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Howard Flight

Controversially sacked by Michael Howard during the general election campaign, the Tories’ best-known and respected financial expert is aiming to be back in politics soon

I t is Howard Flight’s birthday and he has just returned from a Treasury meeting where he was presented with a cake from Financial Secretary to the Treasury John Healey and Paymaster General Dawn Primarolo.

Flight was discussing his new role as chairman of the Enterprise Investment Scheme Association and believes the touching gesture displays the cross-party respect for his knowledge of financial affairs and the hole that his departure has left.

Less than three months after being unceremoniously sacked by Michael Howard, former Conservative MP for Arundel & South Downs Flight is settling down to a return to full-time City life at Investec Asset Management but claims he will not be out of politics for long.

“There were strong views from both sides of the house, stating they did not want me to leave and, one way or another, I will find my way back in due course, probably within a year.”

Flight says the serious economic players on the Labour ranks have a great deal of respect for him because they know he is working in the national interest and knows more than anyone else on the Tory side.

He has little time for the so-called Notting Hill set. He says these reformers are trying to destroy the party by ditching the Thatcher legacy of economic liberalism at a time when it is becoming more and more attractive to the younger generation.

“They want to leave us with no clothes. I cannot understand what these pretentious people are arguing for.”

Flight blames his removal from Parliament on these reformers plotting their own “clause four” moment by getting rid of the leading Thatcherite on the Treasury side of the party. He says this has backfired as it is likely that David Davis will be the next leader.

But Flight saves the majority of his venom for Tory leader Michael Howard who he says acted like a dictator towards him and this behaviour is one of the reasons why Howard has lost much of the respect of his party and the City.

“The City was outraged. I have done my best to keep support up but hundreds of people have told me they have stopped contributing because of this.”

Flight believes it was ridiculous for Howard to spend so much of the general election campaign concentrating on immigration, perpetuating the perception of the Tories as racist, instead of attacking Labour on sound economic issues.

Flight began his career as an investment manager at NM Rothschild Sons, influenced by his father who ran Natwest’s trustee and income tax department. He says investment is in his blood, starting at 16 when he bought into Land Securities’ stock. He wanted to buy a bubble car but was bribed with the promise of a Morris Minor at 17 if he invested the money.

He became manager of Cayzer before working for HSBC Merchant Bank in Hong Kong and India. His time in Bombay had a huge influence in his life, fuelling his interest in Indian history and culture. He says the network of friends he made during this time are still very close to him today.

R eturning to the UK, Flight became director, investment division at Guinness Mahon & Co, before setting up Guinness Flight Global Asset management.

In 1997, he entered Parliament, using his financial background to establish himself quickly, becoming Shadow Economic Secretary to the Treasury in 1999.

“I have always been a political animal and, to some extent, built a business in order to be able to get involved in politics, although it is very difficult to move from a City position to Westminster.”

He become Shadow paymaster general in 2001 and was made Conservative Treasury spokesman on financial regulation in 2002. In 2004, he became deputy chairman of the party and special envoy to the City, as well as chairman of the Conservative City Circle, set up to raise funds in the City for the party. Flight is a regular on the City social scene and occasionally worries that people believe that all he does is attend cocktail parties.

Between 1999 and 2005, Flight says he was the “engine room” for Tory opposition to various finance bills and the Financial Services & Markets Act, doing 70 hours of politics and 20 hours of commerce a week.

Since hitting the headlines in March, Flight has been able to take an arm’s-length view of the political situation. He says Blair’s recent criticism of the FSA was “wonderful and very calculated”. He believes Blair’s network in the City has made the Prime Minister aware of regulatory concerns and he has the good sense to express them.

At the same time, Flight says there has been no support from Michael Howard on this issue.

Returning to his love of Indian culture Flight regularly goes to car boot fairs looking for Eastern ornaments.

He says he has had time to assess what has happened to him in recent months and his belief in karma has helped him take a balanced view of his “little story”.

Flight says: “The last few months have been thoroughly good for me. I have a great belief in karma and you do not know until afterwards why things have happened. I certainly have not walked away from politics and would expect to be involved again pretty soon.”

Born: 1948, LondonEducation: Brentwood School. Magdalene College Cambridge. University of Michigan.

Career: 1970-73: NM Rothschild Sons, investment adviser 1973-76 Cayzer, manager 1976-79 HSBC Merchant Bank (Wardley) Hong Kong and India 1979-86 Guinness Mahon & Co, director investment division 1986-99 Investec Asset Management, joint chairman. 1999-present Investec Asset ManagementLikes: Travel, parties, architecture, biographies, classical music, skiing.

Dislikes: EU, BBC, Michael Howard, snobbery, golf.

Life ambition: Never to retire.

Car: Renault Espace. Renault Clio. MG Sport.

Hero: Lord Palmerston, Margaret Thatcher.

Favourite book: White Mughals by William Dalrymple. History of Architecture by Sir Bannister Flight FletcherFavourite Film/TV: Jewel in the CrownFavourite music: Handel’s Messiah


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