Geoffrey Howe

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The Right Honourable
The Lord Howe of Aberavon
CH QC PC
Geoffrey Howe.jpg
Deputy Prime Minister of the United Kingdom
In office
24 July 1989 – 1 November 1990
Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher
Preceded by The Viscount Whitelaw
Succeeded by Michael Heseltine
Leader of the House of Commons
Lord President of the Council
In office
24 July 1989 – 1 November 1990
Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher
Preceded by John Wakeham
Succeeded by John MacGregor
Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs
In office
11 June 1983 – 24 July 1989
Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher
Preceded by Francis Pym
Succeeded by John Major
Chancellor of the Exchequer
In office
4 May 1979 – 11 June 1983
Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher
Preceded by Denis Healey
Succeeded by Nigel Lawson
Shadow Chancellor of the Exchequer
In office
11 February 1975 – 4 May 1979
Leader Margaret Thatcher
Preceded by Robert Carr
Succeeded by Denis Healey
Minister for Trade and Consumer Affairs
In office
5 November 1972 – 4 March 1974
Prime Minister Edward Heath
Preceded by Michael Noble
Succeeded by Eric Deakins and Stanley Clinton Davis
Solicitor General for England and Wales
In office
23 June 1970 – 5 November 1972
Prime Minister Edward Heath
Preceded by Sir Arthur Irvine
Succeeded by Sir Michael Havers
Member of Parliament
for East Surrey
In office
28 February 1974 – 9 April 1992
Preceded by William Clark
Succeeded by Peter Ainsworth
Member of Parliament
for Reigate
In office
18 June 1970 – 28 February 1974
Preceded by John Vaughan-Morgan
Succeeded by George Gardiner
Member of Parliament
for Bebington
In office
15 October 1964 – 31 March 1966
Preceded by Hendrie Oakshott
Succeeded by Edwin Brooks
Personal details
Born Richard Edward Geoffrey Howe
(1926-12-20) 20 December 1926 (age 87)
Port Talbot, Wales
Political party Conservative
Spouse(s) Elspeth Howe
(m. 1953-)
Alma mater Trinity Hall, Cambridge
Profession Barrister

Richard Edward Geoffrey Howe, Baron Howe of Aberavon, CH QC PC (born 20 December 1926; known 1970–1992 as Sir Geoffrey Howe) is a British former Conservative politician. He was Margaret Thatcher's longest-serving Cabinet minister, successively holding the posts of Chancellor of the Exchequer, Foreign Secretary, and finally Leader of the House of Commons, Deputy Prime Minister and Lord President of the Council. His resignation on 1 November 1990 is widely considered to have precipitated Thatcher's own downfall three weeks later.

Early life[edit]

Geoffrey Howe was born in 1926 at Port Talbot in Wales. He was educated at three independent schools: at Bridgend Preparatory School in Bryntirion, followed by Abberley Hall School in Worcestershire and Winchester College in Hampshire. He then did National Service as a Lieutenant with the Royal Corps of Signals in East Africa, by his own account giving political lectures in Swahili about how Africans should avoid communism and remain loyal to "Bwana Kingy George". Having declined an offer to remain in the army as a captain, he went up to Trinity Hall at the University of Cambridge, where he read Law and was chairman of the Cambridge University Conservative Association, and on the committee of the Cambridge Union Society.

He was called to the Bar in 1952 and was made a QC in 1965. He stood as the Conservative Party candidate in Aberavon at the 1955 and 1959 general elections, losing in a very safe Labour Party seat. He became chairman of the Bow Group, an internal Conservative think tank of 'young modernisers' in the 1960s, and edited its magazine Crossbow.

