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I first came across Margaret Thatcher in 1973, when I was invited to draft the Conservative Manifesto for what was increasingly looking like an early general election. It is possible that she was already aware of my existence, when I was Editor of the Spectator during the second half of the 1960s, but our paths had never crossed.

Margaret Thatcher with Nigel Lawson (right): She called him and Geoffrey Howe “the two finest Chancellors of the Exchequer since the war” (©  SSPL/Getty Images)

When I set about my manifesto task, I wrote to every member of the Cabinet to ask them what they wished to achieve in their own area if the government were to be re-elected. With one exception, the replies I received were depressingly boring, with no political cutting edge whatever. Indeed, they read as if they had been written by Whitehall officials. Maybe they had been. The one exception, of course, was the education section, which had clearly been written by the Secretary of State, Margaret Thatcher. It was well written and politically sharp.

I thanked her effusively for her contribution.

The election duly came, in early 1974, and was lost, albeit only very narrowly. I became a Member of Parliament, and, much more importantly, the following year a leadership election saw Margaret Thatcher oust Ted Heath to become Leader of the Conservative Party. I then got to know her much better, not least because she decided to have an informal team of four backbenchers, of whom I was one and Norman Tebbit another, to help her prepare for Prime Minister’s Questions. In personality terms, the three of us were each very different. But in political terms we were already very much on the same page. Preparation was certainly needed, for although Harold Wilson was not a great Prime Minister he was a skilled parliamentarian, who prided himself in particular on his mastery of Prime Minister’s Questions, where he had consistently seen off Ted Heath.

The following year Margaret invited me to join her front bench team, in the lowly and improbable role of whip; and a year later, 1977, she made me — rather less implausibly — a front- bench Treasury spokesman under Geoffrey Howe.

Two years later a general election saw Margaret Thatcher become Prime Minister, and I became one of her ministers, which I was to remain for more than a decade, most of that time as her Chancellor, working very closely with her for almost all that time.

Even for those of us old enough to have been there, it is hard now to recall the depths to which Britain had sunk by 1979. Economic growth had virtually ground to a halt: in the despairing words of the Bank of England’s March 1978 Bulletin, “Now condemned to very slow growth, we might later even have to accept, if present trends continue, declines in real living standards.” Inflation was in double digits, and rising. Management had all but ceased to manage. Increasing trade union militancy, culminating in the so-called Winter of Discontent of 1978-79, had raised the question on all sides of the political debate of whether the country had in fact become ungovernable.
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February 7th, 2018
3:02 PM
Since Nigel Lawson quotes Adam Smith it may be pertinent to say that, to work properly, the Smithean Free Market model requires that all participants in a market be small in relation to one another. In a situation where, for example, 70% of retail trade in this country is dominated by four companies and 80% of vehicle manufacturing internationally by five, and 95% of internet services by two, the model breaks down. Instead, we have oligopoly. The number of major corporate scandals in the past 15 years demonstrates the enormity of such power and the manner in which it has become arrogant, corrupt and greedy beyond words. If the result of the free trade agenda has been (as in the USA) the wholesale off-shoring of our productive capacity, then something has been fundamentally wrong. Trade is fine, providing we trade at a profit. We don't, nor have done for decades.

February 5th, 2018
2:02 PM
The Tories have the worst `delusions of adequacy`. And express them. Just like Prince Charles. Every council house built is a vote for Labour so Thatcher gave tenants the right to buy and sell them to corrupt landlords who then triple the rent or resell at ten tines the price. And the Grenfell Towers tenants haven`t even been rehoused yet. The Chinese Communist Party are the best at` managing` capitalism so far, And #MeToo and #TimesUp have reached Islam. It`s popular culture and science that`s educating the world. The Labour Party is now part of popular culture.

Miklos Legrady
February 2nd, 2018
8:02 AM
it does sound like sovereign nation state are passé.

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