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Former Chancellor Nigel Lawson’s memorial service at St Margaret’s, Westminster

It is not often that a secular Jew has a Christian memorial service.

However, such was Nigel Lawson, Margaret Thatcher’s Chancellor of the Exchequer from 1983 to 1989, that it was seen to be appropriate. It took place on Monday, October 16, 2023 at St Margaret’s Church, Westminster.

I happened to be flying to Edinburgh on the day Lawson resigned on October 26, 1989. It was a startling moment which created much buzz on the British Airways flight I was on, but it had been in the making for some time.

Lawson and Thatcher had different views on the poll tax, which the then-Chancellor opposed only in private — Cabinet meetings — and on membership of the exchange rate mechanism. Thatcher came to rely more on the advice of her personal economic adviser Alan Walters who favoured a floating exchange rate. Lawson felt he was being undermined and tendered his resignation.

At the time, he was a powerful politician who was not without his faults as Chancellor, as The Economist often told us at the time. Wikipedia sums up the second half of his tenure (emphases mine):

Insofar as Lawson acknowledged policy errors, he attributed them to a failure to raise interest rates during 1986 and considered that had Thatcher not vetoed the UK joining the European Exchange Rate Mechanism in November 1985 it might have been possible to adjust to these beneficial changes in the arena of microeconomics with less macroeconomics turbulence …

Lawson’s tax cuts, beginning in 1986, resulted in the “Lawson Boom” of the British economy, which halved unemployment from more than 3,000,000 by the end of 1989.[34]However, this might have led to a rise in inflation from 3 per cent to more than 8 per cent during 1988, which resulted in interest rates doubling to 15 per cent in the space of 18 months, and remaining high despite the 1990–1992 recession which saw unemployment rise nearly as high as the level seen before the boom began.[35]

However, today, Lawson’s legacy looks impressive and he is well respected by many Conservatives, both MPs and Party members.

In fact, The Telegraph‘s article by Daniel Johnson on his memorial service is entitled, ‘A final farewell to Nigel Lawson — the chancellor who set people free’:

Even in death, Nigel Lawson was larger than life. The colossal scale of his achievement struck everyone fortunate enough to attend his memorial service yesterday at St Margaret’s Church, Westminster.

Not every such occasion includes eulogies from the Prime Minister and the Archbishop of Canterbury — though as Nigel’s son Dominic reminded us, he came from a secular Jewish family and was himself an “adamantine atheist”.

Yet the setting could not have been more appropriate for such a parliamentarian and patriot. This was a statesman who, as Rishi Sunak said, led “the fullest of political lives”.

As the organ swelled to the strains of Sibelius’s Karelia and Elgar’s Nimrod, the pews filled with survivors of the Thatcher era, present-day Cabinet ministers and everyone in between. Alongside former PMs and Chancellors sat Kemi Badenoch, the future of the party.

Nigel Lawson was married twice and had six children: four with his first wife and two with his second. He divorced both. One daughter, Thomasina, died of breast cancer at the age of 32 in 1993.

His best known children are Nigella, the beautiful self-styled Domestic Goddess, and Dominic, a well-known journalist who gave the eulogy:

Nigella and her sister Horatia were more glamorous than ever. Tom and Emily, the children of Nigel’s second marriage, both read beautifully, as did the grandchildren Hector and Xanthe.

Dominic informed us that Nigel had dismissed inquiries about his wishes for the service (“I won’t be there”), but at least three themes emerged.

The first was the naval leitmotif, recalling his postwar national service. After his death aged 91 last April, Nigel was taken by HMS Mersey to be buried at sea. Accordingly, the congregation sang ‘Eternal Father, strong to save’ and the collection was for the Royal Navy and Royal Marines.

His Navy file stated: “Lawson could be more self-assertive.” As his son drily observed: “Well, he certainly took that on board.”

Indeed so. The second and richest theme of the service was the question of whether Nigel’s refusal to follow consensus was mere arrogance or, rather, the courage to follow his convictions.

In his tribute, Norman Lamont recalled an occasion in the 1960s when he and Michael Howard challenged Lawson on devaluation. “Let me put it to you in a way that makes it clearer,” the then Editor of the Spectator explained.

