marten tendency'; he was thought by many to be the inspiration for the original incarnation of the fictional Alan B’Stard, and often irritated his own party more than his political opponents.
The son of a deputy harbourmaster, Eric Forth was born in Glasgow on the 9th September 1944 and educated at Jordanhill College School where he had a brief teenage flirtation with communism (at least he he stood in a mock election as a Communist) before atttending the University of Glasgow, where he studied Politics and Economics and became secretary of the Conservative Club. He graduated MA (Hons) and was employed in managerial positions by Rank Xerox, Burrough's Machines and the Ford Motor Company, before becoming a management consultant in 1970.
Forth's first political experience was as a councillor on the Brentwood Urban District Council in Essex from 1968 to 1972. He subsequently stood as the Conservative candidate in the Barking constituency in both the General Elections of 1974, but failed to dislodge the incumbent Jo Richards from what was regarded as a safe Labour seat. Thereafter he changed his sphere of operations and was to be found acting as the Secretary of Llandeilo Conservative Association between 1975 and 1977, and as Chairman of Ross-on-Wye Conservative Political Committee from 1978 to 1979.
In 1979 he was elected as a Member of the European Parliament for Birmingham North. At the time he was strongly in favour of Britain's membership of the EC and became the founder and Chairman of the European Democratic Group Backbench Committee, and Spokesman on the Committee of Rules and Petitions. His experience of the inner workings of the European Community appear to have transformed him into a convinced Eurosceptic and inspired him to seek a seat in his home Parliament. Seelected as the PPC for the new seat of Mid-Worcestershire in a solidly Conservative area and was duly elected in the 1983 General Election with a majority of 14,205 votes.
Once in the House of Commons Forth wasted no time in making his views known. His maiden speech was directed in opposing the Sex Equality Bill, and he was soon calling for the restoration of hanging and the wholesale denationalisation of major sections of the public sector. He also demonstrated his independence of mind when he joined fifteen other Conservative MPs in voting against the Government on the issue of increasing Britain’s payments to the European Commission budget.
His first taste of office came in November 1986, when he was appointed Parliamentary Private Secretary to Angela Rumbold the Minister of State in the Department of Education and Science (aka Education Minister). There were some who may have hoped that such an appointment might have tempered his individuality, but when the Labour MP Claire Short promoted a measure to outlaw topless photographs from newspapers Forth naturally rose to their defence claiming that it if women chose "to display for profit whatever assets they possess" that was entirley their own business, and indeed his own office in the Commons was adorned with a poster of Samantha Fox in all her glory.
He retained his seat in the 1987 General Election, and a year later Margaret Thatcher promoted him to Consumer Affairs Minister in the the Department of Trade and Industry. The notoriously wet member for Cambridge, Robert Rhodes James, who had earlier described him as "unfit to be a minister" was so appalled at Forth's elevation that he swore never to vote for Mrs Thatcher in the Commons again. As it was Forth spent much of his time opposing several consumer protection measures as too bureaucratic, and developed a particular technique of indicating his disapproval of any measure foisted upon him by the Civil Service by reading his prepared speech to the Commons in a dull monotone. Neverthless further promotion was thrust upon him in July 1990 when his immediate boss Nicholas Ridley was considered to have made some remarks that were insulting to the Germans and was forced to resign. In the resulting reshuffle he was transfered to the Department of Employment as Employment Minister.
When a few months later, Thatcher was forced to resign, Forth became an early supporter of John Major's efforts to succeed her as Prime Minister and was influential in persuading other Thatcherites that John Major
was her most suitable successor. (A decision that he no doubt later regretted). After the 1992 General Election John Major appointed him as Schools Minister
and in July 1995 he was promoted to Higher Education Minister
, where he distinguished himself by supporting Sinn Fein’s
right to campaign at universities on the grounds of free speech.
Despite his earlier enthusiasm for Major he was considering resigning over the issue of the Maastricht treaty, but in the end decided to saty where he was, partly because he responded to Major's appeal for loyalty, partly because he liked his job.
1997 and Beyond
In September 1995 boundary reorganisations forced him to seek a new seat when his fellow Conservative MP Peter Luff, who held the neighbouring constituency of Worcester now considered as being vulnerable to Labour, succeeded in replacing him as the Conservative candidate for Mid-Worcestershire. Having failed to be adopted by Maidenhead he eventually found a home with the newly re-named Bromley and Chiselhurst where the incumbent John Hunt was retiring. Forth was successful in winning his new constituency in the 1997 General Election although the government was defeated and he now had to face life in opposition.
