The call for Britain’s withdrawal from the European Union by former chancellor Nigel Lawson must rank as the worst type of political hypocrisy. Brian Wilson, in reviewing Lord Lawson’s record in office, was, if anything, too gentle on him (Perspective, 8 May).
Lord Lawson did support the then prime minister, Margaret Thatcher, in the 1980s over entry into the Single European Market, but his European credentials at the time were demonstrated in an even more dramatic fashion. This was the issue of British entry into the European Exchange Rate Mechanism, and it was to eventually cost him his job.
Essentially, Mrs Thatcher believed interest rates played a crucial role in keeping down inflation. This was supported by one of her senior economic advisers, Sir Alan Walters.
Lord Lawson thought that interest rate movements could help do this, but also act on another important policy instrument: the exchange rate.
In fact, Lord Lawson was very keen to make sure that the pound’s movements on the international markets followed those of the Deutschmark as closely as possible. Arguably, what he was doing was paving the way for British entry into the ERM (which was to prove disastrous for the newly elected Conservative government in 1992).
Eventually he was forced to resign in autumn 1989 because he could no longer stand the divisions between him and Sir Alan on a crucial area of economic strategy. Many prominent Conservatives have paid a heavy price for advocacy of the European ideal. That almost certainly includes Lord Lawson himself.
It is a pity that he has spoiled their memory by a distasteful volte face.
Brian Wilson describes Nigel Lawson’s tenure as chancellor as “catastrophic”. While it is true that the economy suffered from boom and bust during his tenure, Lord Lawson did cut taxes and deregulate the economy, allowing it to recover in time.
By contrast, Gordon Brown relentlessly and greedily raised taxes, regulation and spending as much as he could, ensuring that boom and bust was replaced with bust and bust, a situation that continues to this day – something that can be truly described as catastrophic.