Back in Blighty

The editors of this Labour Party school magazine have decided they would rather have me inside the tent pissing out, so welcome to my new column - "The New New Statesman".

Every week from now on until I get bored with you, I'm going to use this space to explain what is going on, how it is going on, and why there is no alternative, to quote an old girlfriend of mine.

You'll probably remember my efforts to reform the Labour Party along market lines, and for over a decade, my New Labour experiment was a great success. Unfortunately, in the end Gordon Brown actually believed what I'd told him about the primacy of the market, with the consequences we are all having to live with - a trillion-pound black hole in the public finances and a six-month waiting list to get into a decent restaurant anywhere in the City of London.

I intended to retire from public life after the last election, but the new Prime Minister appealed to my patriotic sensibility, because deep down we are both One-Nation Tories. As it happens my nation is Monaco, for tax reasons, but that's no bar to doing one's bit for Blighty, as long as one doesn't actually have to live there.

So, when David asked me to help develop his personal vision of Conservatism, I was only too happy to establish my One-Nation Foundation. Over the coming months, this new think tank will be at the cutting edge of the progressive, inclusive, sensitive dismantlement of the welfare state.

Parenthetically, this is not the only think tank I've had of late. I had one only yesterday morning, looking at photographs of Miliband Minor's new junior shadow minister for culture. Say what you like about his politics, Ed certainly has a good eye for totty. No wonder he never married.

But I digress. You can do that when you're a billionaire. Although it will be some time before the One-Nation Foundation will deliver its first report, I can give you a flavour of the radical thinking that will help steer this country out of the economic mire.Over the past few weeks, we have been trying to slash Britain's huge incapacity benefit bill. My firm belief is that there is no one, no matter how "incapacitated", who cannot be put to work in a productive way. That is why next week I will be interviewing a number of MS and ME so-called sufferers for positions at my magnificent, if drafty, Wiltshire manor house.

If all they can do is lie around uselessly, then let them lie around in front of the ill-fitting doors. The savings I'll make in my heating bill should cover the minimum wages I'll be obliged to pay them - at least until I manage to get the minimum wage legislation abolished.

As told to Marks and Gran.

This article first appeared in the 18 October 2010 issue of the New Statesman, Who owns Britain?

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Geoffrey Howe dies, aged 88

Howe was Margaret Thatcher's longest serving Cabinet minister – and the man credited with precipitating her downfall.

The former Conservative chancellor Lord Howe, a key figure in the Thatcher government, has died of a suspected heart attack, his family has said. He was 88.

Geoffrey Howe was the longest-serving member of Margaret Thatcher's Cabinet, playing a key role in both her government and her downfall. Born in Port Talbot in 1926, he began his career as a lawyer, and was first elected to parliament in 1964, but lost his seat just 18 months later.

Returning as MP for Reigate in the Conservative election victory of 1970, he served in the government of Edward Heath, first as Solicitor General for England & Wales, then as a Minister of State for Trade. When Margaret Thatcher became opposition leader in 1975, she named Howe as her shadow chancellor.

He retained this brief when the party returned to government in 1979. In the controversial budget of 1981, he outlined a radical monetarist programme, abandoning then-mainstream economic thinking by attempting to rapidly tackle the deficit at a time of recession and unemployment. Following the 1983 election, he was appointed as foreign secretary, in which post he negotiated the return of Hong Kong to China.

In 1989, Thatcher demoted Howe to the position of leader of the house and deputy prime minister. And on 1 November 1990, following disagreements over Britain's relationship with Europe, he resigned from the Cabinet altogether. 

Twelve days later, in a powerful speech explaining his resignation, he attacked the prime minister's attitude to Brussels, and called on his former colleagues to "consider their own response to the tragic conflict of loyalties with which I have myself wrestled for perhaps too long".

Labour Chancellor Denis Healey once described an attack from Howe as "like being savaged by a dead sheep" - but his resignation speech is widely credited for triggering the process that led to Thatcher's downfall. Nine days later, her premiership was over.

Howe retired from the Commons in 1992, and was made a life peer as Baron Howe of Aberavon. He later said that his resignation speech "was not intended as a challenge, it was intended as a way of summarising the importance of Europe". 

Nonetheless, he added: "I am sure that, without [Thatcher's] resignation, we would not have won the 1992 election... If there had been a Labour government from 1992 onwards, New Labour would never have been born."

Jonn Elledge is the editor of the New Statesman's sister site CityMetric. He is on Twitter, far too much, as @JonnElledge.