The Bow Group pays tribute to Geoffrey Howe, Lord Howe of Aberavon, who, after 51 years as an MP and peer, has retired from the House of Lords.
Lord Howe was a founder and then chairman of the Bow Group in 1955-1956, and edited Crossbow. After a long and illustrious career in the Commons, he was elevated to the Lords and became Senior Patron to the Bow Group.
Adriel Kasonta, the Bow Group's Research Fellow in International Affiars, remembers hearing from his father, who was raised in Tanzania, about an incident that Lord Howe recently recounted in Parliament:
The first time I heard of Geoffrey Howe was, when about 16, I was learning about the First and Second World Wars at my school in Poland. My father wanted to complement my knowledge with some historical perspective drawn from the history of the Commonwealth.
We talked about East Africa, and my father mentioned the King’s African Rifles.
My father spoke about how he, and many other school children growing up in Kenya and Tanzania, was taught about a British young lieutenant who was serving in the region with the Royal Corps of Signals. The officer was well-known for lecturing in Swahili on how Africans should guard against communism, and that they should prefer bwana ‘Kingy George’ over bwana ‘Joe Stalin’.
After returning to Britain at the end of his National Service, Mr Howe (as then was) witnessed the sacking of the head of Bechuanaland, Seretse Khama, for marrying a typist from London. Many of Geoffrey Howe’s friends reacted with hostility to this unfair act, and several found their voices in the Bow Group, which controversially supported Kenyan independence in the 1960s.
As Alexis de Tocqueville said, “So many of my thoughts and feelings are shared by the English that England has turned into a second native land of the mind for me.” As a Pole I know how important it is to have freedom from tyranny. Lord Howe’s example inspired me to learn more about British history and to find myself as a Conservative.
Ben Harris-Quinney said:
Like most Conservatives and supporters of Margaret Thatcher, there will always be a part of the consideration of Lord Howe's career that is overshadowed by the events of the final months of the Thatcher government, which brought a sad and untimely ending to both her career in government, and his.
It is often said that all political careers end in failure, but even this ending, tantamount to Greek tragedy, could not possibly overshadow the service of a man for whom it would be uncontroversial to address as one of the greatest Parliamentarians in Britain's history.
Geoffrey Howe, with a few fellow Cambridge alumni, founded the Bow Group in an east London pub as a talking shop for like-minded individuals to challenge the post-war consensus.
No one would have dared predict that the ideas debated by that Group would form the foundation for the 1979 Conservative election manifesto, and that the Group would become a nursery from which some of the subsequent government's greatest ministers would be drawn. With mild-mannered persistence, Lord Howe spent 30 years breaking down the British establishment and political consensus, and driving forth the bloom of a thousand flowers in the movement we know as Thatcherism.
In conversation with Lord Howe, his considered pauses would regularly slip into lucid recollections of his time fighting and teaching in Africa (with nothing more than a saucepan to his name), the great value of grammar schools and National Service in tightening the national fabric across class lines, the unfailing combination of a soft step and a big stick in international affairs, and always the importance that politics must be underwritten by ideas and principle.
Not in any historical accounts, nor in his seminal memoirs, "Conflict of Loyalty", nor even when spending time with him was it possible to reach any conclusion other than that his drive in politics came from a sense of public service rooted in Christian values.
Unlike others among his peers who were undoubtedly driven by power and greed, Lord Howe’s quiet determination did not terrify his opponents or colleagues into submission, but slowly and gently changed the world.