Former deputy Prime Minister, Lord Michael Heseltine, discusses the current political climate, the preservation of historical statues and poignant moments in his political career with Sussex Politics Society.
Joining a video call broadcast live on Facebook, Lord Heseltine, 87, spoke to the President of Pol Soc, Mahdi Murtaza, about his time in office under Margaret Thatcher and his defiance of the Conservative whip on numerous occasions, but he first touched upon the problems the current government faces.
Identifying two key issues- the health threat of Coronavirus and its impact on the economy- he said: “There will be a lot of criticism, there always is, but being responsible, I see the government facing unprecedented choices; balanced choices that affect human life one way or another.
“I want to give the government the benefit of the doubt. I don’t have any briefing or any experience to give me the authority to criticise.”
Noting that the government are ‘doing what they can’, and unable to offer a simple solution to the crisis, Lord Heseltine went on to explain that there were, however, parallels that could be drawn between the economic recovery required in this situation and the high inflation and job losses the government was facing when he joined the cabinet in 1979.
Explaining the problem as he saw it then, he said: “What had gone wrong in my view was the Britain was very over centralised in the way that it was governed.
“I’ve spent a lot of my life trying to create the agencies that devolve power to local people.
“If you live somewhere, you know much more about the problems you’ve got there but you also know much more about the strengths and opportunities, if you are given the opportunity to develop them.”
He expressed sadness that this is not an approach that the government seems to be taking as they seek to reactivate the economy. He explained that they are repeating a process that he has seen time and time again when governments are faced with unemployment, investing in construction projects and infrastructure to make up for the job deficit.
After warning that there is no simple fix to the economic deficit the country faces, talk turned to the Black Lives Matter Movement and specifically the removal of statues commemorating figures thought to be intertwined with racial oppression.
Asked how he felt about their removal, he said: “I am not in favour of removing statues. I would have views about creating statues in the first place because the last thing one wants to do is celebrate the lives of whom we disapprove.”
Citing historic moments in his career in which he defied the Tory whip to stand up for racial equality in employment and was the first Conservative to stand up against Enoch Powell in 1968, he said that he has no apologies to make about his convictions.
Explaining his stance, he added: “Taking a retrospective look at history is a pretty difficult set of judgements to employ.
“People who lived in those circumstances, made a massive contribution to their communities in those circumstances, were honoured by the people who made the judgements at the time.
“I see this as history, I don’t think you can uproot bits of it that you don’t happen to like.
“I know that’s controversial but, I have to say, that is my view.”
Other conversation covered notable stories from Lord Heseltine’s political career, such as the time he picked up the mace that symbolises royal authority in parliament, putting a hold to proceedings, as well as details of his complicated but functional working relationship with Margaret Thatcher in her time in office.
To listen to the full conversation and to find out about future live events that the Politics Society are holding, follow their Facebook account at: facebook.com/suspolsoc
After technical issues, the main content of the video starts at 30:57, with the quality of the audio improving at 35:50.
Photo credit: Centre of London