British Conservative Politician and Businessman
Born 1920 Died 2005
Anthony Barber is perhaps best remembered as the Chancellor of the Exchequer in Edward Heath's ill-fated 1970-1974 government, who later became the chairman of the Standard Chartered Bank.
Born on the 4th July 1920(1), Anthony Perrinott Lysberg Barber was the third son of John Barber(2), the director of a confectionery manufacturer and his Danish wife, Musse. His mother's nationality explains the appearance of Lysberg in his name whilst the presence of a French grandmother supplied the Perrinott. Anthony went to King Edward VI's Grammar School at Retford in Nottinghamshire, and was afterwards articled to a solicitor, although his career was soon interrupted by the advent of World War II. He initially enlisted in the King’s Own Yorkshire Light Infantry and then served with an artillery regiment in the British Expeditionary Force, being evacuated from Dunkirk in 1940. He then transferred to the Royal Air Force as a pilot, serving with the Photographic Reconnaissance Unit at RAF Benson.
He was returning from one reconnaissance mission on the 25th January 1942, when he ran out of fuel and was forced to bale out over Mont St Michel on the northern coast of Brittany. After landing in the sea he was rescued by a fishing boat but handed over to the occupying German forces. He ended up as a prisoner of war at Stalag Luft 3 where he became a member of the escape committee whose activities later inspired the films The Wooden Horse and The Great Escape. Barber himself managed to escape twice and once got as far as Denmark before being recaptured. Afterwards he spent his time studying for a law degree (using books made available through the International Red Cross), and once the war was over attended Oriel College, Oxford where he completed a two-year degree, gaining a first in Philosophy, Politics and Economics. After graduation he became a barrister, joined the Inner Temple in 1948, and began building up a practice as a tax specialist.
Having now developed political ambitions Anthony joined the Conservative Party, and in 1948 he was selected as the Conservative PPC for Doncaster, a straightforward task as he was the only candidate for what was then a safe Labour seat. Subsequent boundary changes made the seat more winnable and he succeeded in reducing the Labour majority at the 1950 General Election from 23,051 to just 874. In the following year's General Election he narrowly defeated the sitting Labour member Ray Gunter and took his place in the House of Commons.
His maiden speech was made in reply to the King's Speech of November 1951, and a few months later in the spring of 1952 he was given his first government job as parliamentary private secretary to George Ward, then undersecretary for air. In 1955 he became a junior government whip, and in 1958 was appointed parliamentary private secretary to the prime minister, Harold Macmillan. Following Macmillan's victory in the 1959 General Election he served in the Treasury, firstly as the Economic Secretary from 1959 to 1962, and then as the Financial Secretary from 1962 to 1963. In 1963 he was promoted to his first Cabinet post as Minister of Health, by Alec Douglas-Home when he succeeded Macmillan as Prime Minister, but served only briefly, as the Conservatives lost the 1964 General Election when Anthony also lost his own seat at Doncaster.
His absence from the Commons proved only temporary as he soon returned in February 1965 after winning a by election at Altrincham and Sale. Barber returned in time to act as campaign manager for Edward Heath in his bid to win the contest for the party leadership in July 1965, and was no doubt pleased to see his efforts bear fruit when Heath defeated the favourite Reginald Maudling by 150 votes to 133. Barber thereafter became one of Heath’s loyal lieutenants and was chosen by him to serve as party chairman in 1967.
After the Conservative Party won the 1970 General Election, the post that Heath had in mind for Barber was to be lead minister in the negotiations to secure British membership of the European Economic Community(3). However within six weeks of the election Ian Macleod, Heath's choice as Chancellor of the Exchequer, died suddenly and Barber was thrust forwards as his replacement. This was not necessarily a role that Barber would have chosen for himself or one that he felt entirely comfortable with. Indeed Barber, who was awaiting surgery for gallstones at the time, is said to have been so shocked at the news that he promptly passed the aforementioned gallstone.
In his first budget of March 1971 set out a policy of tax reform; there were substantial reductions in direct taxation both on individuals and companies, value added tax was introduced as a replacement for purchase tax (a necessary condition of European membership). The relaxation of credit controls followed in November 1971 and sterling was allowed to float in June 1972 and cable promptly fell from 2.70 to 2.40. These were all fairly straightforward measures designed to liberalise the economy, however, egged on by Edward Heath who was concerned by the rising levels of unemployment in 1972, he made the fateful decision to 'go for growth' and in April 1972 announced that "The aim of my budget is to get the whole economy expanding faster, indeed to achieve a 5% rate of growth."
A whole raft of measures were introduced to achieve this aim and
the resulting 'Barber Boom' of 1972-74 was characterised by the complete lack of any attempt at fiscal or monetary discipline and soon led to inflation escalating out of control. (A situation that was not helped by the fact that OPEC chose to quadruple the price of oil in 1973.) Attempts by the Heath government to manage inflation by statutory controls proved futile and simply exacerbated tensions with the Trades Union movement (already fragile after the Industrial Relations Act 1971) that ultimately led to the Miners' Strike of 1973-1974, the three day week and the decision to ask the country "Who governs Britain?" in February 1974.
With a minority Labour administration now in office after the General Election of February 1974, Barber decided to retire from active politics and left the House of Commons with the second election of that year in October. Although he was soon returned to Parliament, being granted a life peerage as the Baron Barber of Wentbridge, he focussed his attention on the world of business, becoming chairman of Standard Chartered Bank, where for a time his personal assistant was a certain John Major.
He also served as a government director of British Petroleum from 1979 and 1988, was a member of the Franks inquiry into the origins of the Falklands war, and of the Eminent Persons Group sent under the auspices of the British Commonwealth to South Africa in 1986. Whilst there Barber visited Nelson Mandela in Robben Island jail, and apparently offered to send him a book on great prison escapes, although it seems that Mandela declined this kind offer.
He retired from his position at the Standard Chartered Bank in 1987 but did not entirely quit public life, reappearing and 1991, at the age of seventy-one, to take on the job of chairing the RAF Benevolent Association’s appeal for the 50th anniversary of the Battle of Britain which raised some £26 million. He later developed Parkinson's disease, and died from its affects at hospital in Suffolk on the 16th December 2005.
Barber was twice married. Firstly in 1950 to Jean Asquith, a fellow Conservative candidate, whom he met whilst campaigning in Doncaster who bore him two daughters. His first wife died in 1983 and he subsequently married Rosemary Youens in 1989.
(1) Here we have a difference of opinion; The Guardian says he was born in Hull, The Sunday Times plumps for Doncaster whilst the Times offers no opinion on the subject.
(2) His two elder brothers were Kenneth Barber who became the Secretary of Midland Bank and Noel Barber the journalist and author.
(3) Barber was actually appointed to the office of Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster.
- John Biffen, Tory chancellor whose economic reforms were undermined by inflation The Guardian December 20, 2005
- David Smith, Barber, creator of Vat and the 1970s boom, dies, The Sunday Times December 18, 2005
- Lord Barber July 4, 1920 - December 16, 2005 The Times December 19, 2005