In 1958, he co-authored the report A Giant's Strength published by the Inns of Court Conservative Association. The report argued that the unions had become too powerful and that their legal privileges ought to be curtailed. Ian Macleod discouraged the authors from publicising the report. Harold Macmillan believed that trade union votes had contributed towards the 1951 and 1955 election victories and thought that it would be inexpedient to adopt any policy involving legislation which would alienate this support.[1]

Lord Howe describes himself as quarter Scottish, quarter Cornish and half Welsh.[2]

Member of Parliament[edit]

Howe represented Bebington in the House of Commons from 1964 to 1966, Reigate from 1970 to 1974, and East Surrey from 1974 to 1992. In 1970 he was knighted[3] and appointed Solicitor General in Edward Heath's government, and in 1972 became Minister of State at the Department of Trade and Industry, with a seat in the Cabinet, a post he held until Labour took power in March 1974.

Shadow Cabinet[edit]

In Opposition between 1974 and 1979, Howe contested the second ballot of the 1975 Conservative leadership election, in which Margaret Thatcher was elected, and then was appointed by Thatcher as Shadow Chancellor of the Exchequer. He masterminded the development of new economic policies embodied in an Opposition mini-manifesto The Right Approach to the Economy. Labour Chancellor Denis Healey in 1978 claimed an attack from Howe was "like being savaged by a dead sheep".[4] Nevertheless, when Healey was featured on This Is Your Life in 1989, Howe appeared and paid warm tribute to Healey. The two men have been friends for many years.

In government[edit]

With Conservative victory in the 1979 general election, Howe became Chancellor of the Exchequer. His tenure was characterised by radical policies to correct the public finances, reduce inflation and liberalise the economy. The shift from direct to indirect taxation, the development of a Medium-Term Financial Strategy, the abolition of exchange controls and the creation of tax-free enterprise zones were among the most important decisions of his Chancellorship. Howe's famous 1981 Budget defied conventional economic wisdom at the time by deflating the economy at a time of recession. At the time, his decision was fiercely criticised by 364 academic economists in a letter to The Times, who contended that there was no place for de-stimulatory policies in the economic climate of the time, remarking the Budget had "no basis in economic theory or supporting evidence". Many signatories were prominent members of the academic sphere, including the former Governor of the Bank of England, Mervyn King.

The logic in his proposals was that by reducing the deficit which at the time was £9.3 billion (3.6% GDP), and controlling inflation, long term interest rates would be able to decline, thus re-stimulating the economy. The budget did reduce inflation from 11.9% in early 1981 to 3.8% in February 1983. Long-term interest rates also declined from 14% in 1981 to 10% in 1983.[5] The economy slowly climbed out of recession. However, unemployment, already extremely high, was pushed to a 50 year high of 12% by 1984, narrowly avoiding the figure reached during the Great Depression of 13.5%. Some have argued that the budget, although ultimately successful, was nevertheless over the top.[6] Specialist opinions on the question, expressed with 25 years' hindsight, are collected in an Institute of Economic Affairs report.[7]

Unlike Reaganomics, his macro-economic policy emphasised the need to narrow the budget deficit rather than engage in unilateral tax cuts; despite these measures the budget deficit remained on average 3% of GDP during Howe's tenure. His micro-economic policy was designed to liberalise the economy and promote supply-side reform. This combination of policies became one of the defining features of Thatcherism in power.

30-year rule and official documents – Liverpool[edit]

At the end of 2011, the release of confidential documents under the UK Government's 30-year rule revealed Geoffrey Howe's thoughts regarding the Toxteth riots of 1981.[8] The papers reveal that he warned Mrs Thatcher "not to overcommit scarce resources to Liverpool".[8] "I fear that Merseyside is going to be much the hardest nut to crack," he said.[8] "We do not want to find ourselves concentrating all the limited cash that may have to be made available into Liverpool and having nothing left for possibly more promising areas such as the West Midlands or, even, the North East."[8] "It would be even more regrettable if some of the brighter ideas for renewing economic activity were to be sown only on relatively stony ground on the banks of the Mersey."[8] "I cannot help feeling that the option of managed decline is one which we should not forget altogether.[8] We must not expend all our limited resources in trying to make water flow uphill."[8] Speaking in response to the release of the documents, Howe stated that he had not advocated the "managed decline" policy and that he had merely been warning of the danger of concentrating excessive resources on one area of need.[8]

