Conflict of Loyalty by Geoffrey Howe Macmillan $425 I HAVE racked my brains as to why I have never taken Britain's former Chancellor of the Exchequer and Foreign Secretary Geoffrey Howe seriously. I dimly recall someone saying that if you'd ever seen him walk, you would giggle. Or maybe it was the way he carried that silly Jack Russell, called Budget, that prevented him from being in my eyes, truly believable. Seven hundred pages of political memoir go some way to dispel those notions. Four hundred pages might have said it better. And the title gives away the sore in Howe's side: how Margaret Thatcher, once his closest political ally, could put him out to pasture - and not with a pat on the head but a kick (in fact several) up the backside. Howe doesn't get mad but he tries to get even. A native of South Wales, Howe went to Winchester, the English public school which has always turned out the cleverest if not the best politicians. Cambridge and the Bar followed, with an interruption for national service in the army. The Bar led him to politics: he represented Bebington from 1964-66, returning to the Commons in the safe seat of Reigate in 1970. His copious party activity - in the Bow Group and as an adviser - brought the reward of Solicitor-General in Ted Heath's administration of 1970 and then the short hop into Cabinet as Minister of Trade and Consumer Affairs before Heath went fatefully to the country to find out who ruled Britain, him or the unions, and found it was the latter. Then came the sea-change in Conservative politics with the election of Margaret Thatcher as leader of the party in 1975. Howe was in the vanguard of Thatcherism with his desire for union law reform and for sound economic policies influenced by monetarism, In Thatcher parlance, he was one of us. He became Shadow Chancellor and in May 1979 Chancellor of the Exchequer working to the premise that: 'Finance must determine expenditure, not expenditure finance.' Depending on your viewpoint, Howe steered the ship of the economy away from the rocks or put British industry through its most debilitating recession in the early 80s. It cannot be denied that inflation was brought down, as was the Public Spending Borrowing Requirement, interest rates had fallen and industry was beginning to pick itself up off the floor. After the Treasury, the Foreign Office, Mrs Thatcher's least favourite government department. Howe was Foreign Secretary for five years: years which strengthened Britain's role on the world stage, enhancing relations with the Soviet bloc, achieving the Anglo-Irish Agreement, moving close to Europe and settling - to a greater or lesser extent - Hong Kong's future with Beijing. These years marked the cooling of his relationship with Mrs Thatcher, primarily over the heightened relationship with the European Community, and secondarily over her leadership style which hampered those ties with Europe. Finally she flicked him into becoming Leader of the House of Commons (and nominally Deputy Prime Minister), and when her overbearing, increasingly isolated style went too far he eventually quit. And as he fell he reached across and took her down with him. For what was seen as a monstrously treacherous act (his devastating Commons resignation speech), those who bear allegiance to Thatcher sought to vilify Geoffrey Howe. And his wife, Elspeth, who was charged with writing his demolition job, was cast as Lady Macbeth. Of all the shots fired at Howe from the Number 10 Press Office and its journalistic acolytes this was perhaps the cheapest. This memoir is a detailed - too detailed - riposte to the critics - the principal one being Thatcher herself in her et tu Geoffrey Downing Street Years. Howe constantly attempts to refute her assertions of his disloyalty and his case is convincing. He is fairer to her memory than he need have been considering the wounds she inflicted upon him. In fact his descriptions of her are often fulsome. Witness this description of her addressing the 1922 Committee: 'She was flanked only by the all-male officers of the Committee. Suddenly she looked very beautiful - and very frail, as the half-dozen knights of the shires towered over her. It was a moving, almost feudal, occasion. Tears came to my eyes. The Conservative party had elected its first woman leader . . . A new bond of loyalty had been forged.' Well, her loyalty to Geoffrey Howe was transient. As Thatcher's punchbag, he suffered the brickbats from her and her henchmen, Bernard Ingham, Number 10's press officer, and Charles Powell, factotum and nominally Foreign Affairs adviser, probably for too long.