Ian Gow

Ian Gow
Ian Gow MP
Member of Parliament
for Eastbourne
In office
28 February 1974 – 30 July 1990
Preceded by Charles Stuart Taylor
Succeeded by David Bellotti
Personal details
Born 11 February 1937(1937-02-11)
London, England, UK
Died 30 July 1990(1990-07-30) (aged 53)
Hankham, East Sussex, England, UK
Political party Conservative
Spouse(s) Jane Elizabeth Packe
(m. 1966–1990; his death); two sons
Occupation Solicitor
Religion Church of England

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.[1]



Ian Gow was born at 3 Upper Harley Street, London, the son of Alexander Edward Gow, a prominent London doctor attached to St Bartholomew's Hospital who died in 1952.[2] Ian Gow was educated at Winchester College, where he was president of the debating society. During a period of national service from 1955-58 he was commissioned in the 15th/19th Hussars and served in Northern Ireland, Germany and Malaya. He served in the territorial army until 1976, reaching 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.[3] 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[4].

After failing to take Clapham [5] 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.[6]


Gow married Jane Elizabeth Packe (born 1944)[7] in Yorkshire on 10 September 1966. They had two sons, Charles Edward (born 1968) and James Alexander (born 1970).[2]

Parliamentary career

Gow entered Parliament as the member for Eastbourne in the general election of February 1974.[8] For a home in his constituency, Gow acquired a 16th century manor house known as 'The Doghouse' located in the village of Hankham. Eastbourne was a traditional Conservative seat but, in common with other English south coast towns in the 1970s, it was coming under some pressure from the Liberals. Gow proved to be a popular and communicative constituency member. In the general election of October 1974 he was able to secure a 10% swing from Liberal to Conservative thereby doubling his majority.[9] He held his seat with a comfortable majority at every election thereafter. His local supporters included the infamous Dr John Bodkin Adams who regularly donated to his election funds. [10]

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. Gow was brought onto the Conservative front bench in 1978 to share the duties of opposition spokesman on Northern Ireland with Airey Neave. 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 rumours later circulated concerning possible involvement of the CIA and intelligence community.[11]

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 confidante of the Prime Minister. He was deeply involved in the workings of Thatcher's private office. He held junior Ministerial office between 1983 and 1985, first as Minister for Housing and Construction and later at the Treasury. 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 UDI and was subsequently critical of that 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"- The Guardian, 31 July 1990.[citation needed]

From 1982, Conservative policy began to move towards a more even handed 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.[12][13] This 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.

Although he was opposed to the broadcasting of Parliamentary debates, on 21 November 1989 Gow made history by becoming the first MP to deliver a speech in the House of Commons with television cameras present. Gow was moving 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.[14][15]

In spite of his disagreement with the direction in which Government policy on Northern Ireland was moving, Gow remained on close terms with Mrs 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.[16] Gow enjoyed friendships with people of various political persuasions, including left-wing Labour MP Tony Banks.[17]


Although aware that he was a potential IRA assassination target, Gow declined to take anything more than routine security precautions. Notably, unlike most British MPs of that era, he left his telephone number and home address in the local telephone directory.[18] On 30 July 1990, a bomb was planted under Gow's Montego car in the early hours, which exploded in the driveway of his house in the village of Hankham, near Pevensey in East Sussex.[19] The 4½-lb. Semtex bomb detonated at 08:39 as Gow reversed out of his driveway, leaving him with severe wounds to his lower body.[20][21] He died 10 minutes later.

When hearing of Gow's death, Neil Kinnock commented that "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."[22]

The IRA claimed responsibility for killing Gow, stating that he was targeted because he was a "close personal associate" of Margaret Thatcher and due to his role in developing British policy on Northern Ireland.[23]


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 that "It could not be said that his resignation in 1985 cut short a brilliant ministerial career".[24] A tendency toward political intrigue (for example, trying to covertly undermine Jim Prior's Northern Ireland initiative after 1982) made him some enemies. Nicholas Budgen commented that Gow's personal devotion to Mrs 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, [7] she re-married in West Somerset[25] to Lt-Col. Michael Whiteley, and she is now known as Dame Jane Whiteley.[20] 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 that the IRA would be "toasting their success".[26]

In popular culture

Gow was portrayed by Paul Brooke in the 2004 BBC production of The Alan Clark Diaries.


  1. ^ "1990-92: Start of the talks process". BBC Online Network. March 18, 1999. http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/events/northern_ireland/history/69117.stm. 
  2. ^ a b Peerage 14309
  3. ^ The Times, obituary, 31 July 1990
  4. ^ The Times - Key seats, 19 March 1966
  5. ^ UK general election, March 1966: results
  6. ^ "More trouble for Tories at Eastbourne", The Times, 11 February 1972
  7. ^ a b Peerage 14308
  8. ^ UK general election, February 1974 :results
  9. ^ UK general election, October 1974 :results
  10. ^ Hansard, 22 February 1991 :Nicholas Soames, col 565
  11. ^ Irish Democrat, "A tangled web of intrigue" (2002)
  12. ^ "On this Day, 15 November". BBC News. 15 November 1985. http://news.bbc.co.uk/onthisday/hi/dates/stories/november/15/newsid_2539000/2539849.stm. Retrieved 4 May 2010. 
  13. ^ [A Secret History of the IRA, Ed Moloney, 2002. 9PB ISBN 0-393-32502-4 (HB) ISBN 0-71-399665-X p.336] p.336
  14. ^ The Times, 22 November 1989 - 'Enemy of TV has say'.
  15. ^ BBC 1989:Ian Gow addresses Parliament
  16. ^ The Guardian, 31 July 1990
  17. ^ Andrew Roth and Byron Criddle's Parliamentary A-Z (1989)
  18. ^ Chicago Tribune :article, 7 August 1990
  19. ^ The Guardian :obituary, 31 July 1990
  20. ^ a b "MP's widow outraged by release of terrorists". The Argus. 31 July 2000. http://archive.theargus.co.uk/2000/7/31/190773.html. 
  21. ^ Frederick, Painton (13 August 1990). "Europe Don't Count Them Out". Time Magazine. http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,970874,00.html. 
  22. ^ "Bomb kills British lawmaker who was leading foe of IRA", Chicago Sun-Times, 31 July 1990
  23. ^ IRA Says It Attacked Lawmaker. The Washington Post. August 1, 1990
  24. ^ The Times, 31 July 1990
  25. ^ Marriages England and Wales 1984–2005
  26. ^ The Guardian :"Ask Aristotle", The Guardian, Andrew Roth, 20 March 2001

External links

Parliament of the United Kingdom
Preceded by
Sir Charles Stuart Taylor
Member of Parliament for Eastbourne
February 19741990
Succeeded by
David Bellotti

Wikimedia Foundation. 2010.

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