Tribute to Lord Young of Graffham
4 min read
Lord Young of Graffham, 27 February 1932 to 8 December 2022.
Thatcher era Cabinet minister who focussed on solutions and made a genuine difference to the lives of millions
I first met David Young in January 1981 when I joined Keith Joseph’s ministers at the Department of Trade and Industry as the minister for information technology.
Keith had met David some years before as they shared a great interest in the Jewish charity ORT which trained young people in technical skills. David joined Keith’s think thank, Centre for Policy Studies, and Keith appointed him as his special adviser in 1979. David had been a successful entrepreneur and learnt a great deal from the businessman and philanthropist Isaac Wolfson and in those early years of a deep recession he managed to remain optimistic and hopeful.
David’s greatest contribution to our public life was between 1981 and 1987, when he really did make things better for our country
My job was to take through a modest bill which allowed other companies to make telephones to be sold by British Telecom – a small infringement of their monopoly – and it also contained a commitment to sell part of Cable & Wireless which was the telecommunications company of the old British Empire.
While working on this modest privatisation with David, we concluded that it would be possible to introduce private investment into the telecommunications-side of the General Post Office, and we won the support of the GPO chairman George Edwards.
David and I went to Keith Joseph’s home in Chelsea for dinner on 18 July 1981, taking a proposal for partial privatisation and a schedule of how and when it could be achieved. Keith said he would speak to Margaret Thatcher, as this radical proposal had not been included in the 1979 Manifesto. It also won the support of Nigel Lawson, the chancellor of the exchequer, and in July 1982 the privatisation of BT was announced. This was one of the major decisions of Margaret’s first term in office. It proved to be the largest and most successful privatisation, setting the pattern. David’s enthusiasm was critical.
Margaret Thatcher was so impressed with David’s optimistic approach that she appointed him the chairman of the Manpower Services Commission from 1982 to 1984 and he joined the Cabinet as secretary of state for employment. Unemployment had reached record levels and he introduced a series of programmes to reduce it. The Youth Training Scheme which he and Norman Tebbit launched provided help for more than a million young people to receive technical training, particularly in the digital and IT industries. The Community Programmes for unemployed young people in the Midlands and the North of England introduced particularly local schemes; one in rural areas was to rebuild dry stone walls.
This was typical of the original ideas that David was injected into the system. He and I launched the TVEI (Technical Vocational Education Initiative) to promote technical training in schools for 13 to 14-year-olds. That worked well, but the Department for Education never embraced it. This problem of technical education being as important and available as academic education still has to be resolved.
David continued to make major contributions to frontline politics. He was appointed to the House of Lords in 1984. For the next three years David was able to announce a decline in youth unemployment and he saw it as one of his aims to depoliticise unemployment as an issue in the 1987 election. He came to be very close to Margaret Thatcher who commented, “Other people come to me with problems, he comes with solutions”. After the election, he became the DTI secretary of state but these were much more troubled times because MPs do not like to have a senior cabinet minister, who may have to make decisions about their constituencies, in the House of Lords, as they cannot easily access them or hold them to account. This underlines the problems of successful people who enter politics.
In 1989 David decided to forego frontline politics and return to an active entrepreneurial life focussing upon the new technologies. In 1989 he became the chairman of Cable & Wireless.
David’s greatest contribution to our public life was between 1981 and 1987, when he really did make things better for our country. It was always a pleasure to work with him because he was full of drive, optimism, and a belief that tomorrow could be a better day. He was lucky to have a very happy personal life with Lita, who was also optimistic and cheerful, for his family mattered most to David.
Lord Baker of Dorking is a Conservative peer
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