HAYES IN THE HOUSE: By MP John Hayes
Last week the world lost Sir Richard Body, a thoughtful, gentle, kind, and brave man who represented Holland with Boston in Parliament for 35 years.
His kindness was evident when I succeeded him as the MP for a large part of his former constituency; he offered support and advice with great generosity.
His gentleness was obvious to those who knew him. Perhaps in a different age this might have been described as the refinement of a man who was exceptionally courteous.
His thoughtful insights about the world, that changed so much during his 90 years, were articulated in the books he wrote and his numerous speeches.
Richard (or Dick as he was known to close friends) was never content with received wisdom. Intellectually unrestrained by the preoccupations of the moment, he thought in broad terms, for the longer term.
It was this long sight that led him to predict the catastrophic consequences of our membership of what was then called the Common Market.
Originally a supporter of the European project, he became disillusioned when he realised, in his words, that membership would mean a ‘betrayal’ of Britain’s ‘moral duty’ to Commonwealth Countries.
Led by his love of his country’s traditions, and belief in the importance of local power, he became a stalwart Eurosceptic. Sir Richard cared about the English tradition of devolved, accountable government and simply couldn’t reconcile this with what he believed the European dream had turned into.
His outspoken stance on Europeanism marked him out from the prevailing political forces, whose ideas had been shaped by the shadow of the second world war.
He drew the ire of Edward Heath, who pompously branded him a ‘Little Englander’, to which Dick retorted that Ted’s crew were simply ‘Little Europeans’. He did not want to be bound to one continent, believing in the global reach of this nation and the positives that came from being a world, not a continental, power.
Famously, he resigned the whip alongside eight others who were castigated by John Major over their rejection of plans to the increase the UK’s contribution to the European budget.
Richard’s imperviousness in the face of slights from Edward Heath and John Major was not indicative of insensibility, but the resilience that sure principles brings.
Although never a Minister, he gained influence as chairman of the Agriculture Select Committee where as an ardent believer in less intensive farming, he did not always enjoy cordial relations with some local farmers.
Yet his warnings on the overuse of antibiotics on the structure of the food chain and his recognition of the importance of organic farming found greater favour later.
He retired to the country in 2001 with his formidable wife, Lady Marion – a fiercely intelligent patriot who served as one of Bletchley Park’s codebreakers – where he continued to contribute to political discourse; perhaps motivated by his faith as a Quaker who, in his own words, ‘are awful for writing letters’. Though of another age in manner and style, Richard Body’s commitment to his constituents and sure convictions, were of timeless value.
My thoughts and prayers are with Lady Marion and their family.