Obituary: Sir Horace Cutler

Horace Cutler was the most formidable figure in the politics of London since Herbert Morrison, the pre-war leader of the old London County Council. But whereas Morrison went on to perform on the national stage - becoming Home Secretary and Foreign Secretary, as well as Deputy Leader of the Labour Party - Cutler's achievements were confined entirely to local affairs.

He did, however, make two stabs at a parliamentary career. In 1960 he had high hopes of securing the Conservative nomination for Harrow West, Harrow being his native turf; but he lost out to Jack Page. In the 1970 General Election he fought the Labour seat of Willesden East: he lost, and thereafter forswore national politics, devoting his abundant energy and acute mind instead to the affairs of London under the aegis of the local government behemoth which was the Greater London Council, of which he was Leader from 1977 to 1981.

Horace Cutler was one of the seven children of an intermittently successful builder, who had begun his adult life as a carpenter. He was sent to Harrow Grammar School, where his somewhat flamboyant style of behaviour did not endear him to his teachers. But there was no doubt about the quickness of his intelligence, and he might well have gone to university, had not the untimely death of his father compelled him to plunge himself into the family business, as a young tiro.

He showed an immediate aptitude for two areas vital for that business. First, he had an eye for derelict property with a development potential. Second, he had great natural gifts as a business administrator. Both served the company well and, although it suffered vicissitudes, as most companies of its kind did, particularly in the straitened times after the Second World War, Cutler's story was one of success until, in 1985, an Inland Revenue Bill for what would today seem a trivial sum of just over pounds 100,000 forced the company into bankruptcy. Cutler remained bitter about what he saw as an unnecessarily draconian bureaucratic attitude to a basically sound business.

And, indeed, his later successes in businesses as varied as coin-operated launderettes and store management in Milton Keynes suggested that his judgement was better than that of the taxmen. But, in the meantime, long before any of the really dramatic events of his business and political careers, Cutler had served in the RNVR on one of the most dangerous of wartime tasks - minesweeping. When peacetime came his energies had to be, initially, devoted to the family business. But, in 1952, the direction of his life changed.

In that year he was elected a member of the Harrow borough council. He had been vestigially involved in Conservative politics since 1932 (when he had joined the Junior Imperial League, from social rather than political motives), but he had come to see how important local government was to people in his line of work, and how vital, therefore, it was for people like himself to become involved in local electoral politics. His central interests were in housing and planning and, in addition to his responsibilities at Harrow, he became a member of the Middlesex County Council; he was also Mayor of Harrow in 1959.

In 1965 the Greater London Council was established, and the political glory days of Horace Cutler began. He quickly became Deputy Leader of the Opposition and then, in 1974, Leader. It became clear, almost immediately, that he would become a scourge of bureaucracy, though his ideas were not to come into full effect until the Conservatives gained control of the GLC in 1977.

The GLC at that time had strategic control of the affairs of 22 boroughs, and a bigger budget than that of many nation states. In the early days (though he was to become disillusioned later) Cutler relished the task of running this sprawling empire: his enemies (and there were many, in both parties) thought he relished his job too much, and questions were from time to time raised about deals between his property companies and the council. Inquiries showed, however, that he had never behaved improperly.

He slashed the bureaucracy at County Hall, and virtually abolished the direct work scheme, by which the council employed directly labour for maintenance and development, rather than allowing private firms to tender for contracts. He sought privatisation before Margaret Thatcher had ever used the word. If John Biffen is right (and I think he is) that the sale of the council houses has been one of the most important aspects of privatisation, then Horace Cutler was its first prophet.

But he did have his failures, and his attempt to bring private investment into London Transport was, perhaps, the most dramatic. He also had problems with his party in Parliament: he never trusted the corporatist ideas of Edward Heath, and Heath did not trust him. However, when Margaret Thatcher was elected Leader of the party in 1979, Cutler found a soulmate. Their instincts about policy were much the same and, in particular, Cutler had become disillusioned about the possibility of efficiently running the GLC as a single unit: he was therefore receptive to her desire to abolish it, something which came to pass in 1986.

The word "flamboyant" remains the right word to describe Cutler's later career. From his sharply cut suits through his colourful bow ties, to his elegant beard, he was always a figure who maintained his own distinction. He loved and courted publicity, and rarely declined an opportunity to appear on a public platform, or on radio or television. But behind the dramatic image, and his various publicity stunts, Cutler was a dedicated, efficient, and very hard-working man.

