Francis Balnain

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Daniel North CBE
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Francis Balnain

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Francis Victor Andrew Kurt Von Ahlefeldt (known as Francis Balnain) is a British Conservative Party politician and the Member of Parliament for Reigate.

Born on 9 December 1927 in the Scottish highlands, Balnain is a distant relation of the Prussian King Frederick William IV through his wife, Elisabeth Ludovika of Bavaria. As the first child of the then Earl Balnain, Francis inherited the title - and a place in the House of Lords - upon his father’s death in 1955, but disclaimed the peerage in 1963 with the intention of seeking election to the House of Commons. Having been known for the preceding eight years as Lord Balnain, Francis chose to be styled as “Mr Francis Balnain” from that time forwards, foregoing the use of his actual family name, which he reportedly felt was “too Germanic in any case” for a British politician.

Attending Fettes College and the University of St. Andrews, Balnain read Law and became an Advocate in the Scottish Criminal Courts. In a legal career which spanned twenty years, he worked on some of the most prominent cases in Scotland.

Moving to London in 1973 with his wife, Lady Elizabeth De Beer, and three children, Balnain took up a role at The Spectator magazine as a political and legal correspondent. Attracting some criticism at the time for “buying his way into politics,” Balnain became Member of Parliament for Reigate in 1974 after donating a hefty some to the constituency Conservative Party. Associated closely with Keith Joseph and later Margaret Thatcher, Balnain was appointed Deputy Chairman of the Conservative Party in 1976, and became a minister at the Department for Trade & Industry in 1979.

Moved into a role at the Home Office in early 1980, Balnain played a key part in the Iranian Embassy Siege of that year as the principal liaison official between civil and military authorities responding to the crisis. It was Balnain who personally relayed to Margaret Thatcher the request by police to handover control of the operation to the British Army, though he attracted considerable criticism for insisting upon being on-scene to witness the SAS raid on 5 May, a move which some in the military felt jeopardised the secrecy of the planned attack.

Implicitly accepting the criticism but refusing to lose her close ally, Thatcher appointed Balnain to the role of Financial Secretary to the Treasury and later Chief Secretary to the Treasury, where he was a key proponent of Geoffrey Howe’s controversial 1981 budget which raised taxes and cut spending in the middle of a recession. Balnain decried opposing economists as “a parade of rootless cosmopolitans with regard for nothing of value.”

In 1983, Balnain became Secretary of State for Education, which was reportedly something of a disappointment for him - he had wanted a role at the Ministry of Defence, but the controversy of 1980 remained fresh in the Prime Minister’s mind and she instead placed him in charge of a programme which would culminate in the introduction of the first national curriculum. In 1987, the Department for Education & Science published a number of reports praising the role of selective education and seeking to dispel claims that grammar schools were a socially regressive model of tuition, which sparked rumours that Balnain was about to announce a wholesale reversal of the trend towards comprehensives which had emerged in the 1970s. Balnain allegedly faced opposition from the Treasury, which feared that a widespread return to selective schooling would balloon the education budget.

In 1990 following the resignation of Margaret Thatcher, Balnain told close aides that he did not expect to be retained as a minister in the Major administration. To his surprise, he was appointed Secretary of State for the Home Department.

Balnain’s career as Home Secretary was short-lived; after being accused of leaking against the government in the wake of Black Wednesday, he was unceremoniously sacked and returned to the backbenches. In 1993, a former employee at the Department for Education & Science alleged that she had become pregnant by Balnain in the mid-1980s, and been coerced by him into having an abortion. Balnain denied the charges and sued for defamation, but lost the case in court.

For the remainder of the 1990s, Balnain became known as a fervently eurosceptic opponent of the Major administration, even going as far as to openly contemplate defecting to the Referendum Party in a tirade which saw him stripped of the Conservative Party whip for six months (though it was subsequently restored.)

In 1997, Balnain was again at the centre of controversy when a female staffer at the House of Commons claimed she had had a three-month affair with the now septuagenarian former minister. The staffer, only in her 20s, claimed that Balnain had fornicated with her in a variety of locations around the Palace of Westminster, including in a House of Commons bar after hours. Balnain again denied the allegations and sued, this time being awarded substantial damages from The Sun, which broke the story.
The Rt Hon. Mr Francis Balnain MP
Member of Parliament for Reigate
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