Sir Richard Body, (known to his friends as Dick) was a good friend to the Review over many years, providing new contributors – including himself, ideas, generous hospitality and suggestions about raising money. He also helped us put the magazine on a secure business footing.
He was an outstanding parliamentarian in the days when some Members like him were not overly ambitious for money or office and had the time to embrace real life – Dick was a barrister, pig and cattle farmer. Politics gripped him early for at 16 he played truant from school to go to Speakers Corner, later founding Reading Young Conservatives. For a traditional Tory, some of his views were eccentric: he opposed the death penalty, advocated more liberal Official Secrets legislation and in the eighties wanted a nuclear freeze. He turned down a place at Cambridge, instead spending three years in the RAF in India and reading for the Bar there in his spare time.
Aged 21 he went to Central Office and announced he wanted to be an MP. ‘Come back in twenty years’, they replied. Undaunted he approached the Conservative agent in Rotherham whose candidate had resigned and succeeded in getting himself adopted in his place. Thereafter he combined contesting hopeless seats with working as a barrister while helping to expand legal services for the poor – he founded the East London Poor Man’s Association. Always on the move or short of money, he sometimes slept in Salvation Army hostels. In 1955 he was elected as the member for Billericay, remaining in Parliament for forty years.
His claim to fame is as one of the leading ‘bastards’, that group of Eurosceptic MP’s (whipless eight) who campaigned against the Maastricht Treaty and were rewarded for their tenacious patriotism by the disgraceful derision of the Tory establishment. ‘When I hear the flapping of white coats I know that Sir Richard Body is entering the House’, piped John Major.
Ironically, Dick Body started out as a very early pro-European and was invited to Brussels. Over lunch his hosts, thinking they might be talking to a real pal, confided their plans: ‘Of course we cannot reveal this in public because people would oppose it.’ Dick was horrified at this deceit; he had always believed in free trade between independent democratic nations, not a takeover bid set up and run by France and Germany. He campaigned hard in the 1975 referendum co-chairing the Get Britain Out group with Enoch Powell and Peter Shore, subsequently supporting and speaking for many of the Euro-sceptic groups like Conservatives against Federal Europe which was strong on the destruction of our fishing industry. Later he saw the need to bring in business leaders and helped to introduce Business for Sterling and Business for Britain. He wrote several books, notably Europe of many Circles, and many pamphlets for the cause. It was wonderful that he lived to see the fruits of his labours in 2016; let us hope that it will not turn to ashes.
Dick was a Green long before it became fashionable and as the Member for Boston and Holland (1966- 2001) predicted the dangers of agro-business like BSE and cancer (highest in Lincolnshire) from aerial spraying and as the author of the Private Eye column ‘Old Muckspreader’, he exposed the lunacies of the Common Agricultural Policy. A love of country sports and a hatred of cruelty to animals led him to become Chairman of World Compassion in Farming along with supporting controls against the overuse of antibiotics, insecticides and aggressive farm gangmasters.
I was lucky to know this last old-school shire Tory – he was so kind to me when I was despondent about the Review: ‘Giving up is not allowed’ he declared. Always delightful and stimulating company he used to regale me with stories about political personalities of the past – he admired Macmillan: ‘He would always listen to everyone, not like Heath who disdained people’. He faced his increasing blindness with courage and cheerfulness, frequently praising the helpfulness of the Underground staff.
Truly Dick personified the words of John Bunyan ‘s hymn :
No foes shall stay his might
Though he with giants fight
He will make good his right
To be a pilgrim.