Big beasts did for Mag­gie, but May faces small fry

Yorkshire Post - - OPINION -

IF YOU be­lieve all you read, our Tory gov­ern­ment is uniquely in trouble. This proves mem­o­ries are short. Let’s go back to 1989, an – one of sev­eral – in Mar­garet Thatcher’s 11 years in No 10. I know be­cause I was at the heart of it.

The econ­omy was de­te­ri­o­rat­ing af­ter Chan­cel­lor Nigel Law­son lost con­trol of in­fla­tion. Thatcher was mor­ti­fied to dis­cover from the that he was ex­per­i­ment­ing ex­pen­sively be­hind her and the Cab­i­net’s back by shad­ow­ing the Deutschmark. It didn’t work. In­ter­est rates were hoisted to 15 per cent to try to choke off in­fla­tion.

Law­son’s clever-dick­ery re­flected his de­sire to run the econ­omy with­out let or hin­drance. Thatcher re­minded him she was still the First Lord of the Trea­sury. At the same time Sir Ge­of­frey Howe wanted to run for­eign pol­icy on his own and, like Law­son, was wit­ter­ing away about join­ing the Ex­change Rate Mech­a­nism (ERM).

She later shifted Howe from the For­eign and Com­mon­wealth Of­fice to lead the Com­mons as deputy PM – a ti­tle he de­manded as the price for los­ing for­eign af­fairs. It was a mean­ing­less ti­tle be­cause, un­like Wil­liam Whitelaw, his pre­de­ces­sor, he wanted the PM’s job. In other words, the two most se­nior Cab­i­net Min­is­ters were in league over the ERM – as to­gether they demon­strated in the PM’s study just as she was leav­ing for the the PM’s eco­nomic ad­viser, were at log­ger­heads and even­tu­ally on Oc­to­ber 26 the Chan­cel­lor re­signed, blam­ing Wal­ters, who im­me­di­ately ten­dered his res­ig­na­tion. Again the at­mos­phere was toxic. Law­son wanted to an­nounce his de­par­ture at 3.10pm just be­fore the PM stood up in the Com­mons to take ques­tions and then give a state­ment on a frac­tious Com­mon­wealth con­fer­ence in Kuala Lumpur. He was per­suaded to de­sist un­til 4.30pm.

This brings us to De­cem­ber 5 when Sir An­thony Meyer, a drip­ping Wet and Europhile, chal­lenged Thatcher’s lead­er­ship as a stalk­ing horse – the first Tory lead­er­ship elec­tion in 15 years.

Thatcher got 84 per cent of the vote to Meyer’s eight but with ab­sten­tions and spoilt pa­pers 60 Tory MPs had de­clined to back Thatcher. I fear this was not taken as se­ri­ously as it should have been. In just un­der a year Thatcher was ousted.

Let that be a warn­ing to Theresa May, you may say, given that Thatcher had a ma­jor­ity of around 100 in the House while May’s hangs by the thread of North­ern Ir­ish sup­port. If stupid Tories can get rid of a woman who won three elec­tions, they will not jib at ditch­ing one with no work­ing ma­jor­ity at all, even with Marx­ist Jeremy Cor­byn in the wings.

But there are dif­fer­ences be­tween now and 1989. Europe is once again the great di­vider, but today the econ­omy is in a bet­ter shape.

In 1989 eco­nomic pres­sure on the pub­lic was in­ten­si­fied by the im­pend­ing com­mu­nity charge – poll tax – that had Tory MPs wor­ried about their seats. Labour’s lead was then up to 15 points, though no­body was will­ing to pre­dict a Neil Kin­nock vic­tory. Cor­byn’s lead is now mar­ginal and Mrs May’s per­sonal stand­ing is ris­ing.

Thatcher was in­evitably in trouble. Su­per­fi­cially, leave aside her pre­car­i­ous Com­mons po­si­tion, Mrs May is in a stronger po­si­tion with longer to go to a gen­eral elec­tion and no big beasts – only min­nows – bray­ing and snort­ing in the West­min­ster jun­gle.

Against this back­ground, my ad­vice to Mrs May is to stand firm on sound eco­nom­ics, re­spon­si­ble cap­i­tal­ism, work­ing for the many and not just the few and a clean break Brexit.

On Europe Thatcher ca­pit­u­lated to the de­mand – even­tu­ally dis­as­trous – to en­ter the ERM.

Stick to your guns, Mrs May. Let con­sis­tency be your friend.

Mar­garet Thatcher field­ing ques­tions with For­eign Sec­re­tary Sir Ge­of­frey Howe at a press con­fer­ence in London in May 1989, an an­nus hor­ri­bilis for the then-PM.

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