Just wait till he says what he feels

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TAKEN from Hansard, cols. 204-6, 10 June 1993.

4.10 pm.

Madam Speaker: Order, order. Personal statement, Mr Norman Lamont. I would like to remind the House that a resignation statement is heard in silence and without interruption. Mr Lamont.

Mr Lamont (Kingston upon Thames): Madam Speaker, it seems a long time since I last spoke from the back benches. I am neither a sadder, nor perhaps a wiser man than I was then, but I am a little more hardened to the ways of politics. I would like to begin by thanking my right honourable friend, the Prime Minister, for the years of support he has given me, and my friends from all parts of the House for their kind messages since my resignation from the Government precisely two weeks ago.

Since then, I have had time to reflect on what has happened. I must tell the House that I was shocked and surprised when my Right Honourable Friend asked me to move from the Chancellorship. I had believed that I had his personal and unstinting support in the difficult work in which I was engaged. I had put down much of the reshuffle gossip to the malice of political journalists and I was therefore taken somewhat by surprise . . .

Mr Skinner (Bolsover): You must have been the only man in England that were surprised.

Madam Speaker: Order]

Mr Lamont: . . . taken somewhat by surprise, to be summoned and dismissed from the job I cherished and which I believed I was doing well. The Prime Minister knew quite well that I had made it plain I would take no other job. He cannot have been surprised that I then left the Government. He can hardly be surprised, either, that I felt myself in some sense betrayed by him.

The Prime Minister and I had come a long way together. We had served together in the Treasury under Lady Thatcher. Together we took our eye off public expenditure control, a decision which in retrospect, I greatly regret - (prolonged heckling) - Yes, indeed, the Prime Minister was Chancellor at that time, and he made a mistake. But I was Chief Secretary. I shared in that mistake. It was not the only mistake we shared in, Madam Speaker. (Cheers.)

Later, I acted as my Rt Hon Friend's campaign manager in the leadership election, a campaign I still look back on with affection. After his victory, I was appointed Chancellor of the Exchequer. Rarely can two men have agreed so fully on economic policy as the Prime Minister and the Chancellor. We stood together. Until a fortnight ago, I had believed we still stood together.

Our next mistake was that we allowed public expenditure, particularly on health, to rise ahead of the 1992 general election. That, and my own decision to introduce a lower-rate band of income tax, helped win the election for the Prime Minister, and for many of my younger Hon Friends who subsequently criticised the very policies that had enabled them to win their seats in the middle of a recession. But it had serious effects on the public finances, which confront us today. In the stormy days before Black Wednesday, when the pound was forced out of the European exchange rate mechanism, my Rt Hon Friend and I spent many an agonising hour together. I do not, Madam Speaker, break confidences. It has been said that I warned the Prime Minister of the wreck that lay ahead. It has been said that he was keener on the ERM than I was myself. It has been said . . . but, Madam Speaker, as I said, my lips are sealed. All's well that ends well, and I am sure the Prime Minister is happy with his role in the affair. (Laughter.)

During the long and arduous recession, I felt it my duty to, from time to time, express the hope that the recovery was coming. Perhaps my natural exuberance got the better of me. But a lugubrious Chancellor is a heavy weight on any economy. During that time, I sustained some heavy criticism. I make no complaint about that. I became a lightning conductor deflecting much hostility that was really aimed at the Prime Minister. I had thought he appreciated this small service. I only hope that my Rt Hon Friend fares as well without his lightning conductor, (Gasps.) I am sure he will. (Uproar)

Madam Speaker: Order]

Mr Lamont: I would like now to turn to my Rt Hon Friend, the new Chancellor (Mr Clarke) and offer him my congratulations. He and I are old friends and will, I trust, remain so. It has been said that he, and my Rt Hon Friend the Home Secretary (Mr Howard) conspired against me. That they, or their creatures in once-respectable newspapers, were responsible for false leaks and poisonous rumours. The same has been said of the chairman of the Conservative Party. I would like to say to the House that I do not believe it. They are all Honourable Men. So are we all, Honourable Men. Honourable Friends, indeed. Friends together. Or no longer, perhaps, quite together.

Sometimes I ask myself what would have happened to my Rt Hon Friend the new Chancellor had he, and not I, been appointed to that job three years ago. We are, perhaps, rather similar types. Outgoing, social. Perhaps too social for these puritan times, with its prurient newspapers. Madam Speaker, I can imagine the new Chancellor speaking, somewhat loosely, about singing in his bath, or assuring impertinent journalists that je ne regrette rien. Modern jazz is more his scene than Piaf. However, I am sure that had he endured the past three years he would have done as I did, and he would have then been summarily dismissed, as I was. He and not I would have been stigmatised as The Problem. Who knows, perhaps I, and not he, would have been lauded as The Answer. But the cards fell differently. I offer him my good wishes. I only hope that the Prime Minister stands by his second Chancellor a little more staunchly than he stood by his first.

For the House knows full well that I have been scapegoated. As one distinguished commentator has pointed out, scapegoats are not killed (though all cartoonists and most writing journalists refuse to acknowledge this). They are allowed to escape from the murderous priest, carrying the people's sins with them. They trot off to the wilderness, where they spend their lives happily doing grass, and the occasional dandelion. I also look forward with a sense of delight to the green pastures ahead of me. And scapegoating? Well, it is a pretty primitive form of magic, on about the same level as blaming your dog for your own drunkenness and kicking it out of the house.

I would like to address my final remarks directly to the Prime Minister. Politics is a rough old trade and I accept that. But I must warn my Rt Hon Friend that the notion that he can turn around the fortunes of his government by blaming others is an absurd one. It does not matter which set of bleary eyes blinks out of which job. What matters is a sense of leadership, and that can only come from the top. My Rt Hon Friend now has before him some exceptionally tough decisions. He cannot duck and weave his way around them. The decisions on taxation and public spending which follow from mistakes that he and I made together will have to be fought through this House. If he has the courage to do that, then I will follow him loyally in the battles ahead. If he does not have the courage to stay the course, then let him beware. They bayed for my blood, and he threw me to them. Next time, Prime Minister, they will come for you.

Transcribed by Andrew Marr; illustrated by Daley.

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