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Reginald Maudling

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Rt. Hon. Reginald Maudling in 1974

The Rt. Hon. Reginald Maudling (March 7,1917 - February 14, 1979) was a British politician known for his intellectual brilliance, political pragmatism, and easygoing nature but slightly dogged by a reputation for laziness. After helping rebuild the Conservative Party after its 1945 election defeat, he became Member of Parliament for Barnet and served as Chancellor of the Exchequer in the early 1960s. Maudling was considered for promotion to Prime Minister in 1963, and may also have made it in 1970 but for his 1965 defeat for the party leadership by Edward Heath. Serving in Heath's government as Home Secretary, Maudling struggled to cope with the troubles of Northern Ireland and was punched in Parliament by Irish nationalist MP Bernadette Devlin. His later political career was overshadowed by financial scandals including his dealings with corrupt architect John Poulson, and he was subjected to a great deal of lampooning, especially by Monty Python. His hedonistic personal lifestyle led to an early death as a result of alcoholism.

Contents

Youth

Reginald Maudling was born in North Finchley and named after his father, Reginald George Maudling, who ran the Commercial Calculating Company Ltd which made calculating machines. His early years were spent in Bexhill when the family moved to escape German air raids; he won a scholarship to attend the Merchant Taylors School and Merton College, Oxford. At Oxford, Maudling stayed out of undergraduate politics and concentrated on developing a personal philosophy of pragmatism and opposition to ideology. He worked hard, and obtained his degree in Classics with first class honours.

Shortly after graduating he had formed the idea of going into politics. He set up a meeting with Harold Nicolson to discuss whether it would be better, as a moderate conservative by nature, to join the Conservative Party or National Labour; Nicolson advised him to wait. Maudling identified being a lawyer as a career, and was called to the Bar by the Middle Temple in 1940. However he did not practise as a barrister due to World War II, having volunteered for service in the Royal Air Force. Poor eyesight led him to the RAF intelligence branch where he rose to the rank of Flight Lieutenant before switching to become Private Secretary to the Secretary of State for Air, Sir Archibald Sinclair. It was his experience helping Sinclair that led Maudling to confirm his decision to become active in politics.

Early political career

Maudling had decided to join the Conservative Party. As the war came to an end, he was adopted as parliamentary candidate for Heston and Isleworth, a newly created constituency in West London. In the subsequent Labour landslide election of 1945, Maudling was one of many Conservative candidates who failed to win seats thought to have been safe. However his defeat did not deter him from a career in politics.

After their defeat in the 1945 general election, the Conservative Party engaged in an extensive rethink of its policy. Maudling, unemployed after giving up his civil service post, was recruited to play an important role as Head of Economics at the Conservative Research Department. He also acted as a personal adviser to Winston Churchill on economic issues. He persuaded the party to accept many of the Labour government's nationalisation programme and social services while cutting government spending. In March 1946 Maudling was adopted as the prospective candidate for Barnet, close to his birthplace in north London. Labour had unexpectedly won the seat in 1945, but it was considered to be marginal. In 1950 he was elected as Member of Parliament with a majority of 10,534.

Ministerial office in the 1950s

Following the 1951 election, Churchill made Maudling a junior Minister at the Ministry of Civil Aviation. However, his experience of preparing economic policy led to his speaking on behalf of the Treasury on the 1952 budget and thus to an appointment, later that year, as Economic Secretary to the Treasury. With his mentor Rab Butler as Chancellor of the Exchequer, Maudling worked to reduce taxes and controls in order to move from post-war austerity to affluence. He endorsed Butler's great vision of a doubling of incomes within 25 years. Maudling was also a natural performer on television, which was to prove a great asset in his later career.

When Anthony Eden took over as Prime Minister in 1955, Maudling was promoted to head a department as Minister of Supply. He supported the invasion of Suez. The Ministry was responsible for aircraft production and supplying the armed forces, and Maudling came to agree with critics who argued that it was an unnecessary intermediary; he therefore recommended its abolition. Although supportive of Harold Macmillan's appointment as Prime Minister over the rival claims of Butler in 1957, Maudling found himself in difficulties over his position in the new government. He refused to continue at the Ministry of Supply and also rejected an offer of the Ministry of Health because Iain Macleod, with whom he had a rivalry, had held the post five years earlier and Maudling did not want to be seen as five years behind him.

Macmillan thought Maudling clever but also vain and somewhat lazy. He appointed him to the near sinecure post of Paymaster General and spokesman in the House of Commons for the Ministry of Fuel and Power, which was technically a demotion. Nine months later, Maudling had proved his usefulness and Macmillan brought him into the Cabinet (September 17, 1957) where he acted more as a Minister without Portfolio: he had specific responsibility for chairing the talks to persuade the six members of the European Economic Community to join a free-trade area with Britain. This attempt was vetoed by General de Gaulle. Meanwhile Maudling became an underwriting member of Lloyd's of London in December 1957, although his assets were somewhat below average for other 'names'.

