Magazine article The Spectator

Major Lamont Problem for Hague

Magazine article The Spectator

Major Lamont Problem for Hague

Article excerpt

IT is no secret that John Major and Norman Lamont do not get on. They can, indeed, hardly bear being in the same room together. The two men, once the closest of friends, have not enjoyed anything resembling a cordial conversation since the day Major sacked Lamont as chancellor at Whitsun in 1993. They have a large number of mutual friends - the Michael Howards are one example, the Kenneth Clarkes another. These friends are occasionally forced to go to extraordinary lengths to ensure that Major and Lamont do not both get invited to the same social occasion. Invidious and painful choices often have to be made.

But for the last few years the two men have found a means of coexistence. The open conflict that followed Lamont's sacking has subsided into an uneasy and sullen cold war. Occasionally there is an outbreak of hostilities, as when John Major vindictively refused to give Lamont a peerage in his resignation honours list. But for the most part the two have found a way of pretending that the other does not exist.

This tranquil state of affairs is about to end. Both men have finally consented to write their memoirs. Each has succumbed to the offer of large sums of money to give their accounts of the last Tory government. Each is expected to publish this September, on the eve of the Conservative party conference, with a view to attracting maximum attention. This prospect is regarded, understandably, with the gravest concern by the current Conservative leadership. The last thing that William Hague, who has enough problems already on his plate, needs is a replay of all the feuds and vendettas of the last Tory government. But the signs are that this is exactly what he is going to get.

Emissaries have been dispatched to both Lamont and Major, with roughly the same message. Lamont is being told, `Calm things down. Forget about the damage that you will do to Major. Think of the damage that it will do to William.' Major is being told, `Be careful. Be statesmanlike. Think of your place in history.' The indications are that these considerations, though weighty, have not yet proved powerful enough to deter either of them from unleashing the most destructive weapons in their armoury. `They are not taking the blindest bit of notice,' says someone who knows both well. `They have scores to settle.'

Friends of Lamont insist that the exchancellor's book - said to be written with a light and witty touch - will be 'a serious contribution to economic knowledge'. That is as may be. It will also be expected to give the inside story of exactly what happened inside No. 10 on the day sterling crashed out of the Exchange Rate Mechanism in September 1992. There has long been talk of a John Major 'wobble', an unaccounted-for two hours. If there is any truth in such gossip, it is certain to emerge in Norman Lamont's book. Friends say that he has frequently hinted at dark revelations: now is the time for him to show the colour of his money. Beyond Black Wednesday, Lamont is likely to give flesh to the thesis that John Major was a weak and vacillating prime minister. He will try to substantiate the claim, first made in his resignation statement six years ago, that Major was `in office but not in power'. His book is likely to attempt to demonstrate that it was the chancellor, and not the prime minister, who had the firmer hand on the tiller during the early years of the administration.

The Major book is expected to be long, at least 250,000 words. Opinions vary about whether it is well written. The former prime minister - unlike his immediate predecessor Margaret Thatcher, who employed a small army of ghost-writers is writing it himself, laboriously, in scrawling longhand. His notes are then typed up by his formidable secretary, Arabella Warburton a heroic undertaking. …

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