Anthony Meyer

Anthony Meyer

:"for the English actor of the 1970s and 1980s see Anthony Meyer (actor)"

Sir Anthony John Charles Meyer, 3rd Baronet (27 October 1920 – 24 December 2004) was a British soldier, diplomat, and Conservative Party politician, best known for standing against Margaret Thatcher for the party leadership in 1989. He was passionately in favour of the European Union, and this and other policies led to him becoming increasingly marginalised in Thatcher's Conservative Party.

Early life

Meyer's grandfather, Sir Carl Ferdinand Meyer was born in Hamburg, Germany into a Jewish family. He migrated to Britain in the late 19th century, when he worked for the Rothschilds, and later for De Beers; he eventually became Governor of the National Bank of Egypt and was given a hereditary baronetcy for the large donations he made to found a National Theatre in Britain. Meyer's father, Sir Frank Cecil Meyer, was vice-chairman of the De Beers diamond cartel, and from 1924 to 1929 he was Conservative Member of Parliament for Great Yarmouth, Norfolk.

Education and war service

Anthony Meyer was educated at Eton College, like his father, and he inherited the baronetcy at the age of 15 when his father died in a hunting accident. Like his father, he also attended New College, Oxford, but after one year he joined the Scots Guards in 1941, the same year he married Barbadee Knight, and they would have one son and three daughters. During the battle for Caen, in the breakout from the Normandy invasion beaches he was seriously wounded when the tank he was travelling in was hit, and he spent the next nine months on his back in hospital. During this time he read extensively to make up for his lost years at Oxford, but decided not to return to university. Instead, he joined HM's Treasury where he mostly worked on winding up the affairs of the Polish government-in-exile.

Diplomatic career

In 1946 he passed the Foreign Service examinations, and from 1951 to 1956 he was appointed to the British Embassy in Paris, where he became First Secretary in 1953. The subsequent appointment to the embassy in Moscow was not so enjoyable – he did not speak the language, and confined to the "diplomatic ghetto" through the Soviet government's ban on foreign contacts with its citizens, he said he did not have a job to do. He was rescued by a Soviet attempt to compromise him – he reported an attempt to lure him into a cab by a woman agent to the ambassador, who put Meyer and his family on the next plane home. Between 1958 and 1962, he worked at the Foreign Office on European political problems, at a time when the Office was changing its policy from being against the "Common Market" to in favour of Britain's joining it.

Political career

Finding a party, and a seat

The death of his mother in 1962 provided Meyer with the family's wealth, and he decided to enter politics to support his pro-European views. He later said that he was initially undecided whether to stand for the Conservatives or the Liberal Party, but his admiration for the Conservative prime minister Harold Macmillan swung his choice. In 1963 he was selected to fight the constituency of Eton and Slough, then held by Labour's leftwing internationalist Fenner Brockway. In the 1964 General Election, Meyer won the Eton and Slough seat by 11 votes, gaining respect by ignoring his constituency party's advice to campaign on the race issue, which could have swung a number of votes in that constituency at the time. His was one of only two Conservative gains in that election. Recognising that he would only be in the seat temporarily, Meyer made the most of his time in Parliament, advocating Britain's joining the Common Market, strengthening the United Nations, and voting to abolish the death penalty. In the 1966 General Election he lost his seat to Labour's Joan Lestor by 4,663 votes.

His liberalism made him almost untouchable in the Conservative party, and his applications to stand in six constituencies (including Windsor, where he lived) were rejected, but eventually fellow Old Etonian Nigel Birch recommended Meyer to replace him in the constituency of West Flintshire, in north-eastern Wales. He returned to Parliament at the 1970 General Election.

MP for West Flintshire

He became a popular MP in his new constituency, gaining a reputation for putting the interests of his constituency ahead of Conservative government policy, e.g. by voting against the closure of the Shotton steelworks, supporting the Airbus A300B whose wings some of his constituents built, against its all-British rival the BAC311, while insisting on the importance of an effective pan-European technology. After Labour's return to power in 1974, he opposed continued sanctions against the white minority government in Rhodesia, claiming that it was intended to transfer power "forcibly to a violent minority".

When the Conservative party returned to power under Margaret Thatcher in 1979, Meyer's type of pro-Europeanism was at odds with the Euroscepticism of the bulk of the party. When his Flintshire West constituency's boundaries were expanded and redrawn to form the North West Clwyd constituency in 1983, there was an attempt by local party activists to replace him with the more Thatcherite MEP, Beata Brookes, whom Meyer managed to defeat. In 1989, Meyer put himself forward as the pro-European stalking horse for the leadership of the Conservative Party, fully expecting that one of the more prominent pro-Europeans such as Sir Ian Gilmour or Michael Heseltine would take over the role; in the event, none of them had the courage to do so, and Meyer had no illusions that he had any chance of success. In the leadership election Meyer was defeated by 314 votes to 33, but when spoilt votes and abstentions were added it was discovered that 60 MPs – a full sixth of the parliamentary party – had failed to support Thatcher. As Meyer said, "people started to think the unthinkable", and Thatcher was ousted the following year.

Meyer was promptly deselected as a candidate for the 1992 general election by the Clwyd-North West constituency party for his "treachery", by a 2-1 majority. The deselection campaign was enlivened by a tabloid newspapers' revelation that Meyer had for 26 years had an affair with black former model and blues singer, Simone Washington, who had kept a diary of their sex games. He and his wife (since 1941), Barbadee, could laugh about the affair, which she condoned – when the tabloid press telephoned, Meyer would call out "Darling, it's someone from the "Daily Sleaze" asking about Simone".

Post-parliamentary career

After his forced career change in 1992 Meyer became policy director for the European Movement, and in 1998 he defected to the Pro-Euro Conservative Party before becoming a member of the Liberal Democrats. After 1999 he became a lecturer on European affairs until his death at age 84 in 2004.

His son, Anthony Ashley Frank Meyer, (born 1944), succeeded him in the baronetcy.

In popular culture

Meyer was portrayed by Geoffrey Wilkinson in the 2002 BBC production of Ian Curteis's controversial "The Falklands Play".

External links

* [,1441,1385868,00.html "The Guardian" obituary] , January 8, 2005.
* [ "The Times" obituary] (PDF) via, January 8, 2005.
* [ "Daily Telegraph" obituary] , January 10, 2005.

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