The Home Secretaries (25): Reginald Maudling

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Reginald Maudling, 1970-72

Conservative, under Heath

You can read about the rest of Maudling’s career and time as Chancellor here.

For his biographer, Lewis Baston, Reginald Maudling never quite recovered from his loss to Edward Heath, in the first ever Conservative Party leadership election in 1965.

That defeat was, in part, thanks to his record as chancellor. The accusation is simple: Maudling was hooked on Stop-Go, but minus the Stop. As chancellor he had clashed with the governor of the Bank of England, Lord Cromer. In 1965, Cromer let it be known that Maudling’s election as Tory leader would weaken the pound. Heath won for other, related reasons. Maudling was undoubtedly very intelligent. As such, things came easily too him. He could give off the air of indolence or was, sometimes at least, actually indolent.

He also had little money, yet liked the high life. He was very much a socialite, even more so his wife Beryl. They dined at the finest restaurants, socialised at the most exclusive of clubs, kept the most fashionable of company. So, money was needed. After leaving the Treasury, Maudling accumulated 13 company directorships. In 1965, it raised doubts about his commitment to leadership. By the ‘seventies, it would raise more serious questions about his probity.

_38670911_maulding238Nonetheless, when Heath won in 1970, Maudling was a leading frontbencher and, as such, was offered the Home Office. In some ways, he had many of the qualities to be a successful home secretary. He chaired cabinet committees, very well. He had voted for the death penalty in the day, but chose not to attempt its restoration, despite the siren voices in his own party. He introduced community service as an alternative to prison. His Immigration Act, 1971, steered a careful path in a Tory minefield. It paved the way for EEC citizens to have right of entry when Britain entered the Common Market in 1973. It allowed easier entry for people with a direct personal connection to the UK. This was aimed at people who had emigrated to the Commonwealth, giving them a de facto right of return: it was thus intended to allow white immigrants, usually form the old white Commonwealth. At the same time, it removed the right of other Commonwealth citizens to live in the UK. That was aimed, of course, at the ‘new Commonwealth’ (meaning blacks and Asians). Looked at one way, it was a sop to the Powellite right. For Heath and Maudling, though, it was an attempt to defuse the race issue, and put Powell and his followers back in their box: their much-loved idea of repatriation was off the agenda.

If, in those areas, Maudling could be judged a success, he was far less effective responding to the most serious issue he faced. By 1970, Northern Ireland was staring into the abyss. Maudling’s predecessor, Jim Callaghan, had sent troops into the province in 1969, to defend Catholics against Protestant mobs and their own auxiliary police force, the B Specials. In the same year, one wing of the almost moribund IRA broke away, seeing the opportunity to use the discrimination against Catholics and the presence of British troops as a way of reviving the Republican movement. To do so, the Provisional IRA depicted themselves as the defenders of the Catholic people against British oppression: and they turned to the gun (you can read about it, and their leader, Sean MacStiofain, here).

Famously, his first visit to the province saw him remark, ‘what a bloody awful country, someone get me a large scotch’. More seriously, he made no systematic attempt to engage with the issue (by the time the government did, under Willie Whitelaw, it was probably too late). He was content to allow Northern Ireland’s devolved government to take the lead. The problem with that was that the Stormont, as that government was known, was part of the problem itself. It was, by and large, as one of its founders had put it, ‘a Protestant state for a Protestant people’. Catholics were subject to systematic discrimination: by police and the B-Specials, in the workplace, in local government and housing. Its prime minister, James Chichester-Clark, was a moderate, by Ulster Unionist standards. Under pressure from the Wilson government, he had been edging towards reform. However, that process had brought down his predecessor, and he only narrowly survived a vote of confidence in 1970.

The Conservatives had traditional ties to the Unionists, who formed part of the Conservative backbenches at Westminster. Chichester-Clark expected an easier ride from Maudling and he got one. The context was bloody in every sense. In 1971, the IRA started a campaign of terrorism (the first British soldier was shot in February). They also began to exert control over some Catholic areas of Londonderry. Unionist politicians called them ‘no-go areas’, and called for increased troop numbers. When London promised only 1,300, Chichester-Clark resigned.

