The real politics were simple. His colleagues in the House of
Commons, backed by an army of local Conservative councillors,
were motivated by interwoven loyalties defined by constituency
boundaries. The parliamentary arithmetic was clearly unwilling
to accept Redcliffe-Maud. In addition, there were the deeply held
fears of high spending, urban local Labour governments with
their insatiable appetite for enhancing urban boundaries to build
council homes which they would fill with Labour voters. There was,
however, another imperative. To do nothing left Redcliffe-Maud to
be implemented by a subsequent Labour government. Action was
therefore needed and the Walker plan was a skilful halfway house
that removed more than 1000 authorities and left the country with
a two-tier county system and with six metropolitan large conurbation
authorities, totalling some 400. I played a full role in helping to
steer the legislation to the statute book. although at the time I was
increasingly aware that this was not the end of the road.
It is not the job of the opposition to run the country. As Shadow
Secretary of State for the Environment in the years up to the 1979
election, I was the titular spearhead for the Tory local government’s
assault on the Wilson and then Callaghan governments. It was heady
stuff. By the time of the election, local government was a sea of blue.
We controlled all the local government associations and every county
except Durham. Firm friendships had been built between council
leaders and shadow ministers. The winter of discontent heralded the
widely anticipated arrival of the Tory spring.
My three years as Secretary of State for the Environment were the
most transformative of my time in government. Three factors were at
work. I was among the forefront of a new generation of cost-cutting,
quango-hunting, civil service reducing ministers in the government.
No minister reduced his department faster. I exceeded even Sir Keith
Joseph in culling quangos. I persuaded my colleagues to get rid of the
GLC and ILEA and to abolish the giant metro authorities I had myself
helped to create only a few years before.
In no small measure this was facilitated by the coup with which Ken
Livingstone replaced Andrew McIntosh as Labour leader after the