Board of Trade

Maudling entered the front line of politics after the 1959 election when appointed President of the Board of Trade. He was responsible for introducing the government's proposals to help areas of high unemployment. This was achieved by paying grants to companies to create new plants in these deprived areas, and also by the government taking over unused land for development. Maudling also succeeded in negotiating a free trade agreement between the countries outside the Common Market, this became the European Free Trade Association and was some compensation for his failure to negotiate a free trade area with the Common Market. Maudling was opposed to any proposal to join the Common Market, remarking "I can think of no more retrograde step economically or politically". This remark was to be quoted against him when he was part of later governments applying for Common Market membership.

Reginald Maudling was for a short time, as Secretary of State for the Colonies in 1961, responsible for the process of decolonisation. In this position he chaired constitutional conferences for Jamaica, Northern Rhodesia and Trinidad which prepared them up for independence; his plan for Northern Rhodesia was controversial and he had to threaten resignation before it was approved. However Maudling was keen to return to economic policy, and seized his opportunity when Macmillan made it clear in private that he supported a voluntary incomes policy. Maudling promptly made a persuasive case in public, and three weeks later was appointed Chancellor of the Exchequer in Macmillan's "Night of the Long Knives" attempt to rejuvenate his Cabinet.

Chancellor of the Exchequer

As Chancellor of the Exchequer, Maudling soon cut Purchase tax and bank interest rates. His 1963 budget aimed at "expansion without inflation". Following a period of economic difficulty, with a growth target of 4%. Maudling was able to remove income tax from owner occupiers' residential premises. He also abolished the rate of duty on home-brewed beer which in effect legalised it. This was the period in which Maudling was at his most popular within the Conservative Party and in the country.

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The BBC election programme announces Maudling's safe return at Barnet in 1964

By 1963 Maudling was being considered as a possible future Prime Minister after Macmillan. However, Macmillan's sudden illness and announcement of his resignation in October 1963 came at a time when Maudling was considered too junior. He had also performed disappointingly at the Conservative Party conference, which had become a hustings for the leadership. He retained his post as Chancellor under the new prime Minister Alec Douglas-Home, and in the 1964 election Maudling had a prominent role at the helm of the party's daily press conferences while Douglas-Home toured the country. Maudling was praised for conveying a calm and relaxed image, but was unable to prevent the party's narrow defeat.

Leadership bid

Out of office, Maudling felt the loss of his Chancellor's salary keenly. He accepted the offer of a seat on the board of Kleinwort Benson in November 1964, one of the factors which led to his being shifted to spokesman on Foreign Affairs in early 1965. Unlike other potential leadership contenders, Maudling publicly maintained his loyalty to Douglas-Home as criticisms of his leadership mounted. When Douglas-Home resigned, after putting in place a system in which the leadership was directly elected, Maudling fought against Edward Heath for the position of candidate to the party centre-right. Unfortunately, for Maudling, Enoch Powell also stood as a candidate supporting monetarist and proto-Thatcherite economics.

Maudling's business directorships with Kleinwort Benson and others were mentioned by his opponents as evidence of his lack of commitment for the role, and he was felt to be too close to the Macmillan/Douglas-Home style of politics when the Conservative Party needed a fresh start. He won 133 votes against Heath's 150; Powell's 15 votes would have been more likely to go to Maudling had Powell not stood. The defeat was a surprise to Maudling, as the Conservative Parliamentary Party was felt to be more in tune with his policies than with those of Heath (although feeling in the country and in most newspapers favoured the election of Heath).

Deputy Leader and Home Secretary

Maudling served as Deputy Leader under Heath, and was also a prominent member of the Shadow Cabinet. However, he was neither close to Edward Heath personally or politically, and as a consequence his influence declined; his support for an incomes policy now went against party policy. He also tended to make gaffes, as for example when he said Harold Wilson had been following the same policy as the Conservatives on Rhodesia and "I can't think of anything he has done wrongly". When the Conservatives returned to power in 1970, Maudling was appointed Home Secretary; the most pressing problem at the Home Office was tackling the Troubles in Northern Ireland. Maudling did not enjoy this responsibility. After boarding the aeroplane at the end of his first visit to the province, he remarked "For God's sake bring me a large Scotch. What a bloody awful country."

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Reginald Maudling, Secretary of State for the Home Department in 1971

Maudling's tendency to exude reassuring calmness in interviews, normally helpful to him, was damaging when he referred to reducing IRA violence to "an acceptable level", a remark widely regarded as a gaffe. He also tended to trust the Unionist controlled Government of Northern Ireland and gloss over differences between their approach and that of the United Kingdom government. This approach backfired when the Prime Minister of Northern Ireland James Chichester-Clark resigned over a split in March 1971. That August, Maudling reluctantly authorised the Northern Ireland government to introduce internment without trial for terror suspects, which caused widespread dismay among the Catholic population and was blamed for escalating the level of violence.

