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Sir Alfred Sherman – an ignorant obituary from the Daily Telegraph

I knew Sir Alfred Sherman only slightly (we met a few times), and in my youth I was too silly to value him as I should have done. I remember Sir Alfred once warned me (and others) of the plot by the establishment (by the way, as Sir Alfred was fond of pointing out, ‘the establishment’ is not the aristocracy or gentry, although some members of the establishment, such as Sir Max Hastings, may pretend to be gentry) to destroy the Federation of Conservative Students (FCS), I dismissed what he said as paranoia. I had yet to learn that the establishment were prepared to tell any lie and use any tactic, both in their unholy war against liberty generally and in their specific struggle to destroy the independence of the United Kingdom and make this country a province of the European Union.

Sir Alfred was of course correct in thinking that the destruction of FCS was an experiment by the left to see if they could destroy the democratically elected Mrs Thatcher later on (if an elected body could be destroyed, why not an elected Prime Minister). Without the FCS Mrs Thatcher could be presented as ‘extremist’ (as we were much more libertarian than the lady was, Mrs Thatcher could not be successfully presented as ‘extremist’ whilst FCS still existed, that tag would be monopolised by us silly students).

Also the lady would lose her most visible young supporters and could be later presented as isolated within the Conservative party (although a majority of both party members and members of Parliament supported Mrs Thatcher that little problem could be got round by manipulating the party rules). The antics of students (real or invented) would never cost the Conservative party votes, but without the students Mrs Thatcher herself could be presented as the wild and wacky person.

It would still take years to destroy Mrs Thatcher (as part of a general campaign to eliminate resistance to statism in Britain) – but the ground work would have been laid.

So the party Chairman (the normally tough and intelligent Norman Tebbit) was manipulated (via a campaign of great skill and dishonesty) into abolishing the FCS and the ‘libertarian’ Chairman of FCS itself was bought off with various promises (he is now a Conservative party MP and about as libertarian as the rest of Mr Cameron’s other little statist friends). Sir Alfred predicted all of this well in advance and told us – and (moron that I was) I did not believe him.

However, I was sad to learn of the death of Sir Alfred and read his obituary in the Daily Telegraph newspaper (supposedly the main Conservative newspaper in the United Kingdom) with interest.

I will not go into the various distortions and half truths with which the writer of the obituary seeks to smear Sir Alfred (the establishment has no honour and will even spit upon the dead), but I will comment upon one part of the obituary where the writer tries to praise Sir Alfred. The obituary states that adviser recommended by Sir Alfred…

Tightened the government’s fiscal stance to make possible a looser monetary policy – the foundation for the policy successes of the Thatcher years.

Translated into English the above quotation means if the government borrows less money it can print (or issue by computer or create in some other way) more credit-money. I do not know whether that was Sir Alfred’s opinion or not, but it is quite false. Even if a government has a budget surplus, monetary expansion (i.e. an increase in the money supply) will still lead to a boom-bust cycle.

One does not need to go back to the famous case of the late 1920’s where the Federal government ran a budget surplus but the monetary expansion of the Federal Reserve system still led to a boom-bust cycle (one of many in the United States going back to at least 1819 – the difference this time being the policy of interventionism, in reaction to the bust, followed first by President Hoover and then President Franklin Roosevelt which first turned the bust into the Great Depression and then prolonged the Depression for years).

There is the example of Nigel Lawson – as Chancellor he followed a policy of having budget surplus, but his monetary expansion still created a boom-bust cycle.

Chancellor Lawson increased the money supply as part of his policy of trying to rig the exchange rate between the Pound and the Deutsch Mark – in much the same way that Governor Strong of the New York Federal Reserve system encouraged a monetary expansion as part of his policy of trying to rig the exchange rate of the Dollar and the Pound. Of course the myth is that the boom-bust of the latter Lawson years were caused by tax cuts, but like all boom busts it was a matter of the expansion of the money supply.

The failures of the early Thatcher years (the years when Howe was Chancellor) should be well known. The failure of employment Secretary James Prior to deregulate the labour market (which allowed union power to prevent the fall of wages even during a major recession – thus causing unemployment to explode). And the failure to prevent a vast increase in government spending (the so called ‘cuts’ included treating the government sector pay agreements of the previous Labour party government as Conservative government policy – this had a terrible effect on the economy).

