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Lamont - When Cameron Got It Wrong “Short-lived and relatively shallow”


avid Cameron is in the habit of sprinkling his of his passengers, on seeing Lamont crossing the road, speeches, like throwing stale currants into a offered five hundred pounds to run him down. (He was stodgy spotted dick, with unfunny jokes intended not to know, of course, that it could be left to Lamont’s to persuade us that a ruthlessly ambitious, manipulative political friends to bloodlessly get rid of him later). He politician can have a was associated with a recession rated harmless sense of humour. in some quarters as the worst since Remember the crack in the end of the war and his blithe what was called his keynote assurance that it would be “shortspeech at this year’s lived and relatively shallow” did not Tory Conference, that he inspire any more confidence than his respects entrepreneurs later claim to descry “the green shoots and he knows what he is of recovery” all around – although talking about because he they were not apparent to his goes to bed with one every struggling colleagues. This fixation night and – in time to get with mouthing statements so unwise the laughter rocking again that they could only haunt him – wakes up with the same throughout his career was typified person every morning. The by his telling the Commons, in May Norman Lamont, former Chancellor of the Exchequer. eagerly tamed audience 1991, that “Rising unemployment were enthralled as well and the recession have been the price as amused and Cameron that have had to pay to get inflation was able to forget that his bedtime entrepreneur – who, down. That price is well worth paying”. (He did not view for those who have not been paying attention is his his own projection into unemployment, when it came, in wife Samantha – is a very rich one; her father is an quite so positive a light). Old Etonian stockbroker and 6th Baronet, her parents are divorced and her mother is now Viscountess Astor. Panic Lucky Samantha showed she has the common touch The big crisis in Lamont’s time so near to the top when she said, in reply to a reporter’s question, that she of the greasy pole was “Black Wednesday”, that day in lived “near Scunthorpe”; it would have gone some way to September 1992 when he oversaw Britain’s withdrawal expunge the image of a blackened steel town summoned from the ERM. This was especially embarrassing for him up by that misinformation if she had mentioned that the because only weeks before he had given a categorical family’s home is Normansby Hall, a lush 300 acre estate assurance that nothing of the kind would happen: which they have owned since the late 16th. Century. “There are going to be no devaluations, no leaving the Clearly, the Cameron family’s bit of what the Tory leader ERM. We are absolutely committed to the ERM. It is at calls “this broken society” is comfortingly intact. the centre of our policy” (26 August 1962). Little wonder that Lamont was looking so unkempt when, on 17 Lamont September 1992, he emerged into Downing Street to face In that same speech Cameron raised some the voraciously waiting hacks. Amid the panic that day embarrassed titters among the laughs when he shyly interest rates were dizzyingly raised from 10 per cent to admitted to having been an adviser to Norman Lamont 12 per cent and 15 per cent, then brought back to 12 per when he was Chancellor of the Exchequer. The Labour cent. The Treasury was not alone in its panic; workers Party, he said, never let him forget this episode in his who were buying their homes through a mortgage were climb up the greasy pole. Quite right too – all Tories desperately worried about how they were to afford the would like to forget Lamont, the memory of whose time in higher payments and whether there were more, similarly charge of the Treasury tends to undermine any theories chaotic, days to come. They were probably too anxious to about a Conservative government being inherently more notice on their TV screens, as Lamont came through the able to tame capitalism’s crises than a Labour one. door of Number 11, that he was followed by a shadowy Lamont was at Cambridge with some rising stars of figure, caught briefly and fuzzily by the cameras. It was the Tory governments of the 1980s – Michael Howard, his “political adviser” – David Cameron, future Leader of Kenneth Clarke, Leon Brittan John Gummer. How many the Opposition, who would one day bellow his scorn at fantasy careers, climaxing in occupancy of Number Ten, Prime Minister Brown for floundering among the multiwere sketched out on the backs of cafe menus in those crises of capitalism and who would then be anxious to impatient days? Lamont held a succession of jobs until conceal his association with the ludicrous failure who the Men in Grey Suits did for Thatcher; as Major’s Chief was once his boss. Secretary to the Treasury he acquiesced in, and so had Habitual optimists may rejoice that a new age of some responsibility for, the policy of Britain being part of transparency and candour has dawned with Cameron’s the European Exchange Rate Mechanism (ERM). When confessed embarrassment at the memory of his time with Major put himself up in the contest to succeed Thatcher Lamont. But forgetting a fretful past has been developed Lamont managed his campaign and he was then to a very fine art by suitably ambitious politicians. There rewarded by Major with the Chancellorship. would be, after all, an awful lot of embarrassment for Lament’s time as Chancellor was not noteworthy them to misremember. Judge for yourself if this is likely for its controlled tranquillity and optimism; indeed to happen or whether they will continue to see their his public standing was so abysmally low that years future as survival through concealment and deceit. later he recalled a London cabby telling him that one IVAN

Socialist Standard November 2008 November 08 BDH.indd 23

23 24/10/08 10:39:30

November 2008 Socialist Standard  

Official Journal of the Socialist Party of Great Britain

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