Horace Walter Cutler, businessman and local politician: born London 28 July 1912; OBE 1963; Member for Harrow West, Greater London Council 1964-86, Leader of Opposition 1974-77, 1981-82, Leader 1977-81; Kt 1979; married (one son; marriage dissolved), second 1957 Christiane Muthesius (one son, three daughters); died Gerrards Cross, Buckinghamshire 2 March 1997.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn evocation of the conflict through the eyes of those who lived through it
Voices
The Ukip leader has consistently refused to be drawn on where he would mount an attempt to secure a parliamentary seat
voicesNigel Farage: Those who predicted we would lose momentum heading into the 2015 election are going to have to think again
Arts and Entertainment
Cara Delevingne made her acting debut in Anna Karenina in 2012
film Cara Delevingne 'in talks' to star in Zoolander sequel
News
i100
Life and Style
life
News
Melissa and Joan Rivers together at an NBC event in May 2014
peopleDaughter Melissa thanks fans for 'outpouring of support'
Life and Style
tech
Life and Style
One in six drivers cannot identify a single one of the main components found under the bonnet of an average car
motoringOne in six drivers can't carry out basic under-bonnet checks
News
i100
Voices
Pupils educated at schools like Eton (pictured) are far more likely to succeed in politics and the judiciary, the report found
voices
Arts and Entertainment
Shady character: Jon Hamm as sports agent JB Bernstein in Million Dollar Arm
filmReview: Jon Hamm finally finds the right role on the big screen in Million Dollar Arm
News
Orson Welles made Citizen Kane at 25, and battled with Hollywood film studios thereafter
people
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Research and Insight Analyst (Mathematics Graduate)

£25000 - £35000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client are cur...

Nursery assistants required in Cambridgeshire

£10000 - £15000 per annum: Randstad Education Cambridge: Nursery assistants re...

IT Support Manager - Staffordshire - £35,000

£30000 - £35000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: IT Support Manager - Near...

Nursery assistants required for day to day roles in Cambridge

£10000 - £15000 per annum: Randstad Education Cambridge: Nursery assistants re...

Day In a Page

Ukraine crisis: The phoney war is over as Russian troops and armour pour across the border

The phoney war is over

Russian troops and armour pour into Ukraine
Potatoes could be off the menu as crop pests threaten UK

Potatoes could be off the menu as crop pests threaten UK

The world’s entire food system is under attack - and Britain is most at risk, according to a new study
Gangnam smile: why the Chinese are flocking to South Korea to buy a new face

Gangnam smile: why the Chinese are flocking to South Korea to buy a new face

Seoul's plastic surgery industry is booming thanks to the popularity of the K-Pop look
From Mozart to Orson Welles: Creative geniuses who peaked too soon

Creative geniuses who peaked too soon

After the death of Sandy Wilson, 90, who wrote his only hit musical in his twenties, John Walsh wonders what it's like to peak too soon and go on to live a life more ordinary
Caught in the crossfire of a cyber Cold War

Caught in the crossfire of a cyber Cold War

Fears are mounting that Vladimir Putin has instructed hackers to target banks like JP Morgan
Salomé's feminine wiles have inspired writers, painters and musicians for 2,000 years

Salomé: A head for seduction

Salomé's feminine wiles have inspired writers, painters and musicians for 2,000 years. Now audiences can meet the Biblical femme fatale in two new stage and screen projects
From Bram Stoker to Stanley Kubrick, the British Library's latest exhibition celebrates all things Gothic

British Library celebrates all things Gothic

Forthcoming exhibition Terror and Wonder: The Gothic Imagination will be the UK's largest ever celebration of Gothic literature
The Hard Rock Café's owners are embroiled in a bitter legal dispute - but is the restaurant chain worth fighting for?

Is the Hard Rock Café worth fighting for?

The restaurant chain's owners are currently embroiled in a bitter legal dispute
Caribbean cuisine is becoming increasingly popular in the UK ... and there's more to it than jerk chicken at carnival

In search of Caribbean soul food

Caribbean cuisine is becoming increasingly popular in the UK ... and there's more to it than jerk chicken at carnival
11 best face powders

11 best face powders

Sweep away shiny skin with our pick of the best pressed and loose powder bases
England vs Norway: Roy Hodgson's hands tied by exploding top flight

Roy Hodgson's hands tied by exploding top flight

Lack of Englishmen at leading Premier League clubs leaves manager hamstrung
Angel Di Maria and Cristiano Ronaldo: A tale of two Manchester United No 7s

Di Maria and Ronaldo: A tale of two Manchester United No 7s

They both inherited the iconic shirt at Old Trafford, but the £59.7m new boy is joining a club in a very different state
Israel-Gaza conflict: No victory for Israel despite weeks of death and devastation

Robert Fisk: No victory for Israel despite weeks of devastation

Palestinians have won: they are still in Gaza, and Hamas is still there
Mary Beard writes character reference for Twitter troll who called her a 'slut'

Unlikely friends: Mary Beard and the troll who called her a ‘filthy old slut’

The Cambridge University classicist even wrote the student a character reference
America’s new apartheid: Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone

America’s new apartheid

Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone