As the political world this week mourned the death of Margaret Thatcher at the age of 87, so Eastbourne remembered the former Prime Minister’s close connection to the town, and in particular MP Ian Gow.
Mr Gow was Eastbourne MP from 1972 until he was killed on July 30, 1990, by an IRA bomb planted underneath his Austin Montego.
The four-and-a-half pound Semtex bomb exploded as Mr Gow reversed the car out of the driveway at his 16th century home known as “The Doghouse” in the village of Hankham.
The IRA claimed responsibility for killing the Eastbourne MP, stating that he was targeted because he was “a close personal associate” of Margaret Thatcher, and because of his role in developing British policy on Northern Ireland.
Mrs Thatcher, for whom Mr Gow had served for four years as her parliamentary private secretary when she became Prime Minister, described his death as “an irreplaceable loss”.
She later said, “Ian Gow was murdered by the Provisional IRA. His death has been mourned by all sides of the House of Commons, by his Eastbourne constituents and by people of all occupations and persuasions.
“He was a marvellous person, widely respected and greatly loved.”
Brian Higgins is now president of Eastbourne Conservatives, but once canvassed for Mr Gow during General Election campaigns.
He said he was very sad to learn of the death of Mrs Thatcher adding, “I think history will prove she was truly a great Prime Minister.”
Mr Higgins said that Mrs Thatcher had a reputation of not liking weak people and Ian Gow was certainly not that.
“They got on famously well,” he pointed out. “Both had very similar characteristics in that they had strong principles and convictions.
“They were not interested in being popular if the decision was right.
“I am in the same camp and believe you find many politicians today make a decision out of expediency.
“Sometimes people would not agree with Mrs Thatcher, but they respected her.”
Mr Higgins pointed out that when the Eastbourne MP resigned from the Government in 1985 over the signing of the Anglo-Irish agreement, the Prime Minister was devastated to lose such a close, trusted advisor, but she respected his decision because he had resigned on principle and conviction.
Ironically, following Mr Gow’s death the Eastbourne seat was won in 1990 by the Liberal Democrat MP, David Bellotti – a vote which Conservative MP Ann Widdecombe said would see the IRA “toasting their success”.
However Mr Higgins, who worked on that campaign, said that the result was no surprise since this was the nature of by-elections.
“Ian has a large personal vote, and there was a lot of nastiness about that particular campaign,” recalled the Eastbourne Conservatives’ president.
“I am sure if Ian had stood at the next General Election in 1992 (which saw Nigel Waterson win the seat back for the Conservatives), he would have won with another 18,000 majority.”