Thursday 21st June 2012 | 20:00
Stephen Dorrell: A Tribute to Lord Maples
Stephen Dorrell remembers a keen moderniser and a Conservative MP who was motivated by what politics could do for others rather than for himself
WORDS: STEPHEN DORRELL
I first met John Maples when we were both invited to provide advice and support to Peter Walker between 1974 and 1979. The impression of John that I formed then was an impression which didn’t change over the following 35 years – which in itself is a tribute to his decency and constancy.
John was attracted to Peter’s circle because his political compass was already set. In the late 1970s he was clear about the urgency of creating a more successful liberal economy in Britain, but he was also clear about the importance of combining liberal economics with a realistic and modern social outlook. John knew that politics is always about creating something new – never about restoring a lost (and probably fictitious) golden age. Those principles shine through in the often courageous speeches he made as a backbencher in the 1980s, and in his record as Economic Secretary to the Treasury in the run-up to the 1992 election; it would surely have been natural for John Major to appoint such a kindred spirit to the Cabinet, had he not lost his seat in the 1992 election.
Losing his seat allowed John to demonstrate another important quality; he remained, as always, interested in politics – but not obsessed by it. He developed an active business and social life and made it clear that he did not pine for the division lobbies. John was interested in politics, not because of what it did for him, but because of what it allowed him to do for others. He was, as John Major sometimes says, “a signed-up member of the human race”.
When he returned to the House of Commons in 1997 John quickly became a senior and respected voice of moderation and pragmatism in William Hague’s team; his departure from the Shadow Cabinet at the time of Michael Portillo’s return proved ironic in the light of the support which John later gave to Michael’s “modernising” leadership bid in 2001.
But John’s time really came when David Cameron became leader in 2005. David won the Conservative leadership with an explicit commitment to change the Conservative Party and the new leader needed supporters who were going to see the changes through. David had a willing and committed supporter in John, to whom he gave the essential and sensitive task of coordinating the process of selection of the new generation of Conservative parliamentary candidates. At a time when the Party needed to recruit over 150 new MPs this was a task of much more than tactical importance. History often looks inevitable in retrospect, but it seldom feels that way at the time. There was certainly nothing inevitable about David Cameron’s success in encouraging local associations to entertain a broad base of applications.
It was famously said of the Emperor Augustus: “If you want to see his monument, look around you”. John would not have appreciated the parallel, but it in no way diminishes the individual achievements of the 2010 intake of MPs and their associations, to recognize that there is a real sense in which the breadth, diversity and quality of the 2010 intake of Conservative MP’s is John Maples’ monument. John was without doubt a thoroughly decent, loyal and intelligent friend; his success at creating a new face for the Conservative Party in 2010 is testament to the fact that he also knew when and how to exert himself.