Foreign Secretary[edit]

After the 1983 general election Thatcher appointed Howe Foreign Secretary, a post he held for six years. His tenure was made difficult, however, by growing behind-the-scenes tensions with the Prime Minister on a number of issues, first on South Africa and then on Britain's relations with the European Community. In June 1989, Howe, and his successor as Chancellor, Nigel Lawson, secretly threatened to both resign over Thatcher's opposition to British membership in the exchange rate mechanism of the European Monetary System.

Deputy Prime Minister[edit]

In the following month of July 1989, the then little-known John Major was unexpectedly appointed to replace Howe as Foreign Secretary, and the latter became Leader of the House of Commons, Lord President of the Council and Deputy Prime Minister. In the reshuffle, Howe was also offered, but turned down, the post of Home Secretary. Although attempts were made to present it positively, Howe's move back to domestic politics was generally seen as a demotion, especially after Thatcher's press secretary Bernard Ingham belittled the significance of the Deputy Prime Minister appointment at his morning lobby briefing the following day.

The personal insult to Howe was compounded by having to give up the Foreign Secretary's country residence Chevening. The sceptical attitude towards Howe in Number 10 weakened him politically – even if it may have been driven to some degree by fear of him as a possible successor – a problem compounded by the resignation from the Treasury of his principal ally Nigel Lawson later in the same year. During his time as Deputy Prime Minister, Howe made a series of coded calls on Thatcher to re-position her administration, which was suffering rising unpopularity because of opposition to the Poll Tax, as a 'listening government'.

Resignation[edit]

With pressures mounting on Thatcher, Howe resigned from the Cabinet on 1 November 1990 – in the aftermath of the Prime Minister's position at the Rome European Council meeting the previous weekend, at which she had declared for the first time that Britain would never enter a single currency – writing a cautiously worded letter of resignation in which he criticised Thatcher's overall handling of UK relations with the European Community. After largely successful attempts by Number 10 to claim that there were differences only of style, rather than substance, in Howe's disagreement with Thatcher on Europe, Howe chose to send a powerful message of dissent. In a famous resignation speech[9] in the Commons on 13 November, he attacked Thatcher for running increasingly serious risks for the future of the country and criticised her for undermining the policies on EMU proposed by her own Chancellor and Governor of the Bank of England. He offered a striking cricket simile for British negotiations on EMU in Europe: "It is rather like sending your opening batsmen to the crease, only for them to find, as the first balls are being bowled, that their bats have been broken before the game by the team captain". He called on others to "consider their own response to the tragic conflict of loyalties with which I have myself wrestled for perhaps too long".

Although Howe said subsequently that his intention was only to constrain any shift in European policy by the Cabinet under the existing Prime Minister, his dramatic speech is widely seen as the key catalyst for the leadership challenge of Michael Heseltine a few days later, as well as Thatcher's subsequent resignation as Prime Minister and party leader on 22 November 1990, after failing to win a vote in the first ballot by a sufficient margin to prevent a second ballot. Five days later, Chancellor of the Exchequer John Major was elected party leader and thus became prime minister. The change proved to be a positive one for the Tories, who had trailed Labour in most opinion polls by a double-digit margin throughout 1990 but soon returned to the top of the polls and won the general election in April 1992.

Retirement[edit]

Howe retired from the House of Commons in 1992 and was made a life peer on 30 June 1992 as Baron Howe of Aberavon, of Tandridge in the County of Surrey.[10] He published his memoirs Conflict of Loyalty (Macmillan, 1994) soon after. In the Lords, Howe has continued to speak on a wide range of foreign-policy and European issues, and more recently led opposition to the Labour government's plan to convert the second chamber into a largely elected body.

