Before becoming a politician Nigel Lawson was a financial journalist, so the very least I expected was a entertaining account. In fact this book is over 1,000 pages of "I was right, because I say I was right and everybody else was wrong, particularly Mrs Thatcher on joining the ERM because I say they were wrong." I have to say it was a huge struggle to read this book and it was only sheer dogged determination that got me there. It has to be the most boring memoir I've read. Of course the events of Black Wednesday 16 September 1992 and the subsequent floating of the pound and the economic recovery show that joining the ERM was an extremely bad idea.
Mrs Thatcher's account in The Downing Street Years, is thoroughly convincing and written with an intellectual rigour that completely eclipses Lawson. Where Mrs T discusses policy, she explains the background and theory, the alternative approaches, the advantages and disadvantages of each approach and proves by logic that the policy she promoted was the best available in the circumstances. This of course was published in Oct 1993 and Lawson did not see what a high standard Mrs Thatcher would set. In contrast Lawson's book is wholly inadequate. The claims he makes that "I was right and Mrs Thatcher was wrong." are completely undermined both by events and his incompetent advocacy defending his flawed policy.
This book was published on 27 October, 1992 some 40 days after Black Wednesday. I can imagine the panic - the book must have been ready to print and was probably pulled at the last minute and only minimal changes were possible. On a single page, Nigel acknowledges Black Wednesday and claims that the idea to join the ERM was right, merely the timing was wrong and that had the UK joined years earlier, as indeed the "great genius" had recommended it would all have been a huge success. One unexpected advantage of the huge failure of the UK's ERM fiasco, was that support for the single currency in the UK was fatally weakened and we should all be very thankful for that.
There are almost no insights or interesting revelations. Lawson did reduce the top rate of tax from 60% to 40%, for which everybody in the UK should be grateful, but he also reveals that many people at the low end faced tax and loss of benefits at rate up to and beyond 100%. This was an issue that he virtually ignored as too complex to fix. The costs of ignoring this disincentive are huge. Millions upon millions of people on benefits who should and could be working and contributing and able to grasp the many opportunities for getting ahead in life rather than being trapped on benefits.
Should you read this book? It is extremely hard work and you get little from it. What I did take away from reading this book is that here is yet another politician, full of unjustified arrogance, who gets it so badly wrong millions lose their jobs and tens of thousands become ruined all due to a recession caused by an obsession with the ERM. It is quite frightening that so much power is concentrated in the hands of people who really do not know what they are doing and far worse think they do.