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Remembering Gordon Borrie

GordonBorrie.jpgChristine Crawley pays tribute to Lord Borrie, who died on 30th September

Gordon Borrie was fearless. As Director General of the Office of Fair Trading from 1976 to 1992, he stood up to the price fixers, the market riggers, the vested interests and those with monopolistic tendencies. And at the same time he stood up for British consumers, battling rogue traders, hidden charges, shoddy service and baffling small print.

Gordon believed in open but regulated markets with the same passion that he believed in the Labour Party. A whip smart ability to take on all-comers in commercial and consumer affairs while keeping his cool, meant that two Prime Ministers – Jim Callaghan and Margaret Thatcher – found him indispensable.

It was my privilege to work closely with Gordon on consumer affairs legislation in the Lords. Our small band of cross-party consumer geeks (they know who they are) always recognised the respect in which the House held Gordon as he held forth on the topic of the day. Colleagues paid attention when he spoke – including in recent years on the Consumer Rights Bill, the Public Bodies Order or the many debates on the very real and often unwise changes to the UK’s consumer landscape post-2010. He particularly regretted the abolition of the National Consumer Council.

Gordon was respected not only for the depth of his knowledge and the clarity of his judgement but also for the invariably fresh perspective he brought to our discussions. And not just on consumer issues, as he illustrated when debating Lords reform and the role of bishops; or the Anti-Social Behaviour Crime and Policing Bill – which reminded him of his days as a young barrister in the 1950s, prosecuting shoplifters up and down Oxford Street. Always reflective and always probing, Gordon was never cynical and believed that Parliament mattered in people’s lives.

We did not agree about everything in debate but a cup of tea or something stronger soon brought harmony.

Gordon was President of the Trading Standards Institute (TSI) from 1992 to 1996, to be followed by Judith Wilcox, the late Tim Garden and since 2009 myself. We often spoke about the important work of Trading Standards Officers and he advised me, when I took over the Presidency, that I would be hard-pressed to find a better, more diligent, more decent bunch of public servants. Gordon was right – as usual.

He is fondly remembered at the Chartered Trading Standards Institute (as it’s known today). The former CEO, Ron Gainsford, told me recently that his abiding memory will be of Gordon and his beloved wife Dorene (usually wearing one of her many striking hats) each year at the TSI conference gala dinner – dancing so wonderfully and with such zest.  How Gordon missed Dorene when she died in 2010; they were such a lifelong team, delighting in each other’s company.

Gordon was a Labour man. He stood unsuccessfully in Croydon North East in 1955 and in Ilford South in 1959. He was made a life peer in 1995.

Arguably, his most important influence on our Party came from his role as Chair of the Commission on Social Justice, as launched by John Smith in 1992. The Commission called for deeper thinking about social issues, especially welfare policy. Its output had the effect of conveying to the electorate that Labour was changing, and became a template for how Opposition should prepare for government. (Two other members of that Commission, Margaret Wheeler and Ruth Lister, sit on the Labour benches in the Lords).

There was a crucial symbolism in the timing of the Commission’s birth – the 50th anniversary of the Beveridge Report. Indeed, it was billed as the ‘New Beveridge’ but to properly represent the needs of the 1990s, the Commission added ‘discrimination’ to the original list of great evils: want, idleness, ignorance, disease, and squalor. The incoming Labour government of 1997 was to draw on the work of the Commission in several policy areas to the benefit of the British people over the following decade.

Gordon’s was a full life, a life well lived and a life that influenced the progress of modern Britain. What more could one ask? We are poorer for his passing.

Baroness Christine Crawley is a Labour Peer in the House of Lords and the current President of the Trading Standards Institute

Published 10th October 2016

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