John Blundell, who died last week, has already received a heartfelt tribute from Ramesh here and there are further notices of his death from the Atlas Foundation and the Acton Institute. The Acton Institute will, I believe, shortly announce arrangements for John’s memorial service.
Like Ramesh I was shocked and saddened by John’s death because he was relatively young (61) and he had always seemed the quintessence of energy and activism. At one time or another he was president or board member of virtually every classical-liberal and/or conservative organization in the world on both sides of the Atlantic — including the Institute of Humane Studies, the Atlas Foundation, the Mont Pelerin Society, and above all the Institute of Economic Affairs in London where, after a short hiccup, he succeeded the great Ralph Harris as its director general.
That was both a real and a symbolic passing on of the torch. Ralph and his great associate, Arthur Seldon, had founded the Institute (with the financial backing of Anthony Fisher) and along with figures such as Geoffrey Howe and Keith Joseph they constituted the pioneer generation of Thatcherites before Thatcher. Along with Madsen Pirie, Eamonn Butler, Gerald Frost, and others John was a leading figure in the Thatcherite second generation that took the Thatcher revolution forward after the defenestration of Thatcher herself.
He arrived on the scene in the mid-1970s — somewhat leaner than his recent photographs — as the parliamentary lobbyist for the National Federation of Independent Businesses where he was a tireless one-man small-business guerrilla campaigner against the cozy corporatism of the Confederation of British Industry. That wonderful disruptiveness brought him to the attention of the younger conservatives. He soon became a main player in what one left-wing writer called “the Great Moving Right Show” that morphed in time into the Thatcher revolution. And after a decade in America learning the think-tank trade he returned to head the IEA — the mother-ship of British think tanks — where he remained for two creative decades.
John went on to do a great many other things. He founded almost as many organizations as he led. He became a historian of the movement in which he had campaigned with distinction. He wrote a biography of Margaret Thatcher. He published a book of advice on how to win political campaigns for conservative values and causes.
John had many fine personal qualities — he was kind, brave, and loyal. He had a good mind and a solid economic training. But he brought together two particular qualities that made him a great campaigner for liberty: a strong intuitive grasp of conservative ideas and a lively, good-humored, outgoing personality.
Carlyle once described Richard Cobden, the great 19th-century Liberal statesman, as “an inspired bagman with his calico millennium.” It wasn’t meant entirely as a compliment; “calico” alerts one to Carlyle’s disapproval of Cobden’s utopia as too mundane. But it described Cobden all the same — and it describes the friend we have just lost.
John Blundell had a vision of the future as one of greater practical everyday liberty — and he inspired a great many people to make it a reality.