Lord Heseltine: a man with lots of 'baggage'

By Russell Hotten
Business reporter, BBC News

image captionLord Heseltine has always been a fan of devolving economic power as a way to boost growth

Lord Heseltine admitted on Wednesday that he comes with a lot of "baggage" and so not everyone in the political establishment would welcome his new report.

No Stone Unturned at least demonstrates that after 46 years in politics he is still ready to challenge received wisdom and speak with an independent voice.

A self-made millionaire - he built from scratch one of the UK's biggest magazine publishers, Haymarket - Lord Heseltine rose to become deputy prime minister in 1995.

On his way up the political pole he clashed with Margaret Thatcher over (among many things) industrial policy and opposition to Europe, upset the generals over defence cuts, and appalled the Left with a strident campaign against the CND anti-nuclear group.

He astonished his fellow MPs in 1976, grabbing the mace in the House of Commons and waving it above his head in a moment of madness. This earned him the nickname Tarzan, a moniker that has stuck to this day.

His maverick approach won him support from unexpected quarters. In 1981, Michael Heseltine was dubbed Mr Merseyside after visiting the area following the Toxteth riots and speaking up on behalf of a region suffering badly from recession.

And although he was at first sympathetic to the hugely controversial "poll tax", he became a strong opponent.

He has over the decades remained a vocal supporter of the importance of industry to the economy, something reflected in Wednesday's report. As Minister for Aerospace in 1973, he persuaded other governments to invest in Concorde.

No Stone Unturned also echoes Lord Heseltine's campaigns in the 1980s for devolving power from Whitehall and re-invigorating the great industrial cities.

He tried to push through the establishment of regional governments as the best way to help entrepreneurs and businesses, but this was blocked by the Thatcher cabinet. The government eventually settled for the creation of local development agencies.

Lord Heseltine's new report once again emphasises the importance of aligning political will with local action in the cause of economic regeneration.

That view was, perhaps, most evident in his plan in the 1980s to redevelop rundown East London by establishing a Development Corporation that, controversially, could overrule local authority planning rules.

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