However, there were many successes during Mrs Thatcher’s time. The holding down of government spending (although the ‘cuts’ are a myth) under Chancellor Lawson, which allowed real deductions in taxation (unlike the time of Chancellor Howe where small cuts in the basic rate of income tax were made at the same time that sales tax was almost doubled from 8% to 15%, this and other tax increases helped make the recession of early 1980’s far worse in Britain than in other nations – almost insanely some of Mr Cameron’s comrades seem to think that Chancellor Howe’s tax increases were a good thing).

There was also the reduction of union power by Employment Secretary Norman Tebbit (he did not totally bring unions back under the law of tort and contract – but he went a great way towards doing this). without this the reduction in unemployment in the later years of Mrs Thatcher would not have been possible. If only it had been done at once in 1979 (the ‘compassionate’ policy of James Prior and others led to millions of people being left on the scrap heap of unemployment).

There was some general deregulation (even Chancellor Howe got rid of exchange controls), although this started to go into reverse (in some ways – deregulation did not seriously go into reverse till after the coup against Mrs Thatcher in 1990) with the tide of EU regulations after the Single European Act of 1986 (Mrs Thatcher was tricked into thinking this was a free market measure that would given access to British exports to EEC – EU markets). There were also the de-nationalizations (or ‘privatizations’ as they were called) of many companies.

Overall the mid to late 1980’s were the first period of tax reductions, deregulation and denationalization in Britain since the early 1950’s (the Set the People Free campaign of Winston Churchill, Sir Anthony Eden and Rab Butler which also abolished wartime ID cards – a moderate but real campaign).

How much credit is owned to Sir Alfred for the campaign of the mid to late 1980’s (or for the coming into office of Mrs Thatcher in the first place) is for specialist historians to discover – however, he certainly worked hard for freedom and this nation, and the world, own him a debt.

11 comments to Sir Alfred Sherman – an ignorant obituary from the Daily Telegraph

  • Freeman

    Mrs Thatcher was tricked into thinking this [the Single European Act] was a free market measure. . .

    Is this really correct, and who did the tricking? I ask because the implication is that either Mrs Thatcher was too lazy to read the Act for herself, or she was too dumb to understand it. I find it hard to accept that either possibility can reasonably explain why she signed it. So why did she?

  • I would say Thatcher’s mistake was taking people at their word when they laid out what the limits of their ambitions were (and she acknowlages she made a big mistake regarding the EU). To that extent I suppose it could be argued Thatcher was ‘tricked’, though I see it more as she was surprisingly naive regarding the inherent institutional drives of what she was dealing with.

    It needs to be remembered that, as Paul rightly points out, whilst the FCS had many quite hardcore classical liberals in it (‘libertarians’ if you like), Mrs. T was only ‘libertarian’ in comparision with those around her in power and so lacked a true understanding of the institutional forces she was dealing with and thus unwisely assumed it was even possible to reach an accomodation with a super-statist institution like the EEC/EU.

  • Paul Marks

    As someone in the Common Law tradition Mrs Thatcher believed that the exact words of the measure were what was important (so not a case of being “too lazy” to read the thing – almost the opposite problem).

    The European Court operates on the Roman law principle that the INTENTION of the law makings is what is important (and, of course, the purpose of the European Court is to foster ever closer union anyway).

    As the intention of everyone else in the disscussion (apart from Mrs Thatcher) was to increase the powers of the E.E.C.- E.U. to regulate, the lady’s belief that the exact wording of the measure limited the power to regulate was not relevant.

    As for “open access” to British exports this was supposed to happen after the United Kingdom joined the E.E.C. in 1973 – but various countries used regulations to limit British exports.

    The “Single Market” measure of 1986 was supposed to deal with this problem and, to some extent, actually did so (not everything Mrs Thatcher was told by her fellow ministers and by Civil Servants was a lie).

    However there are still ways of keeping out British exports (statistics on British exports to E.U. nations are rigged by goods that are exported VIA E.U. nations being included in the stats) and (more importantly) the Single European Act has been used as an excuse for a vast tide of regulations on goods and services produced for DOMESTIC consumption and for export to NON E.U. nations.

    As a student at the time I had access to various people (not my official teachers of course) who predicted that this would happen – but Mrs Thatcher did not (it is a myth that as one goes up in the world one’s access to information increases – actually one tends to get cut off).

    The lady may have heard the warning by Lord Denning (former Master of the Rolls – a senior British judge), but I doubt that Mrs Thatcher even heard this warning.