In his early retirement, Howe took on a number of non-executive directorships in business and advisory posts in law and academia, including as international political adviser to the US law firm Jones Day, a director of Glaxo and J P Morgan, and visitor at the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London. His wife, Elspeth Howe, a former Chairman of the Broadcasting Standards Commission, was made a life peer in 2001, as The Baroness Howe of Idlicote. They are one of the few couples who both hold titles in their own right. Lord Howe is a patron of the UK Metric Association and the Conservative Foreign and Commonwealth Council. Lord Howe was appointed a Companion of the Order of the Companions of Honour (CH) in the 1996 Birthday Honours.[11]

Howe was a close personal friend of Ian Gow, the former MP, parliamentary private secretary, and personal confidant of Margaret Thatcher. He delivered the principal appreciation of Gow at the latter's memorial service after Gow was assassinated by the IRA in 1990.

Styles[edit]

  • Mr Geoffrey Howe (1926–1964)
  • Mr Geoffrey Howe, MP (1964–1965)
  • Mr Geoffrey Howe, QC, MP (1965–1966)
  • Mr Geoffrey Howe, QC (1966–1970)
  • Sir Geoffrey Howe, QC (1970)
  • Sir Geoffrey Howe, QC, MP (1970–1972)
  • The Rt Hon. Sir Geoffrey Howe, QC, MP (1972–1992)
  • The Rt Hon. The Lord Howe of Aberavon, PC, QC (1992–1996)
  • The Rt Hon. The Lord Howe of Aberavon, CH, PC, QC (1996–)

References[edit]

  1. ^ Kynaston, D (2013). Modernity Britain: Opening the Box 1957-1959. London: Bloomsbury. pp. p158. ISBN 978-0-74758893-1. 
  2. ^ http://www.theyworkforyou.com/lords/?id=2011-07-01a.1973.0&s=Scottish%2C+a+quarter+Cornish+and+half+Welsh#g1977.0
  3. ^ The London Gazette: no. 45166. p. 8679. 6 August 1970.
  4. ^ Hansard, 14 June 1978, Col. 1027
  5. ^ Lawrence H. Officer (2008). "What Was the Interest Rate Then?". MeasuringWorth. 
  6. ^ Stephanie Flanders (14 March 2006). "Were all 364 economists wrong?". BBC News. 
  7. ^ "Were 364 Economists All Wrong?". IEA. 
  8. ^ a b c d e f g h "Toxteth riots: Howe proposed 'managed decline' for city". BBC News (BBC). 30 December 2011. Retrieved 30 December 2011. 
  9. ^ [1]
  10. ^ The London Gazette: no. 52981. p. 11255. 3 June 1992.
  11. ^ The London Gazette: (Supplement) no. 54427. p. 5. 15 June 1996.

External links[edit]

Parliament of the United Kingdom
Preceded by
Hendrie Oakshott
Member of Parliament for Bebington
19641966
Succeeded by
Edwin Brooks
Preceded by
John Vaughan-Morgan
Member of Parliament for Reigate
19701974
Succeeded by
George Gardiner
Preceded by
William Clark
Member of Parliament for East Surrey
19741992
Succeeded by
Peter Ainsworth
Legal offices
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Sir Arthur Irvine
Solicitor General for England and Wales
1970–1972
Succeeded by
Sir Michael Havers
Political offices
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Robert Carr
Shadow Chancellor of the Exchequer
1975–1979
Succeeded by
Denis Healey
Preceded by
Denis Healey
Chancellor of the Exchequer
1979–1983
Succeeded by
Nigel Lawson
Second Lord of the Treasury
1979–1983
Preceded by
Francis Pym
Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs
1983–1989
Succeeded by
John Major
Preceded by
Viscount Whitelaw
Deputy Prime Minister of the United Kingdom
1989–1990
Succeeded by
Michael Heseltine
Preceded by
John Wakeham
Leader of the House of Commons
1989–1990
Succeeded by
John MacGregor
Lord President of the Council
1989–1990