RIP Fred Catherwood

All of forty years ago I sought  the views of Sir Fred Catherwood who has died aged 85, about Northern Ireland – I can’t remember what aspect exactly. I interviewed him in his  a large and rather bleak East Anglian house – a house rather like his religion I thought at the time ( rather unfairly). A big figure in the 1960s and 70s he was yesterday’s man in two senses. First, he was the sort of man of prosperous Ulster origins who was sent to English public school and became more English than the Irish.  Although he wasn’t strictly speaking gentry in the ould dacency mould like the nearby Chichester Clarkes of Moyola Park, his Dad could have bought and sold them many times over, as the founder of Catherwood’s buses. The family connection of course is still around. Catherwood was also the sort of businessman who believed in working hard to win the cooperation of trades unions at the height of their powers before their Thatcherite fall.  His convictions about the importance  of good industrial relations  probably stemmed as much from his religious roots  as his politics and economics. They were probably the biggest mark his background left on him.

From the Times (£)

The many public offices held by Sir Fred Catherwood in the 1970s made him one of the “great and the good”. As head of the newly created National Economic Development Council (NEDC), he had the job of bringing together the government, trade unions and management. He was also a leading evangelical nonconformist — the role that was perhaps the most important to him.

is name was a regular fixture in British economics from the mid-1960s, when he became director-general of the NEDC. Nicknamed “Neddy”, the body was created as a forum to unite businesses, the unions and government to drive economic growth. Catherwood became so identified with the institution that his projects all gained the epithet “Catherwoodery”.

A key figure in the emerging “corporatism” movement — then fashionable among policymakers such as Edward Heath, Harold Wilson and James Callaghan — he had the ill-fated task of getting unions and businesses to cooperate on reforming pricing and incomes. He managed to keep Harold Wilson and the leaders of the TUC and CBI speaking from the same hymn sheet — quite an achievement.RIP

From the Guardian

Though he returned to industry as chief executive of John Laing in the 1970s, his interest in the techniques of business management led him into the British Institute of Management, a regular adviser to governments. He served on the Northern Ireland development council and acted as treasurer to Lord Longford’s dotty 70s investigation into the porn industry, a committee with Christian roots and capricious leadership that had reached its widely ridiculed conclusions before it even started work.

In 1979 Catherwood publicly resumed his membership of the Conservative party – in abeyance during his years of government service – and was elected to the European parliament as the member for Cambridgeshire. During his 15 years as a member of the parliament he watched as his party at Westminster grew disenchanted and increasingly hostile to the European project, which he saw as vital to the country’s economic future.

Catherwood’s was the gentlemanly, consensual style of the 60s and he was no match for Margaret Thatcher and her raucous partisanship, or for Gordon Brown’s emulation of it. His disillusionment became apparent in his memoir, At the Cutting Edge (1996), published after his retirement: “Almost all the opposition to the EC assumes that there must somehow be an Anglo-Saxon alternative … and it is absolutely clear to me, if it is not clear to all those who still want it, that an Anglo-Saxon alternative is not and never will be on offer … When things go wrong at home it is an old and sinister political trick to blame a foreign enemy.”


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