Tuesday, 6 September 2011

Do prime ministers and chancellors always fall out?

In article in the Evening Standard yesterday reviewing Alastair Darling's memoirs the distinguished political commentator Anthony Seldon argued, 'Britain has specialised in bad relationships between prime ministers and chancellors.' If that is the case, the consequences for the conduct of economic policy would be very serious as this relationship is the very fulcrum of government.

Seldon is able to produce a number of examples to support his case: (arguably) Howe and Thatcher; Lawson and Thatcher (although not initially); Lamont and Major; and Brown and Darling.

But one could produce counter examples. Seldon has to concede Clarke and Major. Healey from 1974 to 1979 had an effective working relationship with Wilson and then Callaghan. And the relationship between Osborne and Cameron seems to be harmonious and effective.

But then Cameron allows Osborne to get on with the job. The worst situations arise when the prime minister really wants to be chancellor as well. That was a problem with Macmillan's succession of chancellors and it was with Edward Heath, having seen the untimely death of Iain Macleod in the opening weeks of his administration. Anthony Barber was arguably one of the least impressive of post-war chancellors and lacked the authority and political base to stand up to Heath.

Given the importance of this relationship, it is remarkable how little systematic research there has been on it.


Anonymous said...

What sort of research do you thing would be useful on this topic (out of curiosity), where is there a deficit, if you could be a little more specific.

Wyn Grant said...

It's a good question, although I think there is a general lack of analysis, other than the chronological studies by Dell and Jenkins which are good in their way. I did attempt to set out a typology of relationships in my Economic Policy in Britain. One might try to isolate further the factors which lead to a more or less successful and effective relationship.