Nigel Lawson: Margaret Thatcher’s ‘impregnable’ chancellor who resigned in acrimony

Nigel Lawson was Margaret Thatcher’s “impregnable” Chancellor of the Exchequer for six years, until he resigned after a long and bitter storm over his confidence in monetarist guru Sir Alan Walters as his economic adviser.

The bombshell resignation in October 1989 marked the first stages of a succession of grim and calamitous events that would lead to Mrs Thatcher’s own downfall 13 months later.

Lawson, who would later become Baron Lawson de Blaby, told the Prime Minister in a short letter that she had to choose between him and Sir Alan. The successful conduct of economic policy is only possible, he said, “if there is, and is seen to be, full agreement” between the prime minister and the foreign minister.

This requirement could not be met “as long as Alan Walters remains his personal economic adviser,” Lawson said, adding: “I have therefore regrettably come to the conclusion that it is in the government’s best interest to resign without further ado.” .

Death of Nigel Lawson
Nigel Lawson applauded by Margaret Thatcher at the Conservative Party conference in Brighton (PA)

Hours before his resignation, he had found it impossible to hide his fury at Sir Alan’s description of the European monetary system as “half-baked”. Lawson, in an unprecedented public rebuke, told him: “I think it’s right that advisers don’t speak or write in public. It’s a good convention to adhere to.”

When Mrs Thatcher herself was questioned about Sir Alan’s activities, she tersely replied: “Advisers advise, ministers decide.”

As chancellor from 1983 to 1989, Lawson is widely credited with winning the 1987 election for government through the success of his economic strategy.

But Thatcher is known to have blamed her attempts to “match” the Deutschmark in 1988 for much of the sharp rise in inflation the following year. In a private conversation, she reportedly said her policy had “set the government back” by two years.

Lawson possessed a formidable intellect, but was a fussy and arrogant man, aloof, with no discernible desire for popularity, and was labeled “the fat scoundrel of the Remove”. He had the appearance of an old-fashioned Victorian villain who had fully earned his nickname “Smugglers”.

Nigel Thomas Lawson was born on March 11, 1932. During the war, when he was transferred across the country, he attended seven different primary schools, later going to Westminster School and Christ Church, Oxford.

He served two years in the National Service in the Royal Navy where, despite criticism for his scruff and arrogance, he was well regarded enough to take charge of a motor torpedo boat, the Gay Charger.

In 1955 he married his first wife, Vanessa Salmon, daughter of the Lyon restaurant empire.

Death of Nigel Lawson
Nigel Lawson has died at the age of 91 (PA)

Lawson failed to get into the Foreign Office and took up journalism, where he worked for the Financial Times, the Sunday Telegraph and the BBC, but his interest in politics was blossoming and, in the early 1960s, he was a speechwriter. for the then prime minister. Minister, Sir Alec Douglas-Home.

In 1966, he became editor of The Spectator, but 1970 brought two setbacks when he was sacked by the influential right-wing magazine and failed to enter Parliament at Eton and Slough.

In the meantime, he had decided to invest the family’s money in a small commercial bank. He lost possibly up to £400,000 when the 1974 financial crisis struck.

It was that year that he entered parliament as MP for Blaby, a seat he held until he withdrew from the House of Commons in 1992. He was quickly seen as a brilliant newcomer, albeit a lumbering parliamentary player.

But their marriage collapsed under the pressure of work. It disbanded in 1980, and Vanessa died five years later.

That year he married Therese Maclear, a former Commons Library researcher who “always wanted to be a rock singer like Tina Turner.”

His two marriages produced six children, including food writer Nigella and Dominic, another former editor of The Spectator.

Nigel Lawson remained a loner and an outsider, but when Mrs Thatcher won the 1979 election, he was appointed Finance Secretary to the Treasury. Two years later he joined the cabinet as energy secretary and ordered British Gas to sell its half of Wytch Farm, but reversed an earlier decision to sell gas showrooms.

Death of Nigel Lawson
Nigel Lawson holding his budget box with his wife Therese (PA)

He presented the new Oil and Gas (Company) Law, heralded as the largest privatization measure in history. He also told British Gas that he could not explore the North Sea for oil.

He hailed the Falklands war as “the rebirth of Britain.”

In 1982, he persuaded Ian MacGregor to take over as Chairman of the National Coal Board. The following year he became chancellor and quickly earned a reputation as one of the most radical incumbents since the war.

During his first term at 11 Downing Street, from 1983 to 1987, Lawson presided over a stunning turnaround in the economy, with unemployment plummeting, direct taxes cut sharply and Britain’s budget deficit turning into a surplus. with which he began to pay the centuries. -former National Debt.

His career peaked in 1988 when, in the most dramatic budget in recent memory, he lowered the base rate of tax to 25p and cut the top rate to 40p. Thatcher’s description of him as “brilliant” was a genuine personal tribute.

Yet in those heady days, the seeds of the division that would lead to their separation had already been sown. Lawson had long been convinced of Britain’s joining the European exchange rate mechanism, and he decided to run his own test from mid-1987 to March 1988 when he tried to imitate the Deutsche mark.

Towards the end of that period, interest rates were lowered to keep sterling in line with the mark, a policy Lawson himself later admitted contributed to rising inflation.

The policy was criticized by Sir Alan, and Mrs Thatcher’s statement that she “can’t oppose the market” appeared to be aimed squarely at the chancellor.

Death of Nigel Lawson
Nigel Lawson with his wife Therese, son Tom and daughter Emily (PA)

Suggestions of a split led Mrs Thatcher to directly pledge her support to Mr Lawson. In October 1989 Sir Alan dismissed the ERM as “half-baked”. Despite Mrs Thatcher’s description of Mr Lawson as “impregnable”, he was anything but, and when she refused her request to leave Sir Alan, the chancellor had no choice but to resign.

After that, Lawson came under fire for accepting lucrative job offers in the City and the banking world. Later, he became a life partner.

Lord Lawson also became known for his views on climate change, opposing international agreements such as the Kyoto Protocol, and was the founding chairman of the Global Warming Policy Foundation, which has lobbied against climate change policies such as net zero.

He was also an outspoken Eurosceptic and a leading voice in the successful campaign for the UK to leave the European Union in 2016, serving as Chairman of Vote Leave.

In 2018, he faced accusations of hypocrisy after it emerged that he was applying for a French residence card.

The parliamentary record shows that he last spoke in the House in April 2019 when he raised the specter of “undesirable insurrectionary forces” if Parliament refused to accept the result of the Brexit vote.

Warning of a “break” with the public, the veteran politician highlighted the danger of “an ugly situation” developing.

His second wife once refuted public opinion of him as grumpy and arrogant. She said: “He is not in the slightest. He is an absolute softie, very affectionate and he is smart. Unlike me, he doesn’t lose his temper despite the most extraordinary tests.”


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