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July 24, 2014 9:52 pm
John Blundell, who has died of cancer aged 61, served for 16 years as director-general of the Institute of Economic Affairs, the free-market London think-tank that has been influential in shaping policy under successive Conservative governments.
Active on both sides of the Atlantic, he also wrote widely. Books included the 2008 Margaret Thatcher: A Portrait of the Iron Lady, as well as Ladies For Liberty: Women Who Made a Difference in American History, of which an expanded second edition was published last year.
But among rightwing intellectuals he was most hailed for a shorter work from 2003 called Waging the War of Ideas, which sought to tutor a worldwide audience on how to promote social change in a way that enhanced individual rights and freedoms.
Those who “work to spread economic and personal liberty have lost a staunch and effective campaigner”, said Madsen Pirie, president of the like-minded Adam Smith Institute. In a blog post he spoke of an organiser and communicator with a wry humour.
A devotee of Friedrich Hayek, the young Blundell formed his views before Thatcher came to office and seldom missed an opportunity to spread the word. At the IEA he once received a request from Cuba’s economics ministry for a copy of nearly every work the institute had published. He duly shipped to Havana no fewer than 2,874 volumes – obtaining US funding to help cover the costs.
That support derived from links forged during his nine years in the US, where he became associated with groups such as the Atlas Network, the Institute for Humane Studies and the Heritage Foundation. He took the top IEA job in 1993 at the age of 40, remaining a senior fellow after he stepped down in 2009.
Born on October 9 1952 in Congleton, Cheshire, Blundell was educated at the King’s School, Macclesfield, and the London School of Economics. He is survived by his wife Christine and two sons.
Justifying the work of think-tanks such as his in a 2004 letter to the Financial Times, he wrote: “Our predecessors struggled with runaway inflation, power grabs by trade unions and the bottomless pits of the nationalised industries. Today we tackle runaway regulation, power grabs by the European Union and the bottomless pits of the public services.”
Blundell’s stance was uncompromising but his collegiate style was respected, as was his grassroots experience both in commerce and local government. He had worked previously for the UK’s Federation of Small Businesses and been an elected councillor in the south London borough of Lambeth.
The Washington-based Atlas, where he was a past president, said in a tribute: “John had a keen sense of how history moves, and the principles that will be vindicated over the long term.”
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