Nigella, who was learning German at school, told her father that she had found the perfect word for him: rechthaberisch (roughly, “opinionated”). “He was delighted with that,” said Dominic.

The Canon Rector, Anthony Ball, paid tribute to Nigel’s readiness to “acknowledge mistakes”. This was true, observed Dominic: in his memoir, The View from No.11, there is a section on “My share of mistakes”. In a book of over 1,100 pages, however, it was just five paragraphs long.

Yet given the gargantuan task of reversing postwar decline, Nigel’s intellectual self-confidence proved to be his greatest asset. At the Treasury, Lord Lamont described his performance as that of an orchestral conductor who must improvise the score as he goes along.

Lawson’s policies as Chancellor impressed two younger successors, Rishi Sunak, the current Prime Minister, and George Osborne, who served under David Cameron:

For the Prime Minister, Lawson was “a serious radical” whose reforms had created the post-Big Bang universe in which the young Sunak had made his fortune: “I was acutely conscious that the City I was working in was a product of the changes that Nigel had brought about.”

As Chancellor, Rishi Sunak made a pilgrimage to his nonagenarian predecessor in Eastbourne [where Lawson spent his final years]. Nigel did not disappoint. “He was clear about the paramount importance of controlling inflation and gripping spending.”

George Osborne told me that he had consulted the same oracle. So Nigel Lawson not only dominated British politics in office, but cast a long shadow over the post-Thatcher era.

Then came the third theme of the service:

Nigel’s joie de vivre. His mission was to set people free to enjoy life — by cutting, simplifying or even abolishing taxes, by privatisation and deregulation, but also by eliminating wasteful spending.

Lawson was sceptical of Net Zero:

This refusal to be impressed by fashion informed the reading from Ecclesiastes — “there is nothing new under the sun”.

Nigel’s confidence in the resilience of the climate was expressed in Soave sia il vento, Mozart’s sublime anthem from Così fan tutte: “May the wind be gentle and the waves be calm and may every element benignly answer to our wishes.”

Wikipedia has a long section on Lawson’s scepticism about climate change, which dates back 20 years:

In 2004, along with six others, Lawson wrote a letter to The Times opposing the Kyoto Protocol and claiming that there were substantial scientific uncertainties surrounding climate change.[58]In 2005, the House of Lords Economics Affairs Select Committee, with Lawson as a member, undertook an inquiry into climate change. In their report, the committee recommended the HM Treasury take a more active role in climate policy, questioned the objectivity of the IPCC process, and suggested changes in the UK’s contribution to future international climate change negotiations.[59] The report cited a mismatch between the economic costs and benefits of climate policy and also criticises the greenhouse gas emission reduction targets set in the Kyoto Protocol. In response to the report, Michael Grubb, chief economist of the Carbon Trust, wrote an article in Prospect magazine, defending the Kyoto Protocol and describing the committee’s report as being “strikingly inconsistent”.[60]Lawson responded to Grubb’s article, describing it as an example of the “intellectual bankruptcy of the […] climate change establishment”. Lawson also said that Kyoto’s approach was “wrong-headed” and called on the IPCC to be “shut down”.[61]

At about the same time as the release of the House of Lords report, the UK Government launched the Stern Review, an inquiry undertaken by the HM Treasury and headed by Lord Stern of Brentford. According to the Stern Review, published in 2006, the potential costs of climate change far exceed the costs of a programme to stabilise the climate. Lawson’s lecture to the Centre for Policy Studies (CPS) think tank, published 1 November 2006, opposed the Stern Review and advocated adaptation to changes in global climate rather than reducing greenhouse gas emissions.[62]

In 2008, Lawson published a book expanding on his 2006 lecture to the CPS, An Appeal to Reason: A Cool Look at Global Warming.[63] He argued the case that, although global warming is happening, the impact of these changes will be relatively moderate rather than apocalyptic. He criticised those “alarmist” politicians and scientists who predict catastrophe unless urgent action is taken.