Maudling's statement in the House of Commons after Bloody Sunday agreed with the Army's claim that they had only fired in self-defence, and so inflamed the nationalist MP Bernadette Devlin that she punched him. Eventually Edward Heath decided to bring in direct rule of Northern Ireland under a separate Secretary of State. Maudling's prominence within the Heath government led to much lampooning by comedians, especially Monty Python, which Maudling himself took in good humour. On one occasion Maudling was called upon to present a TV award from The Sun to Graham Chapman of the Python team; Chapman fell to the ground on receiving the award and crawled back to his seat.

Regarding criminal justice matters, Maudling was mildly progressive. He made no attempt, despite his personal support, to reintroduce capital punishment after its abolition in 1969. He introduced Community Service, a new concept, as an alternative to prison, and in 1971 modestly tightened up the immigration rules. He was criticised for ordering the deportation of Rudi Dutschke, later one of the founders of the German Green Party. Dutschke, who was in Britain to recuperate from an assassination attempt, was considered a student anarchist.

Scandal

In 1972 Maudling's business activities were causing considerable disquiet and speculation in the press. He had obtained in 1966 a directorship in the company of John Poulson, an architect for whom Maudling helped obtain some lucrative contracts. Poulson routinely did business through bribery and in 1972 was made bankrupt. The bankruptcy hearings disclosed his bribe payments, and Maudling's connection became public knowledge. Maudling came to the decision that his responsibility for the Metropolitan Police, which was beginning fraud investigations into Poulson, made his position as Home secretary untenable. He resigned on July 18, to general sympathy from the press. Shortly after receiving Maudling's resignation Edward Heath's government performed a 'U-turn' on economic policy and subsequently adopted an approach strikingly similar to Maudling's. Template:Wikiquote Heath advised Maudling not to drop out of the public eye and he continued to make many media appearances. On the Conservative Party's electoral defeat in 1974, Edward Heath was replaced as leader by Margaret Thatcher. She surprised many by appointing Maudling to the post of Shadow Foreign Secretary. However, Maudling failed to make an impact in his new role and clashed with Mrs. Thatcher over economics. He was dismissed on November 19, 1976. Maudling then openly attacked the Monetarist economic theory which she had adopted.

Last years

Maudling's business interests were to return and haunt his final years. He had in 1969 been President of the Real Estate Fund of America, whose Chief Executive had been imprisoned for fraud; Maudling had also been an adviser to the Peachey Property Corporation, whose Chairman had embezzled company money and later committed suicide. In addition Maudling was disclosed to have lobbied for more aid to Malta after obtaining a commission for Poulson there which had led to heavy losses to the Maltese government. These further revelations led to a Parliamentary inquiry into the conduct of Maudling and two other MPs linked to Poulson. This inquiry published its report on July 14, 1977; the report concluded that Maudling had indulged in "conduct inconsistent with the standards which the House is entitled to expect from its members".

When the report was considered by the House of Commons, the Conservative Party organised its MPs to attend the debate to 'Save Reggie'. An amendment was put down to merely 'take note' of the report, instead of endorsing it, and carried by 230 votes (211 Conservatives, 17 Labour, 2 Liberals and 2 Ulster Unionists) to 207. No punishment was imposed. An attempt by back-bench Labour MPs to expel Maudling from the House was defeated by 331 votes to 11, and a move to suspend him for six months was lost by 324 to 97.

Maudling's intention to continue his political career was hindered by his chronic alcoholism which became an increasing problem in the late 1970s. His health was damaged and he lacked the motivation to overcome his problems. In early 1979 he collapsed and there were fears his treatment would be hindered by the strikes in the 'Winter of discontent'. He died on February 14 of cirrhosis of the liver and kidney failure in the Royal Free Hospital. Maudling had married the actress Beryl Laverick six days after the outbreak of war in 1939; they had three sons and a daughter.

References

External Links


Preceded by:
Sir Walter Monckton
Paymaster-General
1957–1959
Succeeded by:
The Lord Mills
Preceded by:
Sir David Eccles
President of the Board of Trade
1959–1961
Succeeded by:
Fred Erroll
Preceded by:
Iain Macleod
Secretary of State for the Colonies
1961–1962
Succeeded by:
Duncan Sandys
Preceded by:
Selwyn Lloyd
Chancellor of the Exchequer
1962–1964
Succeeded by:
James Callaghan
Preceded by:
James Callaghan
Home Secretary
1970–1972
Succeeded by:
Leonard Robert Carr

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