Since becoming disenchanted with the performance of John Major, Forth had emerged as one of the leading supporters of Michael Portillo. Unfortunately Portillo had lost his Commons seat in the 1997 disaster and was so prevented from becoming a candidate in the contest to succeed Major as leader of the party. Forth thus switched his support to Peter Lilley and became his campaign manager in the subsequent leadership contest. When Lilley dropped out of the contest, he became a John Redwood supporter, and in the final ballot is generally assumed to have voted for William Hague (given that the alternative was Kenneth Clarke). His enthusiasm for Hague appears to have been muted, as he declined the offer of a position on Hague's front bench team in order to "make a positive contribution on the backbenches". This positive contribution included an attack on Hague's leadership and as a leading "Portillista" he did much to undermine Hague's authority. By 2000 he was threatening to take action to remove Hague as leader unless he won a hundred additional seats in the coming election.
As we now know Hague only won a single additional seat in the 2001 General Election, but resigned as leader before Forth could make good his threat. However by now Forth's enthusiasm for Portillo had began to wane as the latter began taking a more liberal stance, and so he and David Maclean joined forces to support the leadership bid of David Davis representing, as some suggested at the time, the 'heterosexual wing' of the party. The eventual winner of that contest, Iain Duncan Smith appointed Forth as Shadow Leader of the House of Commons, but Forth did not appear to have been any more enthusuatic about Smith than he was about Hague. He was once caught miming the action of shooting himself in the head during one of IDS's more inept Commons peformances (much to the amusmement of the Labour side of the house) and soon became recognised as a leading 'anti-IDS' plotter. When Smith resigned two years later he backed David Davis again (who much to his annoyance declined to stand) and was one of four front benchers dismissed by Michael Howard when he was returned unapposed as Party Leader in 2003.
Forth once more emerged as a strong supporter of David Davis in the leadership contest of 2005 and presumably viewed the party's eventual choice of David Cameron with similar levels of disenchantment as before. Indeed he is known to have approached Cameron and asked the question, "I believe in tax cuts, grammar schools and big business - am I still a Conservative?"
Forth the Parliamentarian
In opposition Forth used his considerable knowledge of parliamentary procedure to conduct a backbench guerrilla war against new Labour, believing that it was duty as an opposition politician to use its procedures in any way possible to slow down and frustrate the government. He was also firmly of the opinion that there was far too much legislation being passed in general and that it was his mission in life to adopt what he referred to as a "principled opposition to bad legislation". Thus he would often try the patience of his fellow MPs by blocking some of their cherished Private Members Bills by appearing at the last minute, in order to shout "Object!" and therefore kill some seemingly innocuous proposal that would heap yet another layer of regulation on an unsuspecting public. The fact that such measures were promoted by his fellow Conservatives never weakened Forth's resolve, and were part of the reason why he was chosen as Opposition MP of the Year for 2000 by the House Magazine.
Known as an aggressive and effective heckler, the Liberal Democrat leader Menzies Campbell being the most recent in a long line of victims. Menzies rose to his feat during Prime Minister's Questions to ask a question on the subject of pensions. But before he could finish putting his question to the Prime Minister, Forth intervened with the shout of "declare your interest" with what was described as "perfect comic timing", reducing the House of Commons to laughter, and bringing Campbell to an abrupt stop. (The joke being that since Mr Campbell's 65th birthday and thus his own old age pension was imminent.)
He claimed that he never held surgeries in his constituency, believing that they merely encouraged voters to seek his help, rather than sorting out their own problems. In response to one constituent who wrote to complain that his son could not afford to buy a house in his consituency to "tell him to move to a grottier part of town".
Politically he was a Thatcherite, one of the founder members of the 'No Turning Back' that emerged in the 1980s and later served as chairman of the equally Thatcherite Conservative Way Forward from 1997. He was in favour of capital punishment and implacably opposed to anything remotely politically correct', disapproved of equal opportunities, sympathised with white minority rule in South Africa and opposed spending money on fighting Aids, on the grounds that it was largely "self-inflicted".
Eric Forth was first married in 1967 to Linda St Clair whom he had two daughters. They were divorced in 1994 and he married Carroll Goff in the same years in a no frills ceremony conducted in New Mexico at a cost of $25. A keen Elvis Presley fan, he was treasurer of the All-Party Music Appreciation Group. He unexpectedly fell ill in May, was diagnosed with cancer and died on the 17th May 2006.
- Rt Hon Eric Forth MP
- Eric Forth Obituary The Times May 19, 2006
- Andrew Roth and Michael White, Eric Forth Obituary, The Guardian May 19, 2006l
- Tributes paid to Tory Eric Forth, 19 May 2006