Leon was best (jew) of our generation
By Michael Howard, January 29, 2015
Government colleagues Leon Brittan and Michael Howard in 1985 when Lord Brittan was Trade and Industry SecretaryLeon Brittan was undoubtedly one of the leading British Jews of his generation. He rendered great service to this country in all the great offices he held, and but for the vagaries of political life might well have gone on to achieve even greater things.
His parents had come to Britain from Lithuania before the war, his father, Joseph, becoming a well-loved GP in Cricklewood, north London. Leon grew up in an Orthodox Jewish household, attended Haberdasher's Aske School and from there won an exhibition to Trinity College, Cambridge.
It was when we were at Cambridge that I first met him. We were members of a generation of Conservative politicians who became known as the Cambridge Mafia. Leon, Ken Clarke, John Gummer, Christopher Tugendhat, Norman Fowler and many more contested office in the University Conservative Association, stood for office in the Cambridge Union and interrogated visiting government ministers with all the precocious arrogance of youth.
Leon was our undoubted leader. He was the cleverest, the most eloquent and much the most formidable debater. So none of us were surprised at his later achievements.
It took a while for him to get into Parliament, first for the marginal seat of Cleveland and Whitby, on the Yorkshire coast, and then for the neighbouring seat of Richmond. He loved the constituency and was a very popular MP.
When the Conservatives entered government in 1979, Margaret Thatcher appointed him to the Home Office as a Minister of State. There he worked under, and hugely impressed, Willie Whitelaw, the Home Secretary, who became one of his foremost patrons.
Rapid promotion to the cabinet as Chief Secretary to the Treasury soon followed. This is a job which involves battling with every cabinet colleague over their budget. Leon was widely acknowledged as one of the best Chief Secretaries there has ever been.
His tenure of office as Home Secretary was, perhaps, less successful. Few incumbents have emerged from that particular job with an enhanced reputation and Leon was not among them.
He was expected to shine as Secretary of State for Trade and Industry, his next cabinet post, but was caught in the crossfire over the Westland helicopter dispute which forced his resignation.
Some thought that would bring his political career to an end but he went on to be one our most successful and effective European Commissioners.
Leon Brittan was always conscious of, and true to, his Jewish heritage. He attended the Chelsea Synagogue at the High Holy Days, always fasting on Yom Kippur, and spoke Hebrew fluently.
It is a great tragedy that his last days were overshadowed by completely unsubstantiated allegations about his conduct in relation to the investigation of historic child abuse. But he will always be remembered as one of our country's great public servants, a legacy he richly deserved.
Lord Howard served with Leon Brittan in Margaret Thatcher's Conservative government during the 1980s