    The lady was a great reader – but of official papers. As official papers are written by ministers (most of whom did not vote for Mrs Thatcher in the Conservative leadership campaign of 1975) and Civil Servants, they were not worth reading.

    Ronald Reagan had a more healthy attitude to reading official stuff. He was not what British officials call a good “do the boxes” man. The boxes are official containers full of government papers that ministers are given to read in their spare time – to prevent them having the time or energy to either read real information or to think. Some ministers stay up to the early hours of the morning reading this stuff.

    Government papers are of poor quality at best, and are often simply a pack of lies (government does not just lie to the public – government people lie to each other as well).

    By the way – I.D. cards.

    The early 1950’s deregulation I had in mind was about such things as getting rid of rationing and getting rid of some rent controls. I.D. cards were discredited by a court case – although they were got rid of in the early 1950’s.

  • If only there were some radical thinkers like Sherman (think tank) influencing ‘Dave’ right now,instead of poll sniffing junkies.

  • Paul Marks

    “Dave” would not be interested in such advice.

    David Davis (Mr Cameron’s opponent in the leadership election) had gone to Insitute of Economic Affairs events over the years, but Mr Cameron has never shown an interest in ideas.

    “But he has a First Class degree in Politics, Philosophy and Economics from the University of Oxford” – sadly that just shows the state of British education.

    Repeating the doctrines of the establishment (in order to advance himself), that is Mr Cameron’s style – and, sadly, that is what places like Oxford favour.

  • David Davis (Mr Cameron’s opponent in the leadership election) had gone to Insitute of Economic Affairs events over the years, but Mr Cameron has never shown an interest in ideas.

    Not just the IEA, David Davis also knows his way around the Adam Smith Institute (I met him there once).

  • Howard R Gray

    Sir Alfred did us well, I met him briefly at one of the Libertarian Alliance shindigs so many years ago, one almost blushes to recall just how far back in time. The spirit of Sir Alfred and Chris Tame will haunt the memories of many of us as we look on and ken the meaning of the Brave New World. It behooves us to recall the import of their thoughts in dealing with the nonsense that passes for the usual statist fare from the Blairites and, unfortunately, more likely than not, more of same from “Dave” and the blitherites of the Con party.

    Libertarians, neo cons, and libertarian conservatives need to look over the horizon and well into the future, generations beyond our lives. The FCS didn’t fail, it merely went onto eclipse, there is no reason on earth, or Mars for that matter, that it shouldn’t step back into the lime light. A name change, a more savvy approach and you are up and away again. “Dave” and his clan of trimmers need a thorn in their intellectual firmament. Embarrassment of principle is needed now, more than ever. Where do the Cons get off on raising taxes without some student noise and public shaming for the cause? Bring back pit-bull politics. It is time the pups got out of the pit and started to bite a few choice butts.

    There were groups that surfed on the wave of politics, I remember the Anti Soviet Society (ASS) that took me to the Kurfurstendamm on the 20th anniversary of the Berlin Wall. I gave a speech, one among many that day, for the East European Youth Organization (an offshoot of Gesseshaft Fur Menshenrecht) perched on a flat bed truck to thousands of cheering folks. I recall saying that the Berlin wall would come down in my life time, never quite expecting that it would…. but it DID! There is no way that I credit anything that I did on that day with that magical result, but it was great to be a cheerleader for a few moments in history.

    ASS was a minor subgroup of three Libertarian Alliance members, who just wanted to “do something”. The point in all this? However crazy it may seem, taking on the USSR, it just needs someone to get up and go do it, even if it is only a flea biting the arse of an elephant. With the passing of great people like Sir Alfred Sherman and Dr Chris Tame, it is time to take stock, get a grip and move on without the dot com.

  • Johnathan Pearce

    Howard, well said. I was at the Libertarian Alliance conference last November at which Chris Tame spoke, despite his illness, and Alfred Sherman spoke also.

    People like those two gentlemen don’t come around too often. I did not know Alfred, but met him about three or four times and he was unfailingly polite. It served Maggie’s enemies to pain him as bonkers, and some of his views were odd, but on the whole, he was a force for good.

  • Alan Peakall

    Since Paul takes the opportunity to concur with Nigel Lawson in skewering the myth that the economic overheating of the late 1980s was rooted in fiscality laxity rather than in errors of monetary policy, it would seem apposite to ask whether David Cameron’s pledge point “A Conservative Government will place economic stability ahead of tax cuts” is coded language that implicitly assents to this myth. This seems plausible to me given its position alongside “There is such a thing a society…”.

