Greasy Pole: Maude Gone Mad?
Apart from their bodyguards, Ministers of the Crown are protected by “special advisers” whose job is to advise them on how they might make governmental policies, however difficult, more presentable. So what went wrong with the system recently, when the Minister for the Cabinet Office and Paymaster General informed motorists that they could ease the pain of a petrol shortage by the highly dangerous practise of filling up some jerry cans with the fuel to store at their home? The most promising route towards answering that question is to examine the minister himself. Francis Anthony Aylmer Maude came into politics with high expectations – not least of himself – partly through his pedigree as the son of the late Tory MP Angus Maude, (described by one political correspondent as “caustic, dismissive-even arrogant” – he was, after all, a determined politician – and who in 1981 decided to give it all up to help his son’s developing political career.)
Maude arrived in the House of Commons in the big Conservative victory of 1983, with the voters in a kind of jingoistic coma after the success of the Falklands gamble. Very soon he was, as a Political Private Secretary (PPS), at the lower reaches of the Greasy Pole. At a time when some big Tory guns were said to “hate” the Iron Lady, Maude was hailed as one of her committed supporters. He even impressed the spiteful scheming Alan Clark who saw him in 1984 as “…much the best of the PPSs, sensible and quiet, but in good mind and sense of humour.” Clark did not seem to feel that this opinion needed to be re-assessed a couple of years later when Maude told a “jolly dinner” party of Parliamentary Tory bigwigs in discussion about a pending re-shuffle by Thatcher that Nigel Lawson could not be moved from Chancellor of the Exchequer to Foreign Secretary “as a Jew”.
In fact there was a re-shuffle of a sort in the following July which left Maude, again according to Clark, disappointed: “tearful…looks terrible…quite altered from the narrow-faced, fresh youngster who used to whip Employment”. Through his tears Maude whined that he had “…thought that at least I might have some recognition for all my work in the Financial Services field” (he had been Minister for Corporate and Consumer Affairs but had not learned that in his chosen career rewards do not unfailingly sprout from achievement). Any resentment was absent when, in 1990, Thatcher was under terminal pressure about her resignation. Maude was the first of the men in grey suits to visit her: “…a reliable ally” was how she described him; he “…told me he passionately supported the things I believed in, that he would back me as I went on but that he did not believe I could win. He left in a state of some distress.”
Thatcher recalls that whatever the effect of this episode on Maude it did nothing to cheer her up. In any case he seems to have quickly become less passionate about her to the extent that he was able forcefully to promote John Major as the most likely winner, an act which provoked anger among those Thatcher supporters who were still capable of resentment at being double-crossed. With Major in Number Ten, Maude received his reward with the grand post of Financial Secretary to the Treasury. But he did not have long to savour this because in the 1992 general election the voters in North Warwickshire threw him out – a “terrible blow” to him, when so many of his rivals had survived and clung to their prestigious jobs.
With millions in the dole queues, Maude made one of his sillier statements: he felt “the pain” of the unemployed – while he was enjoying the income from jobs like Managing Director at the bankers Morgan Stanley and director of Salomon Brothers. But to prevent his agony being too intense he was found a safe way back to Westminster in the sweet Sussex constituency of Horsham and after the 1997 election he was again available for a place on the Tory front bench under the new leader William Hague who made him Shadow Chancellor of the Exchequer and then Foreign Secretary. But he did not live up to the promise implied by those two appointments and declined into minor jobs such as party chairman and the one he now holds.
At the Tory conference in 2005 he was not warmly received for his strictures on the need for the “cleaning up” of the party’s ”brand”, as if he had had no responsibility for it. He has provoked irritation at the inconsistency of being a member of a Cameron- style “family friendly” government while being chairman of a company with interests in pornographic DVDs. While he was ranting about the reckless policies of the banks which preceded the credit crunch he was holding a well-paid job as director of a company (now out of business) which dealt in sub-prime mortgages. In 1988 he voted for the infamous Section 28 but now says that “…it was very wrong – very wrong…” and that section 28 had become “…an emblem of intolerance”. He is now a supporter of gay marriage as “a deeply conservative idea… part of the glue of people making a deep commitment to each other,” but this conversion came too late to help those who were condemned by that same repressive measure. Among them was his brother, who died of AIDS when he was 42 after a long struggle to prevent his family knowing that he was gay.
Maude’s ‘special advisers’ might have foreseen that his suggestion about storing petrol at home would have loosened a flood of calls for his removal from office. Except that this was only the most recent offer of futile and damaging ideas about capitalism and its dangers.