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Douglas Hurd

(b. 1930)

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(b. Marlborough, Wiltshire, 8 Mar. 1930)

British; Home Secretary 1985–9, Foreign Secretary 1989–95; Baron (life peer) 1997 Hurd came from a political family; his father and grandfather had both been Conservative MPs. He was educated at Eton and Trinity College, Cambridge, where he became president of the Union. He then entered the diplomatic service, rose to a high position in the Foreign Office, and would probably have risen to the top had he remained. He left the service in 1966 and worked for two years as a researcher in the Conservative Party. In 1968 the Conservative leader Ted Heath invited him to manage his office. When Heath became Prime Minister in 1970 Douglas Hurd served as his political secretary in No. 10 Downing Street until 1974.

In February 1974 Hurd was elected MP for Mid-Oxon, subsequently in 1983 for the Witney constituency. In Margaret Thatcher's first government, he held a junior position in the Foreign Office in 1979 and became Minister of State in the Home Office in 1983. In 1984, in her second administration, he was made Secretary of State for Northern Ireland with a seat in the Cabinet, and a year later became Home Secretary. In this key position he supported stiffer sentencing for criminals, boosted police resources and manpower, and in 1988 banned broadcasts with suspected terrorists in Northern Ireland and their supporters. He was a reforming Home Secretary and produced important legislation on drugs, public order, and criminal justice, as well as reforming the Official Secrets Act.

Hurd's ambition was realized when he became the Foreign Secretary in October 1989. This appointment was a surprise because it arose as a consequence of the unexpected resignation of the Chancellor of the Exchequer Nigel Lawson and transfer of John Major from the Foreign Office to the Treasury. As Foreign Secretary Hurd was aware that although Britain was only a medium-sized power it was able to ‘punch above its weight’. In spite of sniping from the Prime Minister he carried on his predecessor's policy of building bridges with the European Community. He welcomed the end of apartheid in South Africa, was more supportive of German reunification than Mrs Thatcher, and, together with John Major, persuaded her to take Britain into the ERM in October 1990.

For a brief period (1985–6) he was seen as a stopgap successor to Mrs Thatcher. Near the end of her premiership he, like a number of Cabinet ministers, was becoming alarmed at her failure to adhere to agreed lines about the European Community and at the resignation of major figures from Cabinet. When she resigned he entered the second ballot of the leadership contest and finished a distant third (57 votes) behind John Major (185 votes) and Michael Heseltine (131 votes).

He remained as Foreign Secretary under John Major and helped negotiate the Maastricht Treaty in December 1991. In 1992 and 1993 he played a major role in keeping Britain and the European Community from getting involved in the conflict over the break-up of Yugoslavia. Yet as the Conservative Party became increasingly sceptical about the integrationist thrust of the Community, so his position became less comfortable and he gave up his post in 1995 and retired as an MP in 1997. He had other interests, in business and as an author, to pursue.


Subjects: Social sciencesPolitics

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