Norman Lamont

(b. 1942)

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(b. Lerwick, Shetland, 8 May 1942)

British; Chancellor of the Exchequer 1990–3; Baron (life peer) 1998 Norman Lamont was educated at Cambridge, becoming president of the Union in 1964. After university he worked for a time in the Conservative Research Department, the nursery of many Conservative ministers, and then as a merchant banker. He gained the Kingston-upon-Thames seat at a by-election in 1972.

He occupied a number of junior posts in the 1979 administration. His expertise was on economic matters and after a spell as Financial Secretary to the Treasury he became Chief Secretary to the Treasury, with a seat in the Cabinet in 1989. This post gave him the opportunity to negotiate spending levels with Whitehall departments. More significant for his future political career was that the Chancellor of the Exchequer, his senior minister, was John Major. One of Major's last actions as Chancellor was to take Britain into the ERM of the European Monetary System in October 1990.

When Margaret Thatcher resigned from the Conservative leadership in November 1990, Norman Lamont became campaign manager for John Major. When the latter became Prime Minister he appointed Lamont as Chancellor; the appointment was widely seen as a reward for campaign services. Lamont's misfortune was that Britain had entered the ERM at a rate which could not be sustained without damaging the economy. Membership prolonged the recession and added to unemployment. As Chancellor he defended entry and warned of economic disasters if Britain left.

When Britain was forced out of the ERM in September 1992, it was inevitable that Lamont—and to a lesser extent other ministers—was blamed. He remained in government but was increasingly marginalized and was an unhappy figure. Neither he nor the government admitted that the original policy had been a mistake, although the economy steadily recovered. Indeed he claimed that he was ‘singing in his bath’ when Britain left the ERM.

In a government reshuffle in May 1993 he was offered an alternative post, which he declined. He left the government and was an increasingly bitter critic of John Major and the government's European policy, calling for British withdrawal. He felt that he had been made a scapegoat and not received credit as economic benefits came on stream. He was a possible challenger for John Major for the leadership in July 1995, but supported John Redwood. In boundary changes prior to the 1997 election his constituency of Kingston was divided amongst its neighbours and he had to find a new constituency. He stood for Harrogate, but lost to the Liberal Democrat, Phil Willis. He was recommended for a life peerage by William Hague in 1998 and continues to campaign actively against Britain's membership of the EU.

Lamont was an innovative Chancellor. He introduced unified budgets, appointed the panel of so-called wise men who gave advice to the Chancellor, and in 1992 abolished the National European Development Council.

Subjects: Politics.

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