Obituary: Lord Blaker: Conservative politician

lord_blakerHolding forthright views about the need to resist the Russian military threat through the deployment of nuclear weapons, Lord Blaker served as a Conservative MP and a junior government minister for foreign affairs and defence under Edward Heath and Margaret Thatcher. As a minister Blaker was closely involved in the negotiations that led to the creation of Zimb

As Peter Blaker he was elected to the Blackpool South constituency in the general election of 1964, retaining the seat until he stepped down in 1992, whereupon he was elevated to the House of Lords. From the outset, Blaker was trenchant in his support of sturdy foreign and defence policies; it was his clear conviction that the causes of peace and democracy required a muscular approach. In his maiden speech to the House of Commons, in November 1964, he implored the incoming Labour government ministers, who were embarking on a visit to Washington, to make no hasty decisions. With the Russian threat looming large, he said, it was emphatically not a problem for quick answers and crash decisions.

In an article written in 1977 Blaker said: The Western line towards Russia must be more robust than in the past . . . What matters is to us is to stop the Russians trying to overthrow our own way of free life . . . If we succeed it will be by patience, firmness, strength and showing we have the will to stand up for our beliefs. In June 1980 he made an impassioned plea for British athletes to boycott the Moscow Olympics because of the Russian occupation of Afghanistan. Daily the Russian helicopter gunships are blasting the villagers of Afghanistan, killing, maiming, blinding and burning innocent women and children, he said.

Blaker was also among those to criticise the protesters at the Greenham Common airbase in Berkshire. I do not question the sincerity of these women, he told the House of Commons in December 1982, but their judgment and knowledge. What they are doing is more likely to hinder prospects of peace than to help it and to hinder prospects of multilateral disarmament and not help them.

As a minister at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office in Mrs Thatchers first Government he developed noted expertise about, and understanding of, the conflict and negotiations that led to the establishment of Zimbabwe. He appreciated the importance of tribal allegiances and was keen to ensure that the advent of new political orders did not mean that achievements of the colonial period, for example institutionalised legal systems, were abandoned.

In the Heath Government of the early 1970s Blakers role at the Ministry of Defence was dominated by the deepening troubles in Northern Ireland. He was also involved in discussions concerning Britains European stance, and was more tolerant of British links with Europe than some of his contemporaries on both sides of the House of Commons.

He also worked on the plight of Vietnamese boat people, where familial links with Hong Kong, and expertise developed while serving as a diplomat in Cambodia before he became an MP, gave him valuable insights.

Peter Allen Renshaw Blacker was born in Hong Kong in 1922. His father, Cedric, was chairman of the Hong Kong and Shanghai Bank. Peter attended Shrewsbury School and when war came he was evacuated to Canada. He took a first in classics at Trinity College, Toronto, before going up to New College, Oxford.

War service in the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders of Canada from 1942 to 1946 interrupted Blakers education. Attaining the rank of captain, he was wounded but returned to New College to take another first, this time in jurisprudence, in 1952. He also took a pass degree in philosophy, politics and economics, was elected president of the Oxford Union and, also in 1952, called to the Bar, Lincolns Inn.

At New College Blaker found himself in rooms adjacent to Tony Benn. They discovered that both their grandfathers had been MPs, in Blakers case as a Scottish Liberal, and the two young men struck up a lifelong friendship that endured political differences that grew wider in the 1970s and 1980s. As a student Blaker had leant towards Liberalism and despite his Conservative allegiance was always ready to embrace, and sometimes accept, views contrary to his own.

Before becoming an MP, Blaker had a varied ten-year career as a diplomat, benefiting from experiences, and modes of working, that stayed with him throughout his career. He joined the Foreign Service in 1953, serving in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, from 1955 to 1957. From 1957 to 1960 he was in the UK High Commission in Ottawa and in 1962 he observed the Cuban missile crisis at close quarters. In 1963 he was in Moscow at the signing of that years nuclear test ban treaty.

He won the Blackpool South seat in the 1964 general election with a reduced majority of 6,783. The margin of victory was almost precisely the same in 1987, his final vote, though it swung upwards and downward in between.

In 1966 and 1967 Blaker served as an opposition whip and in 1970-72 as parliamentary private secretary to Anthony Barber, the Chancellor of the Exchequer and architect of the so-called Barber Boom of the early 1970s. Blaker was Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State (Army) at the Ministry of Defence from 1972 to 1974.

As an opposition MP in the mid to late 1970s Blaker was vice-chairman of the All-Party Tourism Committee and the Select Committee on the Conduct of Members, and when Margaret Thatcher won power in 1979 she appointed him Minister of State at the Foreign & Commonwealth Office.

In 1981, as Blaker was being described as a shrewd political operator with strong anti-Soviet views in line with Mrs Thatchers, he was made Minister of State for the Armed Forces at the MoD. Accompanying changes to the structure of ministerial defence posts were considered the most significant in a decade. John Nott took the top job, but individual posts for supervising each of the services were combined and taken by Blaker. A week previously Keith Speed, the former Under-Secretary for the Navy, had been dismissed amid allegations that he put loyalty to the senior Service before his loyalty to the Government.

Blaker stayed in this post until returning to the back benches after Thatchers landslide 1983 general election victory. His last, testing, period of office covered the Falklands conflict, and Blaker found himself having to assure MPs that spending on conventional forces would be protected.

He told Parliament that for national and alliance reasons Britains naval Forces must be as strong and flexible as possible while acknowledging that the Government had to work within the financial resources it had.

Later in 1982, addressing the World Affairs Council in San Diego, he said: Resolute defence of freedom in the South Atlantic is directly relevant to the defence of freedom in Europe. Our action will have encouraged our Nato allies and enhanced the prospects of peace by showing that when the chips are down the British are prepared to fight for what they believe in.

From 1983 to 1992 Blaker was chairman of the Conservative Party Foreign & Commonwealth Affairs Committee, having served as its vice-chairman from 1974 to 1979. Later in life Blaker also took a close interest in the circumstances surround the death of Georgi Markov, the Bulgarian stabbed in London in 1978 with the tip of a poisoned umbrella.

From 1970 to 1972, and again from 1983 to 1992, he was chairman of the Hong Kong Parliamentary Group and in March 1982 he won what were described as substantial damages from Private Eye, the satirical magazine, over allegations that he obstructed an investigation into the death of a Hong Kong police inspector while he was a minister at the Foreign & Commonwealth Office.

He retired from the Commons in 1992 becoming a life peer in 1994. His interest in foreign affairs remained, and he expressed particular concerns about Zimbabwe.

Blaker was appointed a Privy Counsellor and KCMG in 1983. He published Coping with the Soviet Union in 1977 and Small is Dangerous: Micro States in a Macro World, in 1984.

He married Jennifer Dixon in 1953. She survives him, as do two daughters and a son.

Lord Blaker, KCMG, Conservative politician, was born on October 4, 1922. He died on July 5, 2009, aged 86

The Times

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