John Barnes, Historian

Lord Boardman (1919-2003)

Tom Boardman was a highly successful businessman, whom Edward Heath brought into his Government in 1972 to help take forward the industrial expansion programme damned by its Tory critics as a U-turn. He had come into the House at a by-election five years earlier. His success as a minister was confirmed by promotion to be Chief Secretary to the Treasury in the dying days of the Heath Government, but a successful career on the front bench was denied him by the defeat of the Government in the February 1974 election and the loss of his own seat. Boardman had been a well-liked and respected Member, but with his party doomed to opposition, he clearly (and rightly) saw his future lying in business and in the Thatcher years he spent six very successful years as Chairman of the National Westminster Bank.

Thomas Gray Boardman was born just after the end of the First World War on 12 January 1919, and was therefore of the generation that served throughout the 1939-45 war. He was educated at Bromsgrove School and was qualifying as a successor when war was declared. He had enlisted in the Northamptonshire Yeomanry as a trooper in 1938, was commissioned and served with them throughout and after the war. In 1944 he won the Military Cross. He was subsequently to be promoted to Lieutenant Colonel and to command them in 1956.

He qualified as a solicitor in 1947 but his sound judgement made him a valued contributor to business as director. He became the Finance Director of Allied Breweries and chaired Chamberlain Phipps Ltd from 1958 to 1972. His interest in Conservative politics brought his adoption as the Conservative candidate for Leicester South-West where he fought Labour's Chief Whip, Herbert Bowden in the 1964 and 1966 elections. When Bowden went to the Lords in 1967, Boardman won the subsequent by-election, turning a Labour majority of (%) into a Conservative majority of 3,939 (15.7%). It was a period of considerable Conservative success, but Boardman consolidated his hold on the seat and in 1970 he beat off a fierce Labour challenge by just 106 votes. By then his fellow Conservatives had already elected him to the executive of the 1922 Committee and he was Chairman of the Parliamentary panel of the Institute of Directors.

In April 1972 Boardman was brought into the Government as Minister of Industry, part of a major rejigging of the Department of Trade and Industry to carry through the Industrial Expansion Act and the regeneration of British industry prior to entry into the EEC. His wide managerial experience was seen as the major reason for his appointment. Peter Walker, who subsequently took over as Secretary of State, has spoken warmly of Bo0ardman's "considerable charm and considerable ability". His only trouble, he added, was that "he worked too hard and worried too much" and he recalled his difficulty during the energy crisis of 1973/4 in getting Boardman to take enough sleep. Boardman had already shown his steel when he refused the gas workers a court of enquiry over their industrial dispute against Stage II of the prices and incomes policy: "there is nothing to enquire into", he told the Commons. He ran energy policy during the first great oil shock until Heath, against the wishes of both Walker and Boardman, decided that there should be a new energy ministry. An unusual amount of work fell to him because of sickness amongst his civil service team. Although others have criticised the national Coal Board for offering the miners too much too soon, Boardman always defended them, believing that the legislation made that inevitable and that any concessions would have to be found outside the code. He was also clear that if the mineworkers were made a special case, other unions would have been forced to exploit it. He had in mind Frank Chapple, who told him bluntly that "if those buggers get a farthing more" than his won workers, he could stop the country in forty-eight hours. Boardman took part in the talks with the miners and he evidently impressed Heath. As a result he was promoted to Chief Secretary of the Treasury when Heath created the Department of Energy, but shortly afterwards the February 1974 election was called and the Government was out. Boardman won the newly created seat of Leicester South by 1,766 votes in February 1974 and took up a place on the Public Accounts Committee. He was also re-elected to the 1922 Executive. But a 2.7% swing in the October 1974 election was enough to unseat him and end his parliamentary career.

Instead he returned to industry, He had served on the Board of Allied Breweries from 1968 until 1972 and he was reappointed in 1974, becoming Vice Chairman in 1975-6. He stood down in 1977 and in the following year became Chairman of Steetley Industries 1978-83 (he had been a director since 1975). In 1979 he added the chairmanship of the Eastern region of the National Westminster, serving on the main Board. He succeeded Robin Leigh Pemberton as Chairman in 1983 and served until 1989, chairing the Committee of London and Scottish Bankers in the last two years of a very successful term of office. He had already served as President of the Association of British Chambers of Commerce from 1977-1980.

Boardman was created a life peer in 1980 and served from 1981-4 and 1991-5 on the executive of the Association of Conservative peers. He also served briefly as one of the Treasurers of the Conservative Party 1981-2. Amongst the honours that came to him were a Lieutenancy in the City of London and a deputy Lieutenancy in his native shire and he served also as High Sheriff of Northants in 1979.

An astute and charming business man, he was regarded as having very sound judgement allied with great charm, This made him a persuasive counsellor and one whose integrity inspired trust.