Bold tax cuts would be a fitting tribute to Nigel Lawson
When the sad news broke that Nigel Lawson had died, people on social media began to share their favourite Lawson memories and quotations. One clip, from a Bloomberg panel debate six years ago, showed Carolyn Fairbairn, then CBI director-general, pouring icy cold Perrier on the prospect of life after Brexit. “Free trade deals are really difficult to do,” she whined, “and I just haven’t heard what the alternative would look like to the trade deals we have with Europe and those deals around the world.”
“I will tell you very briefly what the alternative to being in the European Union is,” purred Nigel Lawson, unsheathing his claws like a rather bored Burmese cat whose attention has been snagged by a fly on the window. “The alternative to being in the European Union is not being in the European Union.” (Gales of laughter from the audience.) “It may surprise you,” continued Lawson, “but most of the world is not in the European Union.” (More laughter). “And it may also surprise you that most of the world is doing a lot better than the European Union.”
Boom! Or “mic drop”, as the kids say. What struck me is that Lawson simply didn’t give a damn what anyone thought. He knew what he thought, and that was that. No eyes flicking nervously around the room to gauge how he was going down, no tailoring his message to appeal to the querulous, over-entitled numpty in the third row. That intellectual confidence, and the slight impatience that went with it, feels particularly attractive in an age when suffering fools gladly appears to be the unstated goal of every major political party. Disillusioned Tories who wonder why their party campaigns as Conservative and governs as Liberal Democrat will gaze on Nigel Lawson in his prime and feel a pang of almost unbearable nostalgia.
In his very last interview just three weeks ago, with my Planet Normal co-host, Liam Halligan, Lord Lawson was cordial about the current Government while raising an eyebrow over high taxes and sounding a cautionary note for the future: “I don’t think there’s anything new to come from the Conservative Party as it now is… It’s going to have to reinvent itself – and I don’t see that coming soon.”
Unlike many contemporary politicians, Nigel Lawson had the courage required to challenge a consensus. In 2009, he founded the Global Warming Policy Foundation, a think tank which pushes back against the complacent, settled wisdom on climate change. Amid growing alarm about the cost to the UK of a Gadarene rush towards net zero, his scepticism feels more vindicated by the day.
It was intriguing to learn that the cautious, managerial Rishi Sunak hung a framed photo of his towering Thatcherite predecessor behind his desk at the Treasury. Who knows, maybe, inspired by his passing, Rishi could unleash his Inner Nigel and revive Conservatism with a bold tax cut or two. Now, that would be a fitting tribute to a man who remained a giant until the end. It’s the politics that got small.
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