22nd October 2015
Norman Lamont was Chancellor of the Exchequer under John Major, between 1990 and 1993. He was the MP of Kingston-upon-Thames from 1972 until the constituency was abolished in 1997.
Q: As Britain conducts a series of deals with China, do you think that integrating our market with emerging ones will profit the UK? Do you think that it will make the economy more vulnerable to foreign pressures?
A: Well, I certainly think Britain has to increase its trade with the emerging markets, and obviously with China. Britain has not been as successful as countries like Germany, which has much higher trade with emerging markets, and in particular with China. We’re in a period where the growth in the world economy is coming from the advanced economies, reversing the pattern of the last few years. If you go back to 2009, when the UK and the US economies were shrinking, the growth in the world economy was coming entirely from China and the emerging markets. Now that has completely revised, but I think we will go back to the previous situation. I don’t think China is collapsing, I think it is pausing, it’s having quite a number of problems. But yes, I think we ought to trade much more with China, and that Chinese investment, subject to security issues, is a very good thing.
Q: Do you support the move for the UK to leave the European Union?
A: I have said that I will make up my mind after I see the terms of the renegotiation. I would prefer to have a substantially renegotiated relationship between the UK and the EU. We will have to see what happens. I don’t myself believe that it is impossible for Britain to prosper outside the EU. I think that would be possible. But we will have to see what comes out of the renegotiations.
Q: Do you think the Conservative Party will be split over this issue?
A: I think that there is a tremendous will not to have an acrimonious debate, and remembering that the 1990s and the split over Maestricht were immensely damaging to the Conservative Party. There is bound to be an internal argument, and there are bound to be different people taking different sides: that is inevitable with a referendum; indeed, that is the whole point of a referendum, when the divisions and arguments do not correspond to parties. But I think everybody is determined that whatever the outcome, the party should reunite and not be acrimonious. I personally think that the Prime Minister should give Cabinet Ministers a free vote.
Q: In your opinion could Jeremy Corbyn ever become Prime Minister?
A: Well, I think it is improbable that he will become Prime Minister, but in politics, nothing is absolutely certain, and I think the Conservative Party should treat him seriously. I do know Mr Corbyn slightly, and he has a certain charm quite honestly. I think his policies are naïve. I think he’s dangerous not because he’s malicious, he’s dangerous because he’s extremely naïve and his attitudes to foreign policy, defence, NATO, the nuclear issue, I think are all wrong headed. I think he has very little understanding of economics at all. His entire view of life is focused on the bottom 15% of society, and in some ways this is honourable, but it is not enough for a Prime Minister.
Q: What was it like being the Chancellor? What were your favourite and least favourite things about the position?
A: It was an enormous privilege. It was a quite difficult time, I suppose, but I think actually everything worked out quite well for the British economy. I think I certainly left the economy in a stronger position than when I came to office. The route by which we got there might have been rather circuitous, but actually, I found it very exhilarating. I particularly appreciated being part of the negotiations for the Maastricht Treaty, which set up the Euro: I negotiated our non-participation in the Euro, and that gave me an insight into how European countries view the Euro, and why they wanted the Euro. I was telling them we didn’t want the Euro and we wouldn’t participate in it, which many of them refused to believe. They thought that I would change my mind and the government would change its mind at the last minute. That was a very fascinating period. What did I
dislike? I didn’t dislike anything about the job: I found that it was tough, but you were paid to have a tough time, and that’s your responsibility.
Q: For people my age looking towards a career in politics, what advice would you give?
A: I would applaud people who want to go into politics. Mind you, I think that politics is so interesting, and even though it’s quite a rough trade, particularly with the way you now have mob rule in social media and you have very aggressive newspapers, despite all that, I think politics is an absolutely fascinating and extremely worthwhile activity. I think it will always attract able people, and I’m very impressed by the calibre of young MPs in the House of Commons. The only advice I would give is that I think it’s a good idea to have a career outside politics before going in: bring something to Parliament from the outside world. I’m not saying this as a criticism of anyone in particular, but there are an awful lot of people in politics at the moment who have just been around the political scene all their lives, and I don’t think that’s altogether a good thing. You need a variety of experiences. Also, I think that it would probably be better if people went into politics when they were a bit older.
Q: What life lessons have you learned over the course of your distinguished career?
A: I think the thing I’ve learned is that the unexpected always happens, and you can never predict the future, and that’s what makes it extremely enjoyable.
Q: What did you learn in your teenage years that you think influenced your success?
A: I’m not sure I learned a lot in my teenage years. I was heavily influenced by my parents, who encouraged me very much to read. My mother used to take me to political meetings. I didn’t always understand what the political meetings were about, but I gathered that this was very exciting and very important, and it seemed to have a good atmosphere. I think that had a huge influence on me.
Q: Finally is there anything which you wish you had done which you didn’t do when you were my age?
A: I sometimes wish I’d read law. I think being a lawyer is a very good background, really. I read English and economics. I love reading English literature, and I continue to read a lot of literature today. Economics is interesting, but I know I’m not sure that economics is of any practical use to anyone. I think that it’s a way of thinking, a branch of philosophy, whereas people tend to think that it is a predictive tool, which in my opinion, it is not.