Ian Gow : Assassinated by the IRA 3oth July 1990

Ian Reginald Edward Gow

Ian Reginald Edward Gow TD 11 February 1937 – 30 July 1990) was a British Conservative politician and solicitor. While serving as Member of Parliament (MP) for Eastbourne, he was assassinated by the Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA), who exploded a bomb under his car outside his home in East Sussex.

Early life

Ian Gow was born at 3 Upper Harley Street, London, the son of Alexander Edward Gow, a London doctor attached to St Bartholomew’s Hospital who died in 1952. Ian Gow was educated at Winchester College, where he was president of the debating society. During a period of national service from 1955 to 1958 he was commissioned in the 15th/19th Hussars and served in Northern Ireland, Germany and Malaya. He subsequently served in the territorial army until 1976, attaining the rank of Major.

After completing national service he took up a career in the law and qualified as a solicitor in 1962. He eventually became a partner in the London practice of Joynson-Hicks and Co.

 He also became a Conservative Party activist. He stood for Parliament in the Coventry East constituency for the 1964 general election, but lost to Richard Crossman. He then stood for the Clapham constituency, a Labour-held London marginal seat, in the 1966 general election. An account in The Times of his candidature described him in the following terms:

“He is a bachelor solicitor, aged 29, wearing his public school manner as prominently as his rosette. Words such as ‘overpowering’, ‘arrogant’, and ‘bellicose’ are used to describe him.”

After failing to take Clapham,  he continued his quest to find a seat. He eventually succeeded at Eastbourne in 1972 after the local Party de-selected its sitting member, Sir Charles Taylor. Sir Charles had represented Eastbourne since 1935 and did not take kindly to Gow.

Parliamentary career

Gow entered Parliament as the member for Eastbourne in the general election of February 1974. For a home in his constituency, Gow acquired a 16th-century manor house known as The Doghouse in the village of Hankham. Eastbourne was then a safe Conservative seat, and Gow always had a majority share of the vote during his time as the constituency’s MP. In the general election of October 1974, he secured a 10% swing from Liberal to Conservative, doubling his majority.

In the 1975 Conservative leadership election, Gow voted for Margaret Thatcher in the first round ballot. Once Thatcher had forced Edward Heath out of the contest, several new candidates appeared and Gow switched his support to Geoffrey Howe in the second round, which Thatcher won. Gow was brought onto the Conservative front bench in 1978 to share the duties of opposition spokesman on Northern Ireland with Airey Neave.

Ian Gow First Televised Speech In Commons

The two men developed a Conservative policy on Northern Ireland which favoured integration of the province with Great Britain. This approach appeared to avoid compromise with the province’s nationalist minority and with the government of the Republic of Ireland. Both Neave and Gow were killed by car bomb attacks in 1979 and 1990 respectively. Irish republican paramilitaries claimed responsibility in both cases, but nobody was ever charged with causing the deaths and claims were made concerning possible involvement of the United States Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and intelligence community.

See: Airey Neave- The Assasination of Airey Neave

Through his association with Neave, Gow was introduced to the inner circles of the Conservative Party. He was appointed parliamentary private secretary to Margaret Thatcher in May 1979 at the time she became Prime Minister. While serving in this capacity between 1979 and 1983, Gow became a close friend and confidant of the Prime Minister. He was deeply involved in the workings of Thatcher’s private office until his departure in June 1983.

Though elevated to junior ministerial office as Minister for Housing and Construction before moving later to the Treasury, Gow was known to be disappointed by his loss of influence with the Prime Minister in his new role. In late 1983 he developed plans with Alan Clark to reinvigorate Thatcher’s private office by expanding it and its influence over policy, thereby creating a new role for himself, but these came to nothing.

Although later identified with the right-wing of the Party, he took a liberal position on some issues. He visited Rhodesia at the time of its Unilateral Declaration of Independence and was subsequently critical of the country’s white minority regime. As an MP, Gow consistently voted against the restoration of the death penalty.

 As Minister of State for Housing and Construction (from 1983 to June 1985) he showed a willingness to commit public funds to housing projects that alarmed some on the right-wing of the Conservative party.

“After taking what was perhaps too principled a stand in a complex dispute over Housing Improvement Grants, he was moved sideways to the post of minister of state at the Treasury”.

From 1982, Conservative policy began to move towards a more flexible position on Northern Ireland. In November 1985, Gow was persuaded by the speeches his cousin Nicholas Budgen made to resign as Minister of State in HM Treasury over the signing of the Anglo-Irish Agreement.

Despite his disagreement with government policy, he used his resignation speech to underline his personal devotion to Thatcher, describing her as:

“the finest chief, the most resolute leader, the kindest friend that any member of this House could hope to serve.” 

