Paul Lewis

I gave Ian the job of information officer at the charity Youthaid in 1984. He had recently resigned his position at the Department of Employment after admitting he was the mole who had leaked confidential minutes about plans for trade union reform. The minutes he gave to Time Out magazine and the Guardian newspaper recorded a conversation between his permanent Secretary Michael Quinlan and the top law officer Sir John Donaldson, then Master of the Rolls, about the Thatcher government’s plans for new laws to curb the power of trade unions. In an anonymous interview on Radio 4’s The World at One in December Ian said he believed it was illegitimate for the Government to get political advice from top members of the judiciary.

During the inevitable leak enquiry Ian was promised he would not be prosecuted and he revealed his part early the next year. He explained his motivations on Granada TV’s World in Action. Reported in The Times in March he said they included disillusion with the civil service, general hostility to the Government, and ‘irritation’ at the content of the document. Ian was often irritated. When we campaigned together at Youthaid as the Government cobbled together initiatives to deal with the high and growing level of youth unemployment he would frequently begin sentences with ‘What’s irritating about this’ or ‘The irritating thing is…’. He was irritated by secrecy, deceit, and of course stupidity.

He probably got irritated by me, though he never said so. He did however have a gesture. At first he used it about the obduracy of the Government, making conducting gestures as if he held a baton in both hands. It stood for same old, same old tune. And there were times when I was being pernickety – and it was hard to out pernickety Ian – insisting on something being changed, that he used the gesture as his reply. But then he got on with it.

I am so glad he did. He was Policy and Information Officer and also editor of the Youthaid Bulletin which was at times influential and always a thorn in the side of the government. The job suited Ian well. It was usually me, as the Director of the charity, rather than Ian who was quoted in the newspapers or appeared on the radio. But it was often Ian’s ideas, research, and even writing that I was using. ‘Cuts threaten youth training pledge’ and ‘Youth pay cuts do not create jobs’ were just two headlines in The Times inspired by work in his Youthaid Bulletin.

He left Youthaid in November 1985 to work for the Transport & General Workers Union and I left in 1986 to become a full time journalist. We lost touch.

He was elected a Haringey councillor shortly afterwards and in 1990 as Finance Chair he challenged the Government’s restrictions on council funding. Rather than pass on cuts to residents he imposed a higher rise in the much hated poll tax than the Government allowed. The decision was challenged in the courts and Haringey council lost. It would, Ian said, simply mean that the pain of higher taxes would be spread over more years.

In 1992 he challenged Toby Harris – now Lord Harris of Haringey – for the leadership of the council, losing by four votes and becoming deputy leader. He stayed with the council until he resigned in 1997 and became part of the labour history he had such an encyclopaedic knowledge of.

A year earlier in 1996 he was a researcher for the shadow Employment Secretary Michael Meacher. He wrote an article in Meacher’s name for the radical Red Pepper magazine and Ian wrongly – but I suspect not accidentally – wrote that Labour was committed to scrapping Jobseeker’s Allowance. Meacher did not check the text before it was published – an enquiry was launched. Ian ‘fessed up. He soon moved on to become a campaigner at Friends of the Earth.

In 1999 the Labour Government was promoting public transport rather than driving cars. When it was revealed that Transport Secretary John Prescott had made a 300 yard journey from his hotel to the hall at Labour’s conference in Bournemouth by limousine rather than walking, Ian was quoted by The Times as saying “Politicians need to learn that if they preach the virtues of not using the car people will notice if they travel 300 yards in a large limousine”.

In 2002 and 2003 he wrote excoriating pieces about his former Council Haringey and the ‘shameful buck-passing’ and ‘evasion of responsibility’ of those in charge at the time of the death in 2000 of Victoria Climbié at the hands of her aunt and her boyfriend.

“The miserable parade of senior managers and politicians before the Inquiry was hardly an advertisement for local democratic control of such services…local people deserve better than the mediocrities thrown up by the present system…. If people ask how lay Councillors can ever hope to know that a complex Social Services Department is going wrong, the answer is that when I was a Councillor I knew, and so did many of my colleagues. Our responsibility lies in our failure to get the changes we knew were needed put into effect.”

Around that time he became Public Affairs Manager at the anti-smoking charity ASH where he soon became the scourge of tobacco companies. He co-wrote with Lisa Rimmer BAT’s Big Wheeze: the alternative report on British American Tobacco. He was there when work began to bring about a ban on smoking in public places. He exposed the mad plan to make smoking in sports stadiums illegal if they had a closed roof but lawful if the roof was opened. In 2006 smoking was finally banned in public places – including all sports stadiums open or closed. He was one of the people who helped bring that about. Quite a legacy.

The age of 61 is too early take away such a spirit, such a brain, such an irritant to governments – and of course to stupidity.

Ian – I will always remember you. I may have been briefly your boss half a lifetime ago. But you taught me much.