The peer, his late wife and a storm over obituary that praised her ‘endless legs’
A FORMER Tory minister whose defection to Labour helped propel Tony Blair into power is locked in an extraordinary row over an obituary of his late partner
Lord Howarth, whose switch during the final days of John Major’s government caused a sensation, is furious over comments on Baroness Hollis carried in the Times.
The grieving family of the Labour peer, who died aged 77 last month, are also incensed after the pair – who were married to other people when he defected – were effectively accused of being in a relationship at the time.
The obituary said Lady Hollis was a ‘sexy Leftie’ who used her ‘feminine skills to orchestrate Lord Howarth’s political seduction’. He was described as a ‘Tory traitor’.
Friends of the couple said they were shocked by the ‘deeply distasteful’ obituary and have urged him to sue over the damage to his reputation – and to clear the name of his late partner. As Alan Howarth, he served as an education minister under Mr Major, but resigned as Stratford on Avon MP in 1995 and was given a safe Labour seat in Newport, South Wales, by Tony Blair in 1997 in gratitude for helping to wreck the Tories.
Patricia Hollis was a Labour councillor in Norwich before being ennobled in 1990. The Times obituary described her as a ‘real cracker with endless legs’ and depicted her as a political coquette. It stated: ‘Not only was she striking and statuesque with thick auburn hair, but male colleagues were also gratified at her habit of giggling at their jokes, while others admired her chic style of dress.’
The Times said she relished the attention: ‘When asked about her reputation as the most glamorous peer in the Lords, Lady Hollis said, “I should be very cross,” before adding, “Oh, for heaven’s sake, I may as well enjoy it”.’
The Times said many Tories held her responsible for the ‘political seduction’ of Lord Howarth. He said he left because of ‘indecent’ Tory calls for tax cuts. The obituary said an unnamed peer had said archly of her role in his defection: ‘She can be very persuasive and use her feminine skills for maximum effect; she thrives on projects and Alan Howarth is her most exciting project to date.’
The obituary referred to reports Lady Hollis and Lord Howarth ‘were regularly engaged in private conversations on a parliamentary trip to Australia’ in 1992, and subsequently ‘a story in The Sun newspaper appeared under the headline: “Traitor’s trip Down Under with his sexy Leftie pal.” It claimed the pair had behaved ‘like soulmates’.
The Times said they denied an affair, or that their friendship had anything to do with Lord Howarth’s marital problems. She insisted they shared an interest in social issues
‘Most glamorous peer in the Lords’
such as the disabled and that she remained happily married to the philosopher Martin Hollis.
She added she often socialised with male colleagues of different political persuasions, citing excursions to Ronnie Scott’s club with Ken Clarke and other jazz-loving politicians.’
The Times added pointedly: ‘After the death of her husband in 1998, it did indeed emerge Hollis and Howarth had found happiness together.’
Following a backlash from Lady
Hollis’ friends and family, the newspaper published a second obituary of her, written by her friend and former colleague, Baroness Smith of Basildon, Labour leader in the Lords.
In a glowing tribute she praised her ‘intellect and fearlessness’, said she was ‘caring, warm, witty and wise’ and a ‘loving mother and grandmother’.
She described her as a devoted wife to husband Martin to his dying days, saying he ‘was ill for some time and Patricia was unstinting in her love and support for him’. Lady Smith dealt with the relationship with Lord Howarth in a single sentence: ‘After Martin’s death in 1998, Patricia found many years of happiness with her partner, Alan Howarth.’
Lord Howarth divorced wife Gillian in 1996. Mr Blair made him a minister in 1997, where he served in government alongside Lady Hollis. The pair were later united in the Lords when he was given a peerage by Blair in 2005.
A Labour Lords spokesman said: ‘There was anger among our peers over the initial obituary in The Times – an anger shared by others across the House. Lord Howarth and members of Patricia’s family found the piece deeply distasteful.’
The Times did not respond to a request for a comment.
Alan Howarth announces his defection to Labour in 1995
‘Sexy Leftie’: Patricia Hollis