Lord Lawson endorsed Rishi Sunak – ‘Thatcherites’ should have listened

During the 2016 Brexit referendum, countless hours of debate in Tory circles was given over to pondering which side Mrs Thatcher would support. Unfortunately, the conversation was entirely academic, owing to her death three years previously. The death of Nigel Lawson has prompted similar discussions about what Tories from the golden age of British Conservatism would make of the modern-day government.

The Prime Minister’s eulogy to the former Chancellor of the Exchequer was touching, as he tweeted: “One of the first things I did as Chancellor was hang a picture of Nigel Lawson above my desk.

“He was a transformational Chancellor and an inspiration to me and many others.”

The replies, unsurprisingly for Twitter, were far from civil. As well as the usual left-wing bile, supposed fans of Lord Lawson rounded on Rishi Sunak, condemning him for being a high tax, anti-free market Prime Minister and Chancellor.

“He wouldn’t have recognised the party you’re ‘leading’”; “He was a free market Conservative and a brilliant Chancellor. You weren’t”; “Nigel Lawson was a true blue Conservative. Everything you are not.” Et cetera.

The bizarre thing about these attacks is that – unlike the hours spent debating whether Margaret Thatcher would have voted Leave in 2016 – we know exactly what Lord Lawson thought about Rishi Sunak. Not least because he endorsed Mr Sunak for the Tory leadership last summer, over Liz Truss.

Nigel Lawson: Brexit will be a great liberation

Writing in the Telegraph, Lord Lawson said “Rishi Sunak is the only candidate who understands Thatcherite economics.”

“While Liz Truss has many qualities, her plans now reportedly comprise approximately £60 billion of unfunded spending/tax cuts – and her message of reassurance about the associated inflationary risk is, to me, uncomfortably reminiscent of the missteps of the Tory government of 50 years ago.”

The Tories backing Liz Truss last summer brashly ignored this major endorsement, instead maintaining that they and they alone understood Mrs Truss was the real heir to Margaret Thatcher.

With the death of Lord Lawson, the Tory Party should ask itself why so many of their camp ignored Lord Lawson’s warning about ‘Trussonomics’ last August; either forgetting the lessons of Thatcherism, or simply never properly learning them in the first place.

Of course, part of this can be attributed to the misguided wave of desire for a Corbyn-style ideological purity after 13 years in government with few small-c conservative victories to show for it.

But beyond that, modern Tories simply do not match up to the intellectually rigorous, thoughtful, and willing-to-do-the-right-thing-even-if-unpopular generation to which Nigel Lawson and Margaret Thatcher belonged.

Most Tory MPs are no longer guided by genuine, well-researched beliefs in economic theory – Mrs Thatcher famously once removed a copy of Hayek’s Constitution of Liberty from her handbag, slammed it down on the table and declared: “This is what we believe”.

Instead, they are obsessed with how they appear in the media, and to their local members and voters. They call for lower taxes and free markets in the Commons, yet rally against pro-growth infrastructure like housing in their constituencies and constantly ask the Treasury for more local spending.

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Younger Tory MPs don’t know the difference between Adam Smith, Milton Friedman and Friedrich Hayek. Many of them couldn’t tell you the intricacies of Mrs Thatcher’s fiscal and monetary reforms over her 11 years in office.

Naturally, the further away history appears in our rear-view mirror, our memories remove details and turn recollections of year-to-year events into broad, decade-long brushstrokes.

But if you asked every Tory MP at their constituency selection husting who their favourite Prime Minister of the last 100 years is, I wager 90 percent or more would say Mrs Thatcher.

Many of the government party’s MPs no longer understand the substance of Thatcherism, however – they just like the vague memory of her popularity. They stick entirely to lightweight mantras, knowing the ‘what’, but oblivious to the much more complex and controversial ‘how’.

It’s just one of the reasons the party’s in such a mess.

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