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The man who might have saved Britain

This year (2013), I hope some of us will be remembering Iain Macleod, the Tory MP who was born in 1913.

The centenary of his birth should not go un-noticed, for his career was salutary, and the present Tory party, including the prime minister, could learn much from his example.

I suspect that most of David Cameron's instincts are similar to Iain Macleod's – but Macleod was never slow to take on the hard Right. Throughout his life in politics Macleod showed that the Tory Party need not be, in the phrase of Theresa May, the nasty party. The enormous continuing importance of Macleod is that he proved you could be an effective, decisive Tory politician, both in and out of government, and at the same time be consistently enlightened, progressive and visionary.

His most remarkable achievements came during his action- packed two years as Colonial Secretary in the late 1950s when he decolonised seven different countries (managing to infuriate much of his own party as he did so). Even more important was the general example he set. Macleod was always the steadfast enemy of the troglodyte Right. He consistently stood up to, and saw off, the more pernicious elements in his party.

When his one-time friend Enoch Powell delivered his notorious "rivers of blood" speech in 1968, Macleod at once became his fiercest critic, and refused to speak to him again. When Lord Home became leader of the Tories in 1963, Macleod refused to serve under him, for he thought the emergence of an aged, out- of- touch landed aristocrat sent out all the wrong signals. When he was decolonising with zeal, many in his own party loathed him and did all they could to undermine him.One Tory peer even launched a vicious attack on him in the House of Lords. Macleod was undaunted. He had understood that the days of imperialism were finished.

In the summer of 1970 Ted Heath unexpectedly beat Harold Wilson in a closely fought General Election. Heath made Macleod his Chancellor of the Exchequer, although the two men could not have been more different. Where Heath was awkward and stiff, and a poor public speaker, Macleod was witty and quick, an exceptional communicator. Four weeks later, Macleod died of a heart attack. The normally unemotional Heath was, by his own admission, "sick and shattered". He called Macleod's death tragic. He was right.

Unfortunately Ted Heath's administration proved to be the most inept UK government in the entire 20th century (and there was a lot of competition). I'm convinced that had Macleod lived to be the reforming and humane Chancellor he intended to be, Heath's government would have done more to deal with rising unemployment, and its approach to industrial relations would have been more conciliatory and more sure-footed. Iain Macleod's conservatism was genuine and strong, but it was always tempered with imagination and compassion.

Macleod was the son of a doctor in Skipton, Yorkshire, He represented the constituency of Enfield West. But he came from Hebrides stock and he always regarded himself as Scottish through and through. He was a passionate supporter of the Scottish rugby team.

He was very clever, but by his own admission when he was at Cambridge he spent too much time playing bridge – and almost as much time at nearby Newmarket. After university he was briefly a professional gambler; he always excelled at both bridge and poker. Indeed, he played for England – despite his Scottishness – at bridge. He was also a brilliant if fitful journalist, and he enjoyed a controversial spell as editor of The Spectator.

In the Second World War he saw action near Dieppe and was badly wounded. He recovered in time to take part in the D Day landings.

Macleod loved poetry. He admired Rabbie Burns, and to the consternation of some, would quote him at Tory conferences. Altogether he was a brave, ardent and inspirational figure. How the current Tory party, and indeed British politics generally, could do with his like today.

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