Sir Douglas Hague, born October 20 1926, died February 1 2015
Economist who helped Mrs Thatcher to get to grips with monetarist and free market theory
Sir Douglas Hague, who has died aged 88, was one of Margaret Thatcher’s earliest and most loyal economic advisers.
It was as the co-author (with Alfred Stonier) of A Textbook of Economic Theory that Hague, then professor of applied economics at Manchester Business School, was first introduced to the rising star Tory MP for Finchley in 1967. A member of the Conservative Research Department, Michael (now Lord) Spicer, had the task of finding academics to advise the Conservative front bench- and having admired Hague and Stonier’s 1953 book in his own undergraduate studies, he arranged for Hague to meet Mrs Thatcher (then junior Opposition spokesman for Treasury affairs) and her mentor Sir Keith Joseph.
A copy of the Textbook was duly presented, and a phrase used by Hague in their first conversation – “sacrifice by instalment” – found its way into her Commons speech against the policies of the Labour chancellor James Callaghan that same day. The relationship flourished; Hague sent regular notes on issues to which he felt she should attend, and helped her to understand the theories of Milton Friedman and others who were challenging the Keynesian consensus. Besides finding Hague’s own free-market and pro-enterprise stance sympathetic, Mrs Thatcher particularly admired his ability to explain, on one occasion telling another professor: “You see, Douglas writes more clearly about economics than anyone else in the world!”
During her tenure as Edward Heath’s education minister, contact with Hague was less frequent – but she insisted that they lunch occasionally (at the Epicure restaurant in Soho) because “the Department is full of communists and I need to check on issues … with someone whose views are like mine.”
When she became party leader in 1975, Hague’s time was largely divided between his Manchester post and the Prices Commission in London, but he also served as one of her speechwriters; and during her 1979 campaign he was one of the very few academic economists who publicly supported her. After the election was won, an early paper in her Downing Street in-tray was from Hague urging the abolition of exchange controls – which was done within the year.
Hague was a consultant to the No 10 Policy Unit from 1979 to 1983, advising on employment and other issues at a time when a gallery of economic thinkers were competing for the prime minister’s ear. During the painful 1981 recession he argued (and Mrs Thatcher, guided by another of her gurus, Alan Walters, eventually agreed) that interest rates were too high, and the private sector suffering too much, as a result of excessive focus on control of the money supply.
Towards the end of his Downing Street stint, Hague moved his academic base from Manchester to Templeton College, Oxford – conveniently closer to London – and responded to a Policy Unit call for more sophisticated British management education by creating the Oxford Strategic Leadership Programme, which became internationally recognised as a stepping-stone for high-fliers. The prime minister, however, was initially sceptical: “Leadership?” she said to Hague. “You tell people what to do and they do it. That’s leadership!”
Douglas Chalmers Hague was born in Leeds on October 20 1926. He was educated at Moseley Grammar School and King Edward VI High School in Birmingham before reading Economics at Birmingham University and joining the faculty of commerce there in 1946.
The following year he moved to University College, London, where became a reader in political economy. In 1957 he was appointed to a professorship at Sheffield, where he was head of business studies, and in 1963 he moved to Manchester.
He was a member (and latterly deputy chairman) of the Prices Commission from 1973 to 1978. Though he was instinctively hostile to its core purpose of detailed price regulation across a range of sectors – and later described joining the commission as “the worst decision I ever made” – he admitted to finding its workings fascinating.
From 1983 to 1987 he was chairman of the Economic & Social Research Council, and thereafter he was a non-executive
director of a variety of business ventures. He continued to write speeches for the prime minister from time to time, and (as a member of Oxford’s Wesley Memorial Church, which she herself had attended as an undergraduate) he was particularly proud to have provided her in 1988 with words from John Wesley to support a call to the wealthy, who had recently enjoyed tax cuts, to turn to philanthropy: “Get all you can. Save all you can. Give all you can.”
Besides his affection for Margaret Thatcher, Hague described her husband Denis as “wonderful… he really did bring an unerring judgment on political and personal issues”. He remained in touch with both in later years.
Hague was a prolific author and co-author, turning his attention in the last phase of his academic career to the relationship between science and business innovation in works such as Spin-offs and Start-ups in UK Universities (with Kate Oakley, 2000); Oxford Entrepreneurs (with Christine Holmes, 2006); and From Bright Sparks to Brilliant Businesses (with Anthea Milnes, 2010).
He was appointed CBE in 1978 and, in 1982, became the first of Mrs Thatcher’s economic advisers to be knighted.
Douglas Hague listed his recreations as “church organs and watching Manchester United”. He married first, in 1947, Brenda Fereday, with whom he had two daughters. The marriage was dissolved, and he married secondly, in 1986, Janet Leach.
Source: Sir Douglas Hague, economist – obituary – Telegraph