Michael Heseltine has always had a high opinion of himself. To judge from commentary on his recent report, No Stone Unturned: in Pursuit of Growth, that opinion is now widely shared. The political leaders, with their own spin naturally, welcomed it; the press, with qualifications, praised it; business groups apparently liked it too. Lord Heseltine should be pleased. It is always flattering for ageing grandees to be accorded relevance and reverence. Lord Heseltine frequently alludes to his 45 years in politics. During this period he has been remarkably consistent. Consistently wrong.
Heseltine likes to remind us that he is a successful businessman. But that is not how he made his name. He came to prominence as a protĂ©gĂ© of Edward Heath. No Stone Unturned demonstrates that fact on every page. It might almost have been drafted by Ted himself. Its prescriptions are straight out of the Seventies, and its analysis entirely ignores the Eighties. This, of course, is understandable, if you understand Heseltine.
Heseltine lost the industry brief when Margaret Thatcher became Conservative leader because, as she explains in her memoirs, she felt "his interventionist instincts were out of place". He took them with him to the environment department. Here his main achievement in office was to promote cut-price council house sales to sitting tenants. But it was Liverpool that really fascinated him. He is still convinced that he revived the place. Yet what truly happened is that old industries died, trade union power was broken, local militants lost out andâ€”with a bit of encouragement from Heseltineâ€”business moved in. This is how capitalism works.