In July 2008, the Conservative magazine Standpoint published a transcript of a double interview with Lawson and Conservative Policy Chief Oliver Letwin, in which Lawson described Letwin’s views on global warming as “pie in the sky” and called on him and the Conservative frontbench to “get real”.[64]

On 23 November 2009, Lawson became chairman of a new think tank, The Global Warming Policy Foundation (GWPF),[12][65] a registered education charity,[66] involved in promoting climate change denial.[57]

The Charity Commission requires that statements by campaigning charities “must be factually accurate and have a legitimate evidence base”. They reviewed the GWPF, which was subsequently split with its campaigning arm and renamed the Global Warming Policy Forum without charitable status, while the charitable section retained the original title.[67]

In a BBC Radio interview in August 2017, Lawson claimed that “official figures” showed “average world temperature has slightly declined” over the preceding decade and that experts in the IPCC found no increase in extreme weather events

Before that was Lawson’s determination to lose weight, which made national news. He was portly, to be sure, and, after his time as an MP wrote The Nigel Lawson Diet Book, published in 1996. I bought a copy, read it and gave it to a friend who had the same problem.

It is available on the Internet Archive. The premise is this:

The guiding principle was to keep it simple and always try to eat three proper meals a day. I decided to stick to those less fattening foods I liked best, of which I would eat as I felt like. This enabled me to look on my diet not, primarily, as an act of renunciation, but as an opportunity to focus on the wide range of delicious foods and meals I could still eat. In less than a year I lost five stone [70 pounds], going from just under seventeen to just under twelve stone without too much difficulty; and I have maintained my new weight ever since.

He did look a lot better afterwards. However, the diet was too austere for me, so I just cut back on what I ate: smaller plates of food and more fish.

I read at the time that Lawson’s second wife had a big role to play in helping him lose weight.

Returning to his joie de vivre, although Lawson was a prominent supporter of Brexit, he maintained his farmhouse in Gers (southwestern France) and divided his time between there and London.

The Telegraph article states:

Diets or no diets, Nigel certainly enjoyed his retirement. Visitors to his house in Gascony recalled his cry “It’s floc o’clock”, when their host would offer generous libations of the local liqueur, not to mention copious quantities of vin rouge.

For a man of such formidable intellect, Nigel had a great fondness for wine, women and song (especially Mozart).

Lawson ended up retiring to Eastbourne on the south coast of England, in East Sussex. He died from bronchopneumonia at the age of 91 on April 3, 2023.

The Telegraph‘s tribute tells us:

However much he loved life, though, he was unafraid of death.

Dominic recalled his end. After chatting about the Bank of England’s monetary policy, his father abruptly said: “I am dying. I know it makes you apprehensive, but it means nothing to me. Now, please would you get me a Pernod, and have one yourself.”

His work was done and he did not fear judgement, human or divine. As Justin Welby put it, “The rest we leave to God — or not, as Nigel might say.”

Perhaps Lawson’s comfortable circumstances from beginning to end prevented him from seeing a personal need for God. When we are well off, there is no point to religious faith, some say.

Lawson never had to worry about material comfort, which probably informed his atheism.

Wikipedia says:

Nigel Lawson was born on 11 March 1932 to a non-Orthodox Jewish family[3] living in Hampstead, London.[4]His father, Ralph Lawson (1904–1982), was the owner of a tea-trading firm in the City of London, while his mother, Joan Elizabeth (Davis) (died 1998), was also from a prosperous family of stockbrokers.[5]

Lawson was educated at Westminster School in London (following in his father’s footsteps),[8]and won a mathematics scholarship to Christ Church, Oxford,[1][9] where he gained a first-class honours degree in philosophy, politics and economics.[10]

He married well, too:

In 1955 Lawson married Vanessa Mary Addison Salmon (1936−1985), granddaughter of the Lyons Corner House chairman Alfred Salmon, and had four children …

After his first marriage was dissolved in 1980, he married Thérèse Mary Maclear (1947–2023),[78][79] daughter of Henry Charles Maclear Bate, the same year. They had two children …

Lawson’s second marriage was dissolved in 2012.

H M Bate, as he was also known, was a publisher and author who wrote about Africa in the mid-20th century and edited the Nigerian Daily Times in 1938.

Lawson’s final partner was:

Dr Tina Jennings, a visiting fellow at St Antony’s College, Oxford.[80]

It would be nice to think that Lawson was bluffing about his atheism in his later years. One day, we will find out.

This post first appeared on Churchmouse Campanologist | Ringing The Bells For, please read the originial post: here

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Former Chancellor Nigel Lawson’s memorial service at St Margaret’s, Westminster


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