March 2011: Sir Philip Goodhart '44
Posted March 1, 2011
Sir Philip Goodhart ’44 has had a fascinating life and a truly distinguished career, including 35 years as a member of the British Parliament. He served two years as Under Secretary of State in Northern Ireland and is the author of several books.
Born in London, Goodhart was sent to the States shortly before the war broke out in 1939, first to the Arizona Desert School in Tucson and then, following in the footsteps of his father (Arthur Goodhart, Class of 1908), to Hotchkiss. Referring to his school career as somewhat “undistinguished,” Goodhart says he surprised everyone at Hotchkiss - including himself - when he became the national champion in Time magazine’s 1943 current affairs competition for American schools.
Having always intended to return to Great Britain, Goodhart joined the King’s Royal Rifle Corps in 1944. At the end of the war in Europe, he was transferred to the Parachute Regiment and was posted to Palestine. Upon leaving the Army in 1947, Goodhart went to Trinity College Cambridge to study history, but he spent much of his time devoted to university politics and journalism. He notes, “The journalistic training I had received on the Hotchkiss Record was invaluable, and I became editor of the undergraduate newspaper, Varsity.” While still a 24-year-old undergraduate, Goodhart became the Conservative candidate in the 1950 general election for the safe Labour seat of Consett County Durham.
Goodhart’s experience on Varsity helped him to get a job on the Daily Telegraph, England’s leading Conservative newspaper. As part of the Telegraph’s team, he covered the 1952 U.S. presidential election, travelling on both the Eisenhower and Stevenson campaign trails. He then became the Telegraph’s Africa correspondent for a time before moving to the Sunday Times. When the Suez conflict erupted in 1956, Goodhart hitchhiked to Port Said with some of his former Parachute Regiment colleagues. He says, “This was a journalistic fiasco; my reports never reached my newspaper, but the fact that I had been involved in the Suez campaign helped me get the Conservative Party nomination for the safe Conservative seat of Beckenham. One of the other candidates was our future prime minister Margaret Thatcher. Unfortunately for her, there was a majority of women on the Selection Committee, and many of the Beckenham Conservative selectors thought that she would not be able to combine being an active MP with the care of her two-year-old twins.”
At the time of the Beckenham by-election, the American government was particularly unpopular because of President Eisenhower’s Middle Eastern policies. During the campaign, some of Goodhart’s opponents alleged that he was American. Despite the allegations of Americanism, however, he won the by-election and sat happily on the Conservative benches of the House of Commons.
On the backbenches, Goodhart soon became a member of his party’s policy committee and was elected chairman of the Conservative Defense Committee. In 1963, he was a delegate to the United Nations General Assembly and served, for 15 years, as a member of the North Atlantic Assembly. Although he never put on a pair of skis at Hotchkiss, he also became captain of the Parliamentary Ski Team in the early 1970s for their races against Swiss parliamentarians.
Goodhart had his first major clash with the Conservative government, led by Prime Minister Edward Heath, in the early 1970s when, after lengthy negotiation, the government decided to take the country into the European Common Market. Because the United Kingdom had no proper written constitution, a dramatic change in national sovereignty could be brought about as the result of a simple vote in Parliament. With the safeguards of the American constitution in mind, Goodhart, believing this was wrong, played a leading role in the campaign to hold a referendum. Goodhart voted against his government and held a referendum in his own constituency. He also wrote the book Referendum, which was praised by the Economist and the Daily Telegraph as “brilliantly argued.” He says, “My 1970s campaign failed, but now, no British government can contemplate introducing a major change in our political system without holding a referendum.”
By the time that Edward Heath had lost a general election and become Leader of the Opposition, Goodhart had become a strong supporter of Margaret Thatcher’s campaign to replace Heath as Party Leader. Thatcher easily won the leadership contest and the 1979 General Election. Goodhart became Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, responsible for all government services apart from education, health, and law and order. Local government had been virtually eliminated at this time because most religious discrimination in Northern Ireland was seen to take place at the local level.
Shortly before the Falklands campaign, Goodhart left the government, but he continued to be a supporter of Thatcher. His loyalty, however, was shaken by her plans for local government taxation. She wanted to replace the rating system, where payments were based on property values, with a poll tax, where all residents would pay the same amount with a few safeguards for the very poor. He recalls, “This seemed to me to be unfair. As the poll tax was introduced, its unpopularity quickly became obvious. Despite the evidence that the Conservative Party faced disaster at the next general election, Thatcher refused to abandon her poll tax. Under our Party rules, a leadership election could be required. Margaret lost the key Party ballot by two votes – one was mine. She was replaced as prime minister by John Major.”
Before the poll tax dispute erupted, Goodhart had announced that he would retire from Parliament at the next general election. He would soon be 70, and he wanted to spend more time with his enormous family. In 1950, he had married Valerie Winant, the niece of America’s popular wartime ambassador in London. They had seven children (two daughters married Americans) and 21 grandchildren. “The education of our 28 descendants has been rigorously British,” Goodhart says, “But perhaps, one of our grandchildren will try for a place at Hotchkiss. There is still time – just.”