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His replacement, Brian Faulkner, had posed as a hard-liner. He wasn’t, but the pose helped win him the leadership. As IRA violence mounted, the response of the authorities led the moderate nationalist SDLP to withdraw from Stormont. No constitutional progress was possible. Faced with a worsening law and order situation, Maudling and Heath allowed Faulkner to introduce interment without trial. Over the 9th-10th August 1971, 342 people were arrested on suspicion of involvement in the IRA. Over the next four years, 1,981 people were arrested: all bar 107 were Catholic. Some were IRA members, though many were members of the Official IRA, not the Provos. Others were old IRA men, long since inactive; others were simply arrested in error.

Rather than stop the IRA, it strengthened them. British security forces seemed like the aggressors, and the oppressors, and in Stormont’s pocket. The Provisionals were able to depict themselves as the defenders of the Catholic people against Stormont, the Royal Ulster Constabulary (the police), the Ulster Defence Regiment that replaced the B-Specials, and the army. Worse was to follow when, on Sunday January 30th 1972, British soldiers opened fire on a civil rights march in Londonderry, and 14 protestors were killed (all of them innocent Catholics). Internment, and Bloody Sunday, were the best recruiting sergeants the Provisional IRA ever had: they also helped give the IRA credibility in Northern Ireland, in the South, and in the United States. In the House of Commons, the radical young nationalist MP, Bernadette Devlin, slapped Maudling in the face.

Northern Ireland had done the same to the government. In response, Heath and Maudling realised that Stormont was unsustainable, and in March 1972, imposed direct rule from Westminster. Willie Whitelaw became secretary of state for Northern Ireland. Maudling could at last wash his hands of that ‘bloody awful’ province. Tragically, he left it a more awful and a far more bloody place. In 1972, there were terrorist incidents almost every day in Northern Ireland: 479 people were killed (130 of them British soldiers); 4,876 were injured.

Maudling didn’t have long left himself. He had never made a secret about his desire for ‘a little pot of money’, and his extravagant lifestyle (and his wife) required it. The problem was that he played fast and loose to get it. He had become a Lloyd’s name in the ‘fifties, yet didn’t have to funds to afford to do so. He had accumulated more company directorships after he had become chancellor. But, he wanted more and he wanted it fast. The desire for a quick buck led him into the arms of some seriously dodgy customers. Jerome Hoffman, head of a real estate investment company domiciled in Bermuda, ended up in prison for fraud. Sir Eric Miller, another property developer, committed suicide rather than face charges.

Reginald-Maulding-Home-Secretary-receiving-gifts-1005571The contact that did for Maudling was John Poulson (right). Poulson was an architect, whose firm grew massively in the ‘sixties. However, by 1972, he had overreached himself and gone bankrupt. Bankruptcy proceedings revealed that Poulson’s rise had been built on corruption. The subsequent trial was the biggest corruption trial of the century. Poulson got seven years: among the 21 convicted were civil servants and local government leaders, including Newcastle’s T Dan Smith, who got six years. Three MPs were implicated.

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One was Maudling. To the end of his life Maudling maintained his innocence. However, he was certainly imprudent. He had been chairman of two of Poulson’s companies and had spoken on behalf of one of his projects in the House, without declaring an interest. In 1972, what brought him down was something simpler. Poulson was under investigation by the Metropolitan Police, and Maudling was at least involved in some way. As home secretary, he was also in charge of the Met: his position was untenable.

Maudling returned as Margaret Thatcher’s shadow foreign secretary in 1975, but was sacked the following year. The two were ill matched temperamentally and politically.

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From the backbenches, he would attack monetarism and the notion of using unemployment as an economic tool: he was a Keynesian to the end. Sadly, the end wasn’t far off. Maudling had always drunk a lot; by the ‘seventies, he was drinking too much. When James Chichester-Clark had resigned in 1971, Heath had to take the phone call because Maudling was too drunk to make any sort of coherent sense. His declining years disappeared in an alcoholic fog, until his liver gave out in 1979.

He remains one of the ten men since 1906 to have served as both home secretary and chancellor. In truth, he distinguished himself in neither position. He remains a nearly man, a would-be leader who lacked the ruthlessness and drive, and a minister who too easily took the easy option. Perhaps no one could have stopped Northern Ireland being dragged into the Troubles, but Maudling never really tried. And, if you judge a man by the company he keeps, there was plenty of judging to do.

Here he is in 1970:

And in October 1974:

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