  • Paul Marks

    Alan Peakall is correct – the idea that the reduction of tax will somehow lead to booms and busts shows ignorance of the real (monetary expansion) causes of booms and busts.

    However, the Cameron quote “there is such a thing as society, it just is not the same thing as the state” is correct (although he seems to think that civil society can be subsidized by government – failing to see that it would then no longer be civil [i.e. voluntary, non violently funded, activity] society).

    Society is the web of civil interactions.

    Of course Mrs Thatcher knew that quite well (contrary to what Mr Cameron implies).

    “There is no such thing as society” should have been “there is no such enity as society”.

    The full speech shows that Mrs Thatcher meant there was no such enity called “society” that could give people subsidies (or whatever).

    There were individuals, families, churches, business enterprises, and all sorts of other voluntary associations and their civil interactions made up what is called society.

    There was no “thing” called society. It is a web of civil relationships and interactions, not a person or an organization.

    To put it in the terms that Hayek (perhaps the thinker Mrs Thatcher read most) took from ancient Greek, society is an example of “cosmos” (order that is not centrally planned) rather than “taxis” (a planned organization).

    As for the F.C.S. – of course it did not “fail”, it was abolished (which is one reason it would be difficult for it to come back – Mr Cameron and co would not let it come back).

    The reasons it fell were partly the vast (and deeply dishonest) campaign against it, and partly the treachery of the “libertarian” Chairman of F.C.S. (who got his seat in Parliament and has proved to be a total shit whilst there).

    These days rebuilding F.C.S. would be very difficult -even if the Conservative party was under an honest leadership that was interested in pro freedom ideas and welcomed young people who were also interested to develop pro freedom ideas (and tolerated them going much further in their student debates than “practical politics” allowed the party in Parliament to go).

    Back in the 1970’s and 1980’s there were still token free market academics in many British universities (real free market people – people who wanted less government spending).

    It may seem odd that people who were paid by the government wanted less government – but these people existed (I met some of them).

    Today very few such people remain – so students have much less exposure to free market ideas than they did (not that they had much in the 1980s’ – free market academics were a small minority). In the modern environment of “targets” and “staff training” free market folk just can not function.

    Also the libraries are worse. In such unviversity libraries as (for example) Leicester and York there used to be many pro freedom books on the shelves – there are now far fewer.

    This is because the academics who defended such books are gone.

    For example, as soon as Jack Wisman died the special library he helped create at the University of York was destroyed (it was used for more admin space).

    In Leicester the removal of many pro freedom books was justified as a way of making more space for computers (although there are whole buildings devoted to computers).

    It is a similar story in many other university libraries.

    Also in town libraries there is far less tolerance of pro freedom books that there used to be.

    People can debate why this is so (are local government librarians really getting more statist – or is just the indirect effect of regualtions, targets and other such), but it has happened.

    As for serious television (such as Brian Walden’s “Weekend World” which, although Mr Walden was ex Labour M.P., gave vital factual information on such things as the size of government -and gave it in a non “talking head” form) it is much less common than it was (not that it was ever that common).

    As for true free market television series (such as Milton Friendman’s “Free to Choose” series) such a thing would not be tolerated in Britian today.

    Newspapers have also got worse with time. There is still some free market stuff – but not to the same level that it was in the late 1970’s and early 1980’s (such newspapers as the Sunday Express have become a bit of joke – but they were not always so).

    So a pro freedom generation of student activists is not exactly likely.

    Where would they get their ideas and information from?

    Computer blogs (on their own) will not do.

  • Paul Marks

    Jack Wiseman (not Wisman) of course. My crapness continues.

    Actually there was a gap between his death and the end of special library – there were other free market folk at York (I doubt there are many left there now).

    In Leicester there was an I.E.A. man in the economics department (no I can not remember his name). And even a Conservative in the Politics department (Murry Forsyth – spelling).

    There was also a person who was social democratic in his politics, but believed that free market ideas should be tolerated and honestly debated – John Day.

    This sort of person would not prosper in modern academia – not just because statist intolerance has increased over time (although it has) but because of the very structure of the job.

    It is now about form filling, targets, “professional training” and other such.

    Neither free market folk, nor tolerant non free market people can function in this environment.