Geoffrey Howe's dinner party preparations revealed in new FCO papers
Margaret Thatcher’s foreign secretary used officials to get the lowdown on the wives and family lives of foreign ministers.
Civil servants were tasked with gathering intelligence on dinner party guests to help the flow of conversation at functions attended by the British foreign secretary Sir Geoffrey Howe and his wife, newly released FCO papers show.
One document released to the National Archives today, titled: “EC foreign ministers: personality notes” was sent to British officials in capital cities throughout Europe in October 1985, by C.A. Munro at the FCOs’s western European department.
The note stated: “I enclose a self-explanatory minute from Colin Budd about personality notes for the Secretary of State and Lady Howe. You will see that all your efforts are very much appreciated, especially the information you have dug up on families.”
Colin Budd, the then assistant private secretary to Sir Geoffrey, cited examples, such as knowing which individuals speak hardly any English, whether people are about to move home, take up new jobs, or are even expecting grandchildren.
One “interim offering” detailed by Budd stated: “The eldest Barry daughter lives in Maidstone and will soon be having a baby. Eldest son awaiting accountancy results. Youngest child (18) still at school.”
Another said: “Delors lost 25 year old son to ? leukaemia in 1982. Daughter (born 1950) has one child.”
Budd concluded: “Most helpful if all these notes could show whether, and if so when, husband and wife have been to 1 Carlton Gardens and/or Chevening.”
The senior civil servant added: “Please urge posts not to be bashful about this. Private Secretaries to be asked direct as necessary! We can if necessary supply eg Lady Howe’s 'Who’s Who' entry and other factual information as quid pro quo.”
Howe did last year, having served as Thatcher’s chancellor, foreign secretary and, finally, as both leader of the House of Commons and deputy prime minister.
His devastating resignation speech on leaving the cabinet in 1990 was widely seen as the central factor in forcing Thatcher from Downing Street.
Picture by PA/PA Archive/Press Association Images.
A longer version of this story appears on the website of Total Politics' sister tile Civil Service World.