The Anglo-Irish Agreement would ultimately lead to devolved government for Northern Ireland, power sharing in the province and engagement with the Republic. After his resignation from the government, Gow became chairman of the parliamentary Conservative backbench committee on Northern Ireland. He was a leading opponent of any compromise with republicans and his tactics in this regard caused concern to the Northern Ireland Secretary Jim Prior and other MPs –

“He [Gow] co-ordinated the Tory backbench opposition to Mr Prior’s Northern Ireland Assembly bill in the early 1980s. His activities were said to have startled other Tory MPs and led to a complaint from an enraged Mr Prior to Mrs Thatcher.” 

Although he was opposed to the broadcasting of Parliamentary debates, on 21 November 1989, he nevertheless delivered the first televised speech in the House of Commons. Until 1989, television cameras did not show proceedings in the House of Commons, although it had been discussed eight times between 1964 and 1989. In 1988 MPs backed an experiment with cameras in the chamber, and 1989 Commons proceedings were televised for the first time on 21 November. Technically, Gow was not the first MP to appear on camera in the chamber, as Bob Cryer, the MP for Bradford South raised a point of order before Gow presented the Loyal Address at the opening of Parliament.

In his speech, Gow referred to a letter he had received from a firm of consultants who had offered to improve his personal appearance and television image, making a few self-deprecating jokes about his baldness. MPs agreed in 1990 to make the experiment permanent.

In spite of his disagreement with the direction in which Government policy on Northern Ireland was moving, Gow remained on close terms with Thatcher. In November 1989, he worked in Thatcher’s leadership election campaign against the stalking horse candidate, Sir Anthony Meyer. But it was reported that by the time of his death he believed Thatcher’s premiership had reached a logical end and that she should retire. Gow enjoyed friendships with people of various political persuasions, including left-wing Labour MP Tony Banks. Alan Clark described him as “my closest friend by far in politics”.

Personal life

Gow married Jane Elizabeth Packe (born 1944) in Yorkshire on 10 September 1966. They had two sons, Charles Edward (born 1968) and James Alexander (born 1970).

See: Wife of MP Ian Gow breaks her silence after British soldiers face prosecution for their actions in Northern Ireland while her husband’s IRA killers remain free

Assassination

Although aware that he was a potential IRA assassination target, unlike most British MPs of that era, he left his telephone number and home address in the local telephone directory. In the early hours of 30 July 1990, a bomb was planted under Gow’s Austin Montego car, which was parked in the driveway of his house in Hankham, near Pevensey in East Sussex.

The 4.5 lb (2.0 kg) Semtex bomb detonated at 08:39 as Gow reversed out of his driveway, leaving him with severe wounds to his lower body.

He died ten minutes later.

Ian Gow Murder 1990 BBC News Report

On hearing of Gow’s death, Labour Party leader Neil Kinnock commented:

“This is a terrible atrocity against a man whose only offence was to speak his mind…. I had great disagreement with Ian Gow and he with me, but no one can doubt his sincerity or his courage, and it is appalling that he should lose his life because of these qualities.”

In her autobiography, The Downing Street Years, Margaret Thatcher described his murder as an “irreplaceable loss”.

The Assassination of MP Ian Gow | Thames News Archive Footage

The IRA claimed responsibility for killing Gow, stating that he was targeted because he was a “close personal associate” of Thatcher and because of his role in developing British policy on Northern Ireland.

Aftermath

Evaluations of Gow’s political career by obituarists were mixed in tone. All commented on his personal charm and his skills in public speaking and political manoeuvre. But his obituary in The Times stated,

“It could not be said that his resignation in 1985 cut short a brilliant ministerial career”.

A tendency toward political intrigue (for example, trying to covertly undermine Jim Prior’s Northern Ireland initiative after 1982) made him enemies.

Nicholas Budgen commented that Gow’s personal devotion to Thatcher may not have been good for Thatcher or her government.

Gow’s widow Jane was appointed a DBE in 1990 and thus became Dame Jane Gow. On 4 February 1994, she remarried in West Somerset to Lt-Col. Michael Whiteley, and became known as Dame Jane Whiteley. She continues to promote the life and work of her first husband.

When the Eastbourne by-election for his seat in the House of Commons was won by the Liberal Democrat David Bellotti, the Conservative MP Ann Widdecombe sent a message to voters saying:

“Bellotti is the innocent beneficiary of murder. I suspect that last night as the Liberal Democrats were toasting their success, in its hideouts the IRA were doing the same thing”.

See 30th July

See: Before Jo Cox the last MP to be murdered was Ian Gow who was killed in an IRA explosion

Margaret Thatcher’s Memorable Remarks: A Video Mash-up | The New York Times

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