November 5, 2012 4:49 pm

An astute chronicler of power relations

John Bourne

John Bourne

John Bourne, who has died aged 86, was an astute chronicler of British politics and industrial relations at a time when each had a particularly big impact on the other.


IN Obituaries

After joining the Financial Times in 1960 as a labour reporter for what turned out to be four years, he spent another dozen covering Westminster, ultimately as lobby editor. Bourne’s knowledge of the trade union movement served the paper well as successive governments sought to curb the strikes that marked the era.

His scoops included the 1974 plan by Edward Heath, Conservative prime minister, to call an early election as a challenge to the National Union of Mineworkers, whose stoppage had brought on the three-day week. After that February poll narrowly handed Downing Street back to Labour’s Harold Wilson, Bourne and his friend Ian Aitken of The Guardian published unauthorised advance extracts from the Tory manifesto for the contest in October, creating a furore on the right once its outcome strengthened Wilson’s hand.

Bourne felt obliged to hire solicitors to scotch rightwing press claims that he was a Labour loyalist. That came amid a police investigation into the source of the leak, in which those interviewed included Jean Stead – the Guardian news editor and Bourne’s wife since their days on the Yorkshire Post. She survives him along with their daughter Victoria and son Matthew.

Taken together with an earlier tussle with Tribune, the manifesto episode indicated that he was beholden to neither camp. The Labour-linked journal, after a reader’s letter in 1964 had misrepresented Bourne’s radio comments on action being taken by postal and power workers, ran an apology saying: “We are completely satisfied that Mr Bourne did not in any way appear to take sides in the dispute, and at no time did he refer to the unions as ‘dreadful’.”

After the lobby, Bourne became features editor and then helped found the Weekend FT, his career unimpeded by partial paralysis when an exploratory operation went wrong. The stick with which he subsequently walked merely became further evidence of his determination.

Sir Geoffrey Owen, the last of three editors he served, described Bourne as having “made a huge contribution to the FT at a time when the paper was broadening its coverage away from City and financial news”, adding: “His work first in the labour room and then in parliament greatly enhanced the FT’s reputation in both these areas.”

John Keith Sheridan Bourne was born in London on June 21 1926, the son of a journalist and a suffragette. He joined the Royal Navy in the final year of the second world war, later reading English and history at Downing College, Cambridge. There he developed his twin passions: reporting and rowing. On retiring in 1987, oarsmanship became the last of the topics about which he regularly wrote.

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