Consistent voice of modernisation in the Tory Party

HOR 160508 County Times Business Awards, South Lodge, Francis Maude -photo by steve cobb
HOR 160508 County Times Business Awards, South Lodge, Francis Maude -photo by steve cobb

He was described by one national political journalist at the weekend as ‘maybe the most important unknown minister’.

And while Francis Maude has announced this week he is stepping down as Horsham MP and will not be contesting this May’s General Election, a political career spanning more than three decades shows no sign of ending.

He has already hinted that he hopes to continue the work he started as Minister for the Cabinet Office in cutting government waste, telling the chairman of the Horsham Conservative Association ‘public service still exercises a strong appeal’.

Responding to the news Brad Watson, chairman of the HCA, described Mr Maude’s work in the Cabinet Office as very much ‘behind the scenes’, possibly a fair reflection of most of his career.

Only very fleetingly has he been in the national spotlight, such as when he managed Michael Portillo’s unsuccessful bid for the Conservative leadership in 2001, organising Baroness Thatcher’s funeral in 2013, or the controversy over his comments on jerrycans during the March 2012 fuel crisis.

EARLY CAREER

The son of Conservative Cabinet Minister Angus Maude, Francis Maude was a barrister and councillor for the City of Westminster before being elected as a Tory MP for North Warwickshire in 1983.

He held various posts under the Governments of the late Baroness Thatcher and Sir John Major, becoming Minister of State for the Foreign and Commonwealth Office in 1989, and Financial Secretary to the Treasury in 1990, but lost his seat in the 1992 General Election.

TORY MODERNISER

After being elected as Horsham MP in 1997 and returning to the House of Commons he served in William Hague’s Shadow Cabinet firstly as Shadow Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, Shadow Chancellor of the Exchequer, and then Shadow Foreign Secretary.

As a backbencher he co-founded Conservatives for Change (CChange) and then the think tank Policy Exchange in 2002, and was Vice-Chairman of the All Party Parliamentary Group on AIDS. He has spoken of his brother Charles’ death from AIDs in 1993.

He is a member of the Cabinet which has enacted same-sex marriage legislation.

He became Chairman of the Conservative Party in 2005, delivering a much-talked about speech to the Tories’ Autumn party Conference.

With David Cameron now leader of the Conservative Party, Mr Maude became Shadow Minister for the Cabinet Office in 2007, a role he took up under the Coalition Government after 2010’s General Election.

TIME AS HORSHAM MP

Until last year Mr Maude lived in Dial Post, just outside his constituency, with his wife Christina and five children.

Now that many of their children have grown up and moved out, they are based between Coolham and Thakeham.

As Horsham MP, Mr Maude has expressed support for a thriving single-runway Gatwick, but has continued to oppose a second runway.

He also pushed for a new acute hospital between Horsham and Crawley, a dream that looked to be coming to fruition in 2012 when developers announced proposals which included 4,500 homes north of the A264, plans which included a new hospital.

However, at what was billed as a make-or-break meeting between politicians and GPs in April 2013, it became clear that proposals did not have the backing of the new local Clinical Commissioning Groups.

Afterwards supporters of the new hospital admitted defeat, and revised plans were submitted for 2,500 homes and a business park, without a hospital.

PUBLIC REACTION

When the County Times published the news that Mr Maude was stepping down as Horsham MP at the weekend, reaction was less than positive. Some welcomed the news, with others questioning his record on representing Horsham.

But anecdotally readers have told us that Mr Maude has run a good constituency office, responding quickly and positively to any enquiries on local issues.

MAUDE’S SUCCESSOR

Research suggests that incumbency can be a factor in UK elections, and while there seems to be no standard rule to be used across the board, Mr Maude’s announcement seems to add a bit more drama to the build up to May’s elections in Horsham.

Voters will have to wait and see if the Horsham Conservative Association selects a local candidate or not. Meanwhile the Guardian suggested the news may help UKIP challenger Roger Arthur as a former deputy leader of Horsham District Council until his defection from the Conservatives.

Whoever stands at the election it will be 91 days until we know who will succeed Mr Maude as Horsham MP.