Tony Newton R.I.P.

Lord Newton of Braintree, the former secretary of state for Social Security who has just died, should have been remembered as one of the very, very few politicians ever to see a problem twenty or thirty years ahead and take effective action to solve it.

Unfortunately, because of the folly of a subsequent government, Tony will have a footnote in history as the man who took action which should have solved a problem, only to have the funds he had put aside grabbed and frittered away.

I knew and liked Tony Newton, who was one of the "Eastern Area Mafia" which at one point provided half a dozen members of the cabinet. He was a very loyal friend who had much less of an ego and more interest in getting on with the job than many involved in politics.

Once a mutual friend - it may have been James Blatch, my predecessor as Chairman of Eastern Area YCs who is now a journalist - introduced Tony at a meeting by pointing out that as he had gone straight from Cambridge to the Conservative Research Department, and from thence to the position of MP for Braintree, Tony had never had a proper job in his life and was therefore the ideal person to run Social Security. Some cabinet ministers would have been offended: Tony Newton laughed, and if he didn't enjoy the joke as much as anyone else there he deserved an Oscar.

Another example of Tony Newton's sense of humour: his wife was a politician in her own right and at one stage was chairman of the local planning committee. This is a job - as I know having done it myself - where you are 100% guaranteed to be involved in local controversies and arguments. On one such occasion the local press wrote the headline "Minister's wife in Planning Row." I remember Tony telling me this and saying how it demonstrated that the media had some rather unbalanced attitudes - would they write a story about him with the headline "Planning Chairman's husband in Social Security row?"

In the mid 1980's Tony Newton forsaw the demographic time-bomb which is hitting us now. He realised that the unfunded pension arrangements of the day, where each generation's pension contributions paid for the pensions and care of their predecessors, would become unsustainable two decades later and ruinous within three decades - e.g. in the present decade - as increasing life expectancy meant that people of the age at which many were retiring in the eightes became a much larger proportion of the population while those of traditional working age became a much smaller one.

His solution was to provide both positive and negative incentives for people to save more and for employers to offer generous occupational pensions schemes. As a result, over the following decade Britain built up a reserve of pensions savings which made us the one county in Europe which was largely prepared for the demographic time-bomb. At the time the Conservative government left office twelve years later, Britain had more money invested in occupational pensions schemes than the whole of the rest of Europe put together, and this was Tony Newton's achievement.

Sadly the inexcusable mismanagement of the following administration, and particularly their £6 billion a year raid on pension funds, largely wrecked the golden legacy Tony Newton left them and sent Britain nearly back to square one. As one of their own wiser MPs put it, Labour inherited one of the strongest pension positions in Europe but after a decade had one of the weakest.

After leaving government, Tony Newton chaired the Hansard Society Commission on Parliamentary Scrutiny which ran from 1999 to 2001, which concluded that Parliament was being left behind by changes in the constitution, government and society and proposed some suggested reforms for improving its function.

Tony Newton was one of the unsung heroes of politics and I will remember him with respect and affection.

Rest in Peace.


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