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A huge loss: Lord Macpherson pays tribute to Lord Myners

A huge loss: Lord Macpherson pays tribute to Lord Myners

Alamy

Lord Macpherson

4 min read

From overcoming a troubled childhood to tackling the 2008 global banking crisis, Lord Myners was a brilliant man who knew how to rise to a challenge

Paul Myners was a man of extraordinary energy and brilliance. He had successful careers in the City, as a minister and as a parliamentarian. 

I got to know Paul when he was appointed City minister at the Treasury in October 2008. All too often House of Lords’ ministers plucked from the private sector find it difficult to adapt to Whitehall and Parliament. But Paul took to this new environment like a duck to water.

Gordon Brown had made an inspired appointment. Bradford and Bingley and the Icelandic banks had just collapsed, and the Treasury was short of expertise and capacity. He was thrown in at the deep end. The Royal Bank of Scotland, HBOS and other banks were coming under pressure. That week, Alistair Darling, supported by Gordon Brown, made the big strategic decisions. But it fell to Paul to negotiate the grinding detail which underpinned the unprecedented interventions which followed. His commercial acumen was a huge asset, and it’s fair to say he was one of a handful of people responsible for bringing the banking system and the economy back from the brink. Of course, in the heat of a crisis, it’s impossible to get every decision right, and Paul unfairly took some of the political flak for the former Royal Bank of Scotland CEO, Fred Goodwin, keeping his generous pension.

Only last year, he played a critical role in uncovering the Greensill scandal

Paul also rose to the challenge of parliamentary accountability. Normally, newly appointed House of Lords’ ministers have days or even weeks to play themselves in. Paul had no such luxury. The many decisions taken that autumn meant many a ministerial statement. I recall Paul explaining his approach to me: speak confidently and clearly and the House will forgive the occasional error of parliamentary procedure. As time went by, he became a master of the latter, and this proved particularly useful when he went into Opposition. He tabled multiple questions, usually relating to the City scandal of the day, much to the chagrin of the Treasury officials who had to draft the relevant ministerial reply. Only last year, he played a critical role in uncovering the Greensill scandal. Paul’s appearance before the Commons Treasury Committee’s resulting inquiry showed him at his effervescent best.  

Paul was irreverent and amusing. I recall his observations on the then EU Commissioner for the single market, Michel Barnier, in a Lord’s debate back in 2011: "I met Mr Barnier when he was a minister. He came to see us at the Treasury. He came down the corridor and I was watching him. I am a great fan of art and I was rather impressed that he stopped to look at every painting. I thought this is a man with whom I share a common interest – until I realised he was actually looking at his reflection in the glass on every painting and adjusting his hair or his toupee. This to me is a man whom we should treat with a very long spoon.”

Paul drove himself hard and expected the same of others: his Treasury private secretaries experienced a rollercoaster ride. He was a delight to have on your side. He could be an infuriating opponent. He had had the most difficult of upbringings. Adopted from a care home, he received little parental support as he grew up in Cornwall. His drive and ambition took him to university and careers first as a teacher in inner London, and then in journalism and the City. He made his name and his fortune by transforming the fund manager, Gartmore. He went on to chair many a company. But he was always a maverick, and his progressive views drew him to public service. He chaired the Tate Gallery, as well as the Low Pay Commission.

His death at the relatively young age of 73 is a huge loss. And I shall miss him.

Lord Macpherson is a Crossbench peer

 

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