3. MEA CULPA: MY ROLE IN THE
There is no easy way to plan a political career. The options before
you are so often chosen by others. Reflecting now on the events that
followed my election to the House of Commons as the Member for
Tavistock in 1966, it is a matter of great satisfaction for me that the
opportunities with which I was presented developed a consistency
of experience unusually available in a career where the nature of
preferment is lateral from department to department, rather than
upward in a specialist field.
Time and again I was responsible for the challenges of urban
politics and usually the associated subject of industrial strategy,
but often not in the way that one might expect.
As a constituency MP in 1966, I would have been aware of the
Redcliffe-Maud proposals to replace England’s 1400 multi-tiered
local authorities with some 60 unitaries.
However, my preoccupation in the late 1960s was concentrated
on my job as assistant to Peter Walker in fighting Barbara Castle’s
transport legislation. As junior minister in the Ministry of
Transport for the first few months of Ted Heath’s government,
I got on with the job. This is what ministers do. Projects included
electrification schemes for the railways, motorway lighting
systems that worked, and dualling the A38 from the Midlands to
the West Country.
Within months of the 1970 election, Ted Heath merged the
Department of Transport, the Ministry of Housing and the Ministry
of Public Building Works into the newly created Department of
the Environment. I moved from Transport under John Peyton
Local Government and Planning under Graham Page. By that time,
Peter Walker had already secured the government’s support for his
response to Redcliffe-Maud.