Posts Tagged ‘Chancellor of the Exchequer’

‘I’ Newspaper: Thatcher Wanted to Abolished Welfare State and NHS Even After Cabinet ‘Riot’

November 27, 2016

The I newspaper on Friday (25th November 2016) carried a report that recently released cabinet papers reveal that Thatcher and Geoffrey Howe continued to plan for the abolition of the welfare state and the privatisation of the NHS even after the rest of the cabinet violently and vehemently rejected her plans. Here’s what the paper wrote

Thatcher’s plan to abolish the welfare state outraged MPs

The Prime Minister tried to advance incendiary proposals despite uproar in Cabinet. By Cahal Milmo.

Margaret Thatcher and her Chancellor Geoffrey Howe secretly sought to breathe new life into incendiary plans to dismantle the welfare state even after they had been defeated in a cabinet “riot”, newly released files show.

Shortly after she came to power in 1979, Mrs Thatcher instructed a Whitehall think-tank to put forward proposals on how to shake up long-term public spending based on the free market principles she spent her 11 years in office seeking to apply.

But what the Central Policy Review Staff (CPRS) put forward in 1982 was the most radical and vexing blueprint of the Thatcher era, including a call for the end of the NHS by scrapping free universal healthcare, introducing compulsory charges for schooling and sweeping defence cuts.

The proposals proved far too militant for the “wets” in Mrs Thatcher’s frontbench team and were shouted down at a meeting in September that year which Nigel Lawson, the then Energy Secretary, later described in his memoirs as “the nearest thing to a Cabinet riot in the history of the Thatcher administration.”

A chastened Mrs Thatcher, who later claimed she had been “horrified” at the CPRS document, responded to the leak of a watered-down version of the paper by using her speech to the Conservative Party conference in 1982 to insist that the NHS is “safe with us”.

But Treasury documents released at the National Archives in Kew, west London, show that the Iron Lady and her first Chancellor did not let the project drop and planned behind the scenes to “soften up” the ministers in charge of the main departments targeted by the CPRS.

In November 1982, a memo was sent informing Sir Geoffrey that Mrs Thatcher had set up meetings with her Health Secretary, Norman Fowler, Education Secretary Keith Joseph and Defence Secretary John Nott. The memo said: “This series of meetings is designed to soften up the three big spenders. Without their support the operation will not work.”

The document details a political pincer movement between No 10 and the Treasury with Sir Geoffrey asked to ensure that no department’s funding was ring-fenced – although there was recognition that the Prime Minister’s public position on the NHS made that difficult. It said: “Your main aim, I suggest, should be to ensure that no sacred cows are prematurely identified. Given the Prime Minister’s concern about the NHS, this may be difficult.”

The files suggest the ploy met immediate opposition. A later Treasury memo said: “DHSS [Department of Health and Social Security] officials say there is no chance that Mr Fowler would agree to further study of this idea. I imagine that in the circumstances, and especially given the Prime Minister’s speech at Brighton, it is difficult to press them.”

The documents go on to reveal that Sir Geoffrey had a certain ambivalence towards how the Thatcherite project should proceed.

When the Adam Smith Institute came forward with a project to set out a plan for radical Whitehall restructuring to be enacted after the 1983 general election, Sir Geoffrey accepted the concerns of his political adviser that the scheme would fail.

Sir Geoffrey Wrote: “Every proposal will be seized on and hung round our neck. I see v great harm.” (p. 16).

This gives the lie to Thatcher’s claim in her autobiography that when she reviewed the NHS, she found it to be basically found, and only felt that it should have given more space to private industry. It also shows that Leon Brittan was also lying in his autobiography when he also claimed that the Labour party had lied about the Tories planning to abolish the NHS. They had considered it in 1983, and again considered it four years later in 1987.

As for the cabinet rebels who ‘rioted’ against Thatcher’s scheme, from what I’ve read they were motivated not from principle but from the realisation that if she tried to carry out her plans, they’d all be out of a job come the next election.

This did not stop the Tories carrying on the piecemeal privatisation of the NHS. Thatcher carried on chipping away at it. So did John Major, and it was kicked into a higher gear by Tony Blair and Gordon Brown. And now David Cameron and his wretched successor, Theresa May, have nearly completed the job.

I also like to know who the members of the CPRS were, who recommended the complete dismantlement of the welfare state. At the moment, ideological thugs like them hide behind their extremely low profiles. If the politicians, who’ve embraced their ideas are attacked on lose their seats, these people are nevertheless safe, in that they slink off and get another seat at the governmental table somewhere else. Mike on his blog pointed out how Wasserman, one of the architects behind Thatcher’s plan to privatise the NHS, was also one of the official invited back to advise Cameron on how to ‘reform’ it, in other words, privatise more of it.

It’s about time the shadowy figures behind these ideas were named and shamed, as well as the foul politicos who back them.

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Murdoch’s Editorial Interference and Right-Wing Bias

June 7, 2016

The phone hacking scandal has been rumbling on for what seems like forever now. For a moment it looked like Murdoch himself was going to end up in court, because of allegations that he personally interferes in editing his newspapers. According to Private Eye, he almost appeared before the beak a few years ago on a libel charge, after Michael Foot sued the Times for claiming that he was a KGB agent, based on the unlikely word of Oleg Gordievsky. Gordievsky was a former KGB agent, and self-confessed liar. From what I recall, a number of the Times’ staff were highly sceptical of the allegations, with the exception of the editor, David Leppard. And so the paper printed the story that Foot, a principled democratic socialist, whose loyalty to his country should never have been in doubt, was a KGB agent codenamed ‘Comrade Boot’.

Murdoch’s managed to escape these scrapes with the law, and wriggle out of them when he has been forced to appear before public enquiries and parliamentary committees, by claiming that he doesn’t interfere with his papers’ editorial policies. Mark Hollingworth, in his book The Press and Political Dissent: A Question of Censorship, points out that Murdoch largely doesn’t need to. He appoints editors he knows will follow his political line, like Andrew ‘Brillo Pad’ Neil, who before he became editor of the Sunset Times was one of the editors on the Economist. Neil told his staff at a meeting of the Gay Hussar pub in London that he fully supported Thatcher’s policies on monetarism and privatisation, although on macroeconomic policy he claimed he was further to the left, and more like David Owen. (p. 18).

The News of the World

But Hollingworth makes clear that the Dirty Digger does interfere with the editor’s running of his newspapers, and certainly did so when he took over the News of the World at the end of the 1960s. Hollingsworth writes

However, when Murdoch was faced with an editor who didn’t share his political views and wanted a semblance of independence, the situation changed dramatically. when he took of the News of the World in 1969, Murdoch told the incumbent editor, Stafford Somerfield: I didn’t come all this way not to interfere.’ According to Somerfield, the new proprietor ‘wanted to read proofs, write a leader if he felt like it, change the paper about and give instructions to the staff’. As the paper’s long-serving editor, Somerfield was used to a fair amount of independence and he tried to resist Murdoch’s interference. In 1970 Somerfield was dismissed by Murdoch.

A similar fate befell another News of the World editor a decade later. Barry Askew had been appointed by Murdoch in April 1981 after a successful career as the crusading editor of the Lancashire Evening Post during which he published a series of stories about corruption among local public officials and institutions. However, when Askew and the News of the World declined, like the Times under Harold Evans during the same period to give the Conservative government unequivocal support, Murdoch took action. ‘He [Murdoch] would come into the office,’ said Askew, ‘and literally rewrite leaders which were not supporting the hard Thatcher monetarist line. That were not, in fact, supporting – slavishly supporting – the Tory government.’

Askew believes the big clash came over an exclusive story about John DeLorean, the car tycoon. A freelance journalist, John Lisners, had persuaded DeLorean’s former secretary, Marian Gibson, to reveal details about her boss’ business practices and alleged irregularities. It was a superb story, backed up by other sources and also cleared by Gibson’s lawyer-Clarence Jones.

However, just after noon on Saturday 3 October 1981, Murdoch telephoned Askew, as he invariably did every week, to discuss the main stories. Askew told him about the DeLorean scoop and Murdoch appeared initially to be enthusiastic. Later that afternoon Murdoch arrived at the office in Bouverie Street and went straight to the ‘back-bench’ to read the DeLorean material. One of the key sources was William Haddad, who had worked for Murdoch on the New York Post. On learning of Haddad’s involvement, Murdoch said: ‘He’s a leftwing troublemaker’, although he later denied saying this. ‘I may have referred to Bill’s love of conspiracy theories.’

Murdoch then consulted his legal advisors and they decided the story was legally unsafe. The story was killed. The next day the Daily Mirror published the same story on its front page and the rest of the media followed it up. Interestingly, according to Ivan Fallon and James Srodes’ book DeLorean, it was Murdoch who arranged for Lord Goodman to act as DeLorean’s lawyer to discourage the rest of Fleet Street from pursuing the story. Within a year DeLorean’s car firm was bankrupt. Within two months, in December 1981, Askew was dismissed and he returned to Lancashire a bitter man. ‘I don’t think Fleet Street gives a damn about ethics, morality or anything else. It gives a damn about attracting a readership that will attract an advertising situation which will make a profit which will make the press barons powerful politically.
(pp.18-20).

The Times

This editorial interference did not stop with the News of the World. It also extended to the Times, when that august paper was under the editorship of the highly respected journalist, Harold Evans. Hollingworth continues

But by far the most revealing example of Murdoch’s desire to set the political line of his papers also came during 1981 when the Conservative government was very unpopular because of high unemployment. when Harold Evans was appointed editor of the Times in March 1981, he was given official guarantees by Murdoch about editorial freedom. On 23 January 1981, the new owner of Times Newspapers had given formal undertakings that ‘In accordance with the traditions of the papers, their editors will not be subject to instruction from either the proprietor of the management on the selection and balance of news and opinion.’

Within a year, however, Evans had been dismissed, claiming he had been forced to resign over constant pressure by Murdoch to move the paper to the Right. Evans’ added: ‘The Times was not notably hostile to the [Conservative] government but it wanted to be independent. But that was not good enough for Rupert Murdoch. He wanted it to be a cheerleader for monetarism and Mrs Thatcher.’ Murdoch denied the charge: ‘Rubbish! Harry used to come and see me and say, “Rupert, it’s wonderful to have you in town. What do you want me to say, what do you want me to do, just let me know.”‘ On this crucial point, Evans told me: ‘Lie plus macho sneer with a useful ambiguity. It is a lie that I ever asked him what to say… It is true that I asked his view from time to time on developments of the paper. The truth is that far from asking Murdoch “what to say”, I followed an editorial policy often in opinion at variance with his own Thatcher-right-or-wrong view.’

The evidence certainly gives credence to Evans’ interpretation of events, although he also fell out with some of the staff. According to leader writer Bernard Donoghue, features editor Anthony Holden and executive editor Brian Macarthur, there was political pressure on Evans because of what Mrs Thatcher called ‘the Times centrist drift’. When unemployment had reached three million in the summer of 1981 Murdoch and Gerald Long, Managing Director of Times Newspapers, wanted the Times to emphasize the number of people in work. Evans declined and Murdoch snapped at him: ‘You’re always getting at her [Mrs Thatcher].’ The Times editor and his proprietor continually argued over economic policy and on one occasion Evans received an extraordinary memorandum from Gerald Long: ‘The Chancellor of the Exchequer says the recession has ended. Why are you have the effrontery in the Times to say that it has not.’

Evans believes the Times was simply taking a more detached, independent editorial position. But by early 1982, Murdoch was clearly losing patience. According to Bernard (now Lord Donoghue, a leader writer and now a stockbroker at Grieveson & Grant, Murdoch had promised Mrs Thatcher that the Times would be back in the Conservative camp by the Easter of that year. But the editor refused to submit to what he later called ‘political intimidation and harassment’. On 12 March 1982, Evans wrote the following editorial: ‘ Unemployment is a social scandal… We favour a more competitive society as against one which is subject to the monopoly power of capital or the trade unions. Three days later Evans was dismissed.

Such lack of sovereignty and independence by the editor has been prevalent throughout the Murdoch empire. ‘I give instructions to me editors all round the world, why shouldn’t I in London,’ he told Fred Emery, home affairs editor of the Times, on 4 March 1982. However, since 1983 all four of Murdoch’s London papers have taken a consistently pro-Conservative government line and so there has been no need to interfere. According to a report on the Sunday Times’ ‘Insight’ team, this is how the system works: ‘Murdoch appoints people who are sympathetic to him. Thus most of the senior staff like Hugo Young have left or been completely emasculated or replaced… To survive you have to self-censor. You approach a story in a different way than if you’d run it in the way you wanted to.’ (pp. 20-1).

The Sun

Hollingsworth concludes that Murdoch actually rarely interfered with the Sun, as under its editor Larry Lamb, who was knighted by Thatcher in 1980, it had already moved to the Tory right, a policy that was continued by the succeeding editor, Kelvin MacKenzie. (p. 21).

So while Murdoch may not interfere in the day-to-day editorial matters of his newspapers any more, they do reflect his personal political opinions and his own personal style of journalism, as carried out by compliant, sympathetic editors.
There was an outcry when he tried to buy the News of the World in 1969. The paper’s then-management were worried about how he would change the paper. And the same fears were raised again when he went off and bought the Times in the late ’70s or first years of the ’80s. There were indeed plans to refer his proposed purchase to the monopolies and mergers commission, though that might have been when he bought the Daily Herald and turned it into the Scum.

And his critics were right. He is not a fit and proper person to own a paper, and he should never have been allowed to buy them. It says much about Thatcher’s grubby, domineering leadership that he was.

Private Eye on the Failure of the Government’s Privatisation of the Royal Mail

June 24, 2015

In its edition for last night fortnight, 12th -25th June 2015, Private Eye ran this piece about Cameron’s latest privatisation of the Royal Mail. It pointed out that the rationale for the sale of its last remaining shares in Britain’s oldest state enterprise actually contradicts the previous announcements about how transferring it all to private ownership would somehow improve service. The article states very plainly that this shows what a fraud and shambles the sell-off of the Royal Mail really is. Here it is.

Royally Screwed

George Osborne’s decision to sell the taxpayer’s remaining 30 percent share in Royal Mail defies the whole purpose of the privatisation and confirms what a rip-off the original sale was.

When the leader of the government body that ran the original privatisation in October 2013, Shareholder Executive boss Mark Russell, was questioned by a parliamentary committee a few weeks later, he explained that “one of the main reasons that we are pursuing this policy of bringing in private sector capital is we expected private sector disciplines to come in on the back of the private sector capital”, which in turn would increase the value of the company. So “the very reason we were maintaining the 30 percent shareholding was because we anticipated that over time there would be some movement of share price, and we wanted the taxpayer to gain from that.”

In fact the Royal Mail share price shot up simply because the sell-off was undervalued at 330p per share. The price hit 600p within weeks and after a year of supposed “private sector discipline” now stands at around 500p.

The further sale now is either an admission that “private sector discipline” does not work magic and there isn’t much more upside for the taxpayer to expect on his 30 percent, or a desperate grab for cash by the chancellor. Or possibly both.

PS. The same Shareholder Executive that was criticised by the National Audit Office as selling Royal Mail shares with “deep caution, the price of which was borne by the taxpayer” has now acquired UK Financial Investments, the arm of the Treasury that will soon be selling billions of pounds’ worth of bank shares – an unlikely empire expansion that the taxpayer might come to regret.

In other words, the Tories’ final privatisation of the Royal Mail is pretty much like most of the other privatisations: it is purely driven by free-market ideology and the express intention of further enriching the private investors and wealthy Tory donors, who are expected to buy into the sale. For the public, it hasn’t led to any improvement in service. In fact, if previous privatisations are any guide, we can look forward to worse service coupled with a vast increase in prices in order to finance grossly inflated pay rises for the board of directors. And, as with all such privatisations, it’s also been grossly undervalued so that the taxpayer has not seen a proper return for the sale.

It is, as Private Eye has said, a rip-off.

It’s also another privatisation that I don’t think anybody wants. I can remember when the Royal Mail’s privatisation was first mooted back in the 1990s. I’m fairly certain my next-door neighbour’s at the time were working class Tories. I can recall them being absolutely horrified by the proposal, and stating very clearly that they did not vote in the election so it could be sold off.

Public opinion, however, means nothing to this government, nor indeed to much of the political class in general. They continue to remain absolutely convinced of the rectitude of free market ideology, despite its manifest failure to provide jobs, improve quality of service, or indeed give cheaper service. Privatisation – not just of the Royal Mail, but also of the rest of the utilities, including and especially the power companies and trains – is a massive, exploitative failure and should be reversed.