Former MP John Moore, the ‘Icarus of Thatcherism’, has died

WALTER CRONXITE charts the career of someone once seen by Margaret Thatcher as her successor as Prime Minister

The death has been reported this week of the first MP for Croydon Central, John Moore.

Croydon MP John Moore, ‘the Icarus of Thatcher’s government’

Moore, who was Conservative MP for Croydon Central from February 1974 to April 1992, died on Monday (May 20), aged 81.

Moore was a banner-carrier for Thatcherism, who had a meteoric rise to high office in the 1980s advocating the kind of NHS privatisation and social security “reforms” so beloved of the hard-right of today’s Conservative Party. At the point when he was a star of Thatcher’s cabinet, he was seen as a potential successor as Prime Minister, even by Thatcher herself.

Yet he fell from grace even more quickly, so much so that his obituary in the Torygraph this week described Moore as “the Icarus of Margaret Thatcher’s government”.

Or as The Guardian summarised it: “Moore… left the Commons all but forgotten as a former minister, at the time of [John] Major’s greatest triumph in the 1992 General Election and went to work in the City of London, consoled with a valedictory life peerage. He was perceived, even by his friends, to have been defeated in trying to reform both the NHS and the social security budget and his political reputation never recovered.”

Such was Moore’s disillusionment with politics, in particular the manner in which he was treated by the Tory Party, that in more than 20 years, he never bothered making his maiden speech in the House of Lords.

Moore was born in relatively modest circumstances in 1937, where his father was a south London publican and so was able to send his bright son off to the fee-paying Licensed Victuallers’ School in Slough. After his National Service, where he was commissioned, Moore took up a university place at the London School of Economics in the late 1950s – shortly before the LSE developed its chic Sixties reputation as a hot-bed of radical and revolutionary thinking.

Ralph Miliband: Moore broke decades of silence to defend his former LSE lecturer

Moore the student was active in the anti-apartheid movement at the LSE and became president of the student union, which would later impress local Tory party members. It was at the LSE that Moore met Ralph Miliband, the father of Ed and David, who was a senior lecturer at the college.

In later life, Moore would criticise Paul Dacre’s Daily Mail for its vicious, politically inspired attacks on Ralph Miliband. Moore developed an early dislike of the right-wing British press, and even during his rise to high political office in the 1970s he often told audiences that the only paper he believed in was the Financial Times.

Moore said that his university lecturer Miliband never had a bad word to say about Britain. So angry was Moore at the Mail’s attacks on his former teacher in 2013 that, after decades of silence in the public sphere, he issued a strongly worded defence of Miliband through the Press Association.

Moore said, “Ralph Miliband taught me and I can say he was one of the most inspiring and objective teachers I had. Of course, we had different political opinions but he never treated me with anything less than complete courtesy and I had profound respect for his integrity.

“He had come here as a refugee, done his duty to his adopted country by serving in our Royal Navy during the war, become a great academic and raised a good family.

“I saw him week after week and it beggars belief that the Daily Mail can accuse him of lacking patriotism. I never heard him ever say one word which was negative about Britain – our country.

“The Daily Mail is telling lies about a good man who I knew. The people of this country are good and decent too. They do not want the Daily Mail attacking the dead relatives of politicians to make political points.”

Croydon campaign posters as they used to be

After university, Moore went into a career as a merchant banker and stockbroker, including a spell working in the United States with Dean Witter. He had met his wife, the American Sheila Tillotson, when they were students at LSE, and they both became active in Democratic Party campaigning during the 1960s of the Kennedys, Vietnam and the Civil Rights movement.

On his return to Britain, Moore took a job in The City and a council seat in Merton, where later Theresa May would do her local authority political apprenticeship, too.

Moore’s American connections and what the Daily Mail much later described as his “film-star looks” provided a bit of glamour to Moore’s campaigns in the grey days of 1970s Britain.

The Conservative Government of Ted Heath presided over miners’ strikes and power cuts, as well as taking Britain into what was then called the Common Market without a promised referendum. When Moore was selected to stand in the new constituency of Croydon Central, it was very much a marginal seat.

In February 1974, despite the collapse of the Heath government, Moore, then 36, managed to win the seat by 1,314 votes, and when Prime Minister Harold Wilson called a second election that October, the electors of Croydon Central opted to return their young MP to Westminster over former Croydon South Labour MP David Winnick. Moore won by 164 votes.

Moore took pride in the high-profile he maintained in New Addington, crediting that approach along with a loudspeaker van in which he toured the constituency’s streets for taking and then holding the seat, an approach he had taken from his experience with the Democrats in Chicago.

Heath was soon ousted as Tory party leader, and in 1975 the Conservatives elected Margaret Thatcher to replace him. Moore thrived under Thatcher’s time as opposition leader, bringing his financial market experience to advise on tackling Britain’s hyper-inflation and later held senior positions at the Treasury.

Moore, left, at the Tory top table in 1987 with Nigel Lawson, Thatcher and Norman Tebbit

“Youthful, energetic and with working-class roots, John Moore embraced Thatcherism with a convert’s zeal,” the Torygraph noted this week. In opposition, Thatcher swiftly appointed Moore as party vice-chairman for youth.

He enjoyed ministerial office from the start of the 1979 Conservative Government. As a junior minister in the energy department, it was Moore who started the process of accumulation of coal stocks that allowed Thatcher to see off the later miners’ strike.

He became transport secretary in 1986, watching over the preparation of British Airways for privatisation.

Moore arriving for the 1988 Tory Party conference. He was called away, and so was not in his room at the time of the IRA bombing of the Grand Hotel

In 1987, Moore took on the DHSS, the mega-department covering both the NHS and social security. Attempts at marketisation of the NHS with limited funding support from the Treasury worked out badly for Moore. Poor health troubled his performance in the House of Commons and he was dumped out of ministerial office by 1989.

Standing down from the House of Commons at the 1992 election, he was ennobled as Lord Moore of Lower Marsh, styling himself after the street market off Westminster Bridge Road alongside the railway arches of Waterloo Station, a nod to his humble beginnings, where his grandfather was a fishmonger.

But rather than sit in the Lords, Moore renewed his career in The City with directorships at Credit Suisse and Rolls-Royce.

You get a coat of arms when kicked up to the House of Lords

This week, Michael Wunn, a former Conservative councillor and chair of the local Tories, paid tribute by saying, “John and his wife Shelia were true friends to all Conservative Party members of Croydon Central. We will never forget them they will be in our hearts and minds forever.”

David White, a Labour member of the GLC in the 1970s and long-time party official in Croydon Central, noted on Facebook that Moore “was always a charming and courteous person. Ahead of his time, I think in projecting an image of the modern Conservative Party”.

And Waddon Labour councillor Andrew Pelling, who was one of his successors as MP for Croydon Central, said that Moore, “represents a story of social mobility that has been since lost to British society”.

About insidecroydon

News, views and analysis about the people of Croydon, their lives and political times in the diverse and most-populated borough in London. Based in Croydon and edited by Steven Downes. To contact us, please email
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