Tuesday, August 21, 2007

William John Biffen, 1930-2007

Today, I ventured a few yards over Offa's Dyke from my beloved Montgomeryshire into the village of Llanyblodwel. Lord Biffen of Tanat died last week, and today many of us who knew him joined his family for his funeral at Llanyblodwel Church. Owen Paterson MP, read a personal tribute. It was a very respectful service for a man who was widely respected by everyone who knew him.

John was complex politician. He was strongly Euro-sceptic, a strict monetarist and a huge supporter of Enoch Powell. But I would never have thought of him as 'right-wing'. In many ways, he was not as other politicians. He was invariably ultra-courteous to everyone. He was the antithesis of 'spin'. He would be horrified at the thought of 'working a room'. I remember him coming to help me canvass in Llanfyllin in 1997. He had no interest in 'pressing the flesh'. After he had spent the first 40 minutes explaining some financial point in great detail to the first person I introduced him to, I lost him. Eventually, I found him in a queue in the local supermarket buying some milk. I decided that the only answer was to retire to the local cafe for a coffee. I can still see him now, chatting to everyone who I could persuade to sit down at our table. No side at all. I thought that he was a really top man.

First time I met him, he was Leader of the House, and I was leading a deputation from Councils and the British Waterways Board seeking a debate relating to the Montgomery Canal. When I'd finished my spiel, I asked him if he could do anything to help force through a debate. He just looked me in the eye and said "Glyn, I am not without influence in this area". It was typical understatement. After that, I met him on occasions through a mutual friend, Peter Starbuck and we sometimes travelled to international rugby matches in Cardiff together.

John was a social liberal. He was not narrow minded or particularly partisan in his views. He was most anxious that today's service should end with the singing of The Internationale. I do not know whether it is possible for a deceased person to laugh - but I like to think that it was one last personal joke on his part - and that he chuckled silently to himself as he listened to the congregation doing their best to sing the impossible. It was a lovely service, which ended up with one of the funniest renditions of music that I have ever heard. He was a good man, and wonderful company.

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