Peter Cropper was a very great man, and I don't use the word 'great' about many people.
I first met Peter in 1990 when Nicholas Finney and I started a new transport based public affairs consultancy, The Waterfront Partnership, and he joined us in the venture. Up to that point he had been head of the Conservative Research Department and latterly senior special advisor to first Sir Geoffrey Howe, and then Nigel Lawson at The Treasury.
An owlish figure, I wasn't quite sure we were going to get on. He had a brain the size of a juggernaut and a slightly diffident manner. But I soon learned that it hid not only a huge degree of shyness, but a wicked sense of humour. We soon bonded and over the next fifteen years he became both a good friend but also a very wise counsellor.
Peter was a brilliant economist but unusually for an economist he was also good at strategy. It was rare for him to give a piece of advice which Nick and I didn't take. He then inspired us to organise policy conferences and so I became MD of The Waterfront Conference Company, which by the time I left in 1996 was organising twenty or thirty high level policy conferences each year. Without Peter, and his expertise in the field, it simply wouldn't have happened.
Despite his Thatcherite provenance, Peter was a passionate believer in the need for state funding of the mainstream political parties. He was one of the three people slagged off by John Prescott in the House of Commons (Nick and I were the other two!) for "lining our pockets" through the ports privatisation proposals. Quite untrue, of course otherwise I'd be sunning myself in Monaco, I suspect.
Peter was a deeply honourable man and he believed that there was nothing more worthwhile than becoming an MP. When I stood for election he was one of the few people to be blunt with me and advised caution. He thought I would be very disillusioned by it. Neither of us were ever to find out.
He would invite me to lunch at the Reform Club. It was the sort of place I was always afraid I'd do something to make my mother ashamed of me. He was a hugely popular and respected member of this venerable institution. It was a venue I came to love, but I never felt comfortable there, despite Peter's best intentions.
When Nick and I parted company in 1996 in very acrimonious circumstances Peter was a great comfort to me. Indeed, he became a shareholder in my bookshop, Politico's. He was someone I always turned to for business advice and he played an active part as a quasi non executive director. His diplomatic skills meant he remained on good terms with both Nick and me, and over time helped us both soften our enmity. It gave him great satisfaction when after about ten years we decided to let bygones be bygones and effected a reconciliation. When I emailed Nick last night, I knew the news of Peter's death would hit him as hard as it had hit me.
Peter lived very near me in Tonbridge and over the years I visited him many times to chew the political fat or seek his advice. He and his wife Rosemary always made John and me very welcome. I especially remember one afternoon around 2008 sitting having a drink in the garden with Peter and reminiscing about old times and talking about the Thatcher government of which he was a leading member. Peter was awarded a CBE for political services but really should have been in the Lords. He would have been brilliant. He became very disillusioned in the last year or two of the Thatcher government, mainly with her. But she knew what he had contributed. I remember telling him about a conversation I had had with her during the Politico's 5th anniversary dinner, where I sat next to her for 90 minutes. I told her that Peter was a shareholder in the business and she was effusive about him. When I related it to him, he seemed genuinely surprised.
The Telegraph has published a wonderful obituary of him HERE, which really does his memory justice. Here's an excerpt..
Peter Cropper, who has died aged 92, was one of the driving forces behind economic Thatcherism, in opposition at the Conservative Research Department, then in government as a special adviser at the Treasury, ultimately to Nigel Lawson as Chancellor.
He was happiest in the backroom, where he was an acute and benevolent presence. He provided bullets for Sir Geoffrey Howe, Sir Keith Joseph and others to fire in The Right Approach to the Economy (1977), then made sure Treasury ministers grasped the need for coupling economic stringency with the occasional dash of populism.
Rated prior to 1979 “one of the few free-market men in the Research Department”, Cropper did much of the detailed work on tax reform for Sir Geoffrey, to whom he was particularly close. Margaret Thatcher credited him with reintroducing “rigorous standards” into the Research Department.
At one pre-press conference briefing during the 1983 election, she asked her advisers how much revenue would be lost if VAT were cut by one per cent. “Nobody knew”, one recalls, “then Peter chirped up with a figure (Heaven knows if it was accurate or not, but knowing Peter it probably was). Thereafter, Mrs T regarded Peter as the world’s greatest expert on VAT.”
Cropper’s personal manner was dry, but he possessed the rare ability to make sure anyone emerging from what had seemed an arid meeting with him remembered what he had said. He was also popular with his fellow special advisers, most of them much younger.
Despite his undemonstrative nature, and his role in Howe’s deflationary Budget of 1981, Cropper understood better than some other members of the team that the British public could not be served an unrelenting diet of economic gruel.
Two years before, he minuted the Chancellor that the Government had rightly “started out by displaying the bareness of the cupboard and emphasising the size of the job ahead”.
However, he suggested, there was a need to give the public the hope of “joy, wealth, national power, two acres and a cow, a second car in every garage, interesting jobs, leisure, comfortable trains, channel tunnels, atomic power stations, gleaming new coal mines, everyone a bathroom and patios for all”.
Cropper emphasised to Howe: “We must constantly remember that leadership consists largely in cheering people up, making them laugh and keeping them that way.”
Peter Cropper died on 16 May at the age of 92.
I am so glad, and privileged, to have known Peter. Richard Nixon once said that all he wanted on his gravestone was "He made a difference." Well, Peter Cropper made a difference, in spades. Not just to me but to his country.