12 October 2015

Farewell to Howe and Healey: Tory & Labour Chancellors die in the same week

When I was doing the research that led to my first book on public speaking (Our Masters' Voices,1984) Margaret Thatcher was the leading British politician of the day and provided me with much of the data analysed in the book - for which I was and still am extremely grateful.

Later on, when I was writing speeches for former LibDem leader Paddy Ashdown, she provided much raw material for lines that were more or less guaranteed to get rapturous applause.

But those were only two of my debts to her. Another was that I've often summed up my professional life by saying that it came about as a result of being both a victim and a beneficiaryof Thatcherism.

Victim of Thatcherism
This was because of the appalling damage her governments inflicted on higher education and research in the UK, not to mention what they did to my standard of living or the two years of insecurity that came to a head in 1981 - when her Education Secretary Sir Keith Joseph commissioned Lord Rothschild to investigate my then employer (the Social Science Research Council) with a view to making a case for closing it down.

Luckily, he didn't oblige, concluding that it would be a 'gross act of intellectual vandalism' to do so. The compromise accepted by Thatcher and Joseph was to delete the word 'science' and elevate the importance of their favoured discipline with a new name: the Economic and Social Research Council.

Beneficiary of Thatcherism
A few years later, the benefit from Thatcherism came when Nigel Lawson's budget of 1988 reduced the top rate of income tax to 40%. That was the moment when and the reason why I decided to risk leaving the groves of academia to become a self-employed consultant and author (links to a fuller story of which can be found in the final post of the Claptrap series HERE).

To that extent, I can claim to be living proof that the official economic case for Thatcher-Reagan tax reductions, namely that they would unleash entrepreneurial zeal, worked in at least one case.

The cricketing simile that put an end to her innings
To mark the twentieth anniversary of Margaret Thatcher resignation as prime minister, links to some of my writings about her, both from Our Masters' Voices and this blog, are reproduced below.

I also thought it appropriate to mark the occasion with a clip from the speech that fired the starting gun for what turned out to be a rather quick sprint to the end - coming as it did only 21 days later.

In his speech on resigning as Deputy Prime Minister, Sir Geoffrey Howe, who wasn't renowned as a brilliant speaker, deployed a vivid cricketing simile to describe what it had been like working with Mrs Thatcher.

"It's rather like sending your opening batsmen to the crease, only for them to find, the moment the first balls are bowled, that their bats have been broken before the game by the team captain."

The speech ended with a fairly explicit invitation to other discontented colleagues to stand against her for the leadership:

"The time has come for others to consider their own response to the tragic conflict of loyalties with which I have myself wrestled for perhaps too long."

Three weeks later, she resigned.

There was a rumour at the time that this particular sequence was actually written by Sir Geoffrey Howe's wife - a claim that, so far, I've never managed to verify.

DENIS HEALEY - "Being attacked by Geoffrey Howe is like being savaged by a dead sheep"

Now watch the brilliant documentary by Michael Cockerell which was shown again last week on news of Healey's death at 98 on YouTube  here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Gudj2-vSueo

He was one of the last politicians to have done other things before entering politics, had an amazing sense of humour and loads of hobbies unrelated to politics - an ominous reminder to Jeremy Corbyn and his fans, perhaps???


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