Challenge to Democracy


Ronald McIntosh

17/07/2008 | Paperback |

ISBN: 9781842752265

About Challenge to Democracy


'A fascinating chronicle ...of the chronic collapse of confidence and competence, which ensured the acceptance of the Thatcher revolution.'

Geoffrey Howe


This book chronicles an extraordinary chapter in the history of twentieth-century Britain. Perceptive and authoritative, it casts new light on the last years of pre-Thatcherite Britain, when trade union barons played a dominant role in the country and the National Economic Development Council (known as Neddy) was a vital meeting place for goverment, business and unions. It gives a vivid contemporary account of what a wide range of influential and powerful leaders felt and feared in a period of relentless economic decline and deep social malaise.


The diaries begin in 1973 with the deepening crisis linked to the sharp rise in oil prices, and provide a first-hand, day-by-day account of the Heath government's handling of the dispute in the mining industry, the three-day week and the threat to democratic rule. They tell of serious people sitting around in candlelight discussing how soon the elected government would be replaced by an authoritarian regime; and reveal how in a dramatic meeting an opportunity to resolve the miners' dispute was missed, which eventually led to the downfall of the government.


The book goes on to cover the two elections of 1974, both narrowly won by Harold Wilson; Edward Heath's replacement as Conservative leader by Margaret Thatcher; Wilson's surprise resignation; and the near collapse of the British economy in 1976, under James Callaghan and the Chancellor, Denis Healey, from which it was rescued by the IMF.


Ronald McIntosh was director general of Neddy at this turbulent time, and was thereby in a unique position to observe events from the inside. He worked closely with Heath, Wilson and Callaghan, and was in regular touch with Cabinet minsters, MPs, newspaper editors, bankers and leaders of industry and the trade unions. His diaries give unique insights into the workings of the Establishment of the day.


Ronald McIntosh


Ronald McIntosh was a Whitehall official who held senior posts in the Cabinet Office and the Treasury, before being appointed director general of the National