Nik Darlington 11.03am
Lord Carr, the last surviving member of the Conservative party’s talented 1950 intake, has died aged ninety-five.
Robert Carr was one of the founders of the Tory Reform Group in 1975, along with Peter Walker, who also passed away recently in 2010.
Lord Carr was a successful industrialist, Cabinet minister, leader of the Conservative party and a long-serving Wimbledon tennis umpire. But he is perhaps best known for his time as Employment Secretary during Ted Heath’s premiership, when the controversial Industrial Relations Act prompted protests and a “Kill the Bill” campaign (sound familiar?) from the powerful trade unions. The Telegraph’s obituary tells the tumultuous tale well:
The Industrial Relations Bill was Carr’s magnum opus. Labour fought it tooth-and-nail, with Barbara Castle leading the attack — her own proposals [In Place of Strife] forgotten. It was the unions rather than the Labour leadership which opposed reform, but as the unions financed the party and many of its MPs, they held the whip hand. Carr was reasonableness itself in insisting that his reforms would take confrontation out of the workplace, but the Bill both coincided with and fuelled an upsurge in union militancy.
Just after its publication in December 1970, a bomb damaged the basement of Carr’s department in St James’s Square. Then two more exploded at his Georgian home at Hadley Green, Barnet. The first of these — which Carr spotted as it “flared” — blew in the front door; the second wrecked the kitchen. (A third device failed to detonate.) Carr, his wife and their younger daughter were shaken but unhurt. The bombings were the work of the anarchist and largely middle-class Angry Brigade, five of whom were eventually imprisoned for 10 to 15 years.
By the time the Bill became law in August 1971, a poisonous atmosphere ensured that it would largely be a dead letter. Few dared apply it, and when it was invoked the results were catastrophic.
A commonplace ignorance is that Ted Heath was soft on industrial relations and only the ferrous fortitude of Mrs Thatcher could break the unions. In reality, Heath was if anything too radical and tried to do too much at once (sometimes this seems a good lesson for the coalition); Thatcher learned from Heath’s mistake and held back from hitting the unions with a sledgehammer, preferring instead to chip away with a chisel. Sometimes, ennui trumps enthusiasm.
In 1972, Carr became Home Secretary, where he became convinced that prison was “the most expensive and least effective way of deterring or reforming”, a way of thinking that even today, with the prison population at record levels, Britain is still struggling to come round to.
And in 1975, he loyally stuck with Heath during the party leadership contest. When Heath lost the first ballot, he appointed Carr as the acting party leader until the second vote, which was won by Mrs Thatcher. At only one week, Robert Carr’s was perhaps the shortest tenure as leader of the Conservative party, but it was by no means the least deserving.
Tim Crockford, the TRG chairman, said this morning:
“We are all saddened to hear of the passing of Lord Carr. Robert Carr was a founding member of the modern TRG in 1975 and a long standing supporter of the group. Lord Carr had many great achievements in business and politics and remained throughout his life a true ‘one nation’ conservative. He believed passionately that politics was about service. He will be much missed.”
He is survived by his wife and two daughters, to whom we give our thoughts and prayers. Lord Carr’s death means not just the passing of fond memories, but the passing of a political age.