Leach, (Charles Guy) Rodney, Baron Leach of Fairford
- Michael Howard
Leach, (Charles Guy) Rodney, Baron Leach of Fairford (1934–2016), merchant banker and political organizer, was born in Rathfarnan Road, Dublin, on 1 June 1934, the son of Charles Harold Leach (1901–1975), later chairman of the West Midlands Gas Board (appointed CBE in 1963), and his wife, Nora Eunice, née Ashworth (1905–1975). He was educated from the age of five at Holmwood School, Formby, then from 1943 at Mostyn House School, Parkgate, Cheshire, and from 1947 at Harrow School. He won an open scholarship to Balliol College, Oxford, where he was an outstanding student: he took firsts in classical moderations (1954) and literae humaniores (1956), and won the chancellor’s Latin verse and prose prizes (1954) and the Gaisford verse and prose prizes (1956). His brother, Colin Leach (b. 1932), later an investment banker and curator of the university chest at Oxford, had won three of the four.
After a year teaching undergraduates at Balliol, Leach decided that academic life was not for him, and joined the merchant bank Erlangers. From 1959 to 1963 he was based in Montreal, Canada, as a research analyst at Greenshields Inc., where he was mentored by the former Romanian finance minister, George Cretzianu. On 27 April 1963, in Montreal, he married Felicity Ballantyne. They had three daughters, Alice, Victoria, and Florence, and two sons, Sebastian and Francis.
On his return to England in 1963, Leach was recruited by Jacob Rothschild to join the investment bank N. M. Rothschild & Sons. He became a partner in 1968 and a director in 1970, forming a very effective deal-making team with Rothschild and Philip Shelburne, specializing in mergers and takeovers. In 1976 he left Rothschilds to become a director of the Trade Development Bank, founded by the Lebanese-born banker and philanthropist (and Rothschilds client) Edmond Safra. Then in 1983, when Safra sold the bank to American Express, he was talent-spotted by Sir Henry Keswick (another former Rothschilds client) to join the Jardine Matheson group, becoming a director of Jardine Matheson Holdings Ltd and of various subsidiaries including Matheson & Co., Hongkong Land, Dairy Farm, and Mandarin Oriental. He was widely believed to be the éminence grise of the Jardine Matheson group, and was credited both with devising an elaborate system of cross-shareholding to maintain the Keswick family’s control of the group, and with stabilizing the group’s finances and masterminding the change in domicile from Hong Kong to London in anticipation of Hong Kong’s return to China in 1997. At the invitation of his friend Jacob (now Lord) Rothschild, he also in 2006 became a non-executive director of Rothschild & Co., formerly Paris Orléans SCA (the holding company for the various Rothschild banking subsidiaries, including N. M. Rothschild & Sons).
Leach’s first marriage was dissolved in 1989, and on 8 January 1993 he married Jessica Violet Douglas-Home (b. 1944), an artist and theatre designer, daughter of John Gwynne and Patricia, née Morrison-Bell, and widow of Charles Douglas-Home, editor of The Times.
Leach recalled that he first become interested in politics at the time of the Hungarian uprising in 1956, when he helped start a relief fund for refugees from that country. For most of his career he was politically inactive, but (having been alarmed by the smallprint in the treaty of Maastricht, which, typically, he read in its entirety) in 1999 he founded and was the first chairman of Business for Sterling, which sought to keep the UK out of the new euro currency. He soon recruited 1000 chairmen and chief executives to the cause and the campaign gathered momentum until it became clear that Tony Blair could never win the referendum that he had promised if he wanted to take the UK into the euro. Though many have since claimed the credit for keeping the UK out of the euro there is good reason to believe that Leach is entitled to the lion’s share.
In 2005 Leach went on to found Open Europe, which sought to scrutinize the activities of the European Union (EU), and to help reform it from within. It ultimately played an important part in the Brexit referendum of 2016, though Leach never publicly declared how he would vote. But in an email he sent to a friend before he died, and which was subsequently published, he said: ‘we aren’t ever going to sacrifice our democracy and the EU cannot ever develop a democracy, as it hasn’t got a demos … So it has to be exit, painful though that may temporarily be’ (The Spectator, 8 June 2016).
In 2006 Leach was made a life peer, as Baron Leach of Fairford. He spoke frequently in the debates on the treaty of Lisbon but thereafter intervened little; his last speech in the chamber was in 2009, and he last voted in 2011. Nevertheless in 2011 he founded a third organization, No to AV, to campaign for a ‘no’ in the referendum on the introduction of an ‘alternative vote’ system for national elections (announced by David Cameron in response to pressure from his Liberal Democrat coalition partners). The consummate skills of organizing campaigns and influencing public opinion which Leach had honed with Business for Sterling were invaluable in enabling the proposal to be defeated.
Leach was a member of White’s and the Portland Club, where he played bridge to a competitive level. He was memorably described by someone who worked with him as a man who ran Jardines in the morning, raised funds for some good cause over lunch, chaired a political campaign in the afternoon, while all the time monitoring the day’s play at the test match, played bridge in the evening, and was home in time for dinner with his wife. One of the many letters sent to his widow when he died described him as able ‘like a Venetian prince to move with ease, distinction and sprezzatura between the Court, the Rialto and the Università’ (private information). He served as a member of the board of the British Library from 1996 to 2005, and in 2014 received an honorary DSc from the University of Buckingham.
Leach lived latterly at Knights Mill, a grade II listed house (originally a medieval fulling mill, refronted in the eighteenth century) in Quenington, near Cirencester, Gloucestershire. He died of a brain haemorrhage at Charing Cross Hospital, London, on 12 June 2016, eleven days before a majority of the UK electorate voted to leave the EU. His funeral was held at St Swithun’s, Quenington, on 20 June, and a memorial service was held at St Paul’s, Knightsbridge, on 15 September 2016. He was survived by his wife Jessica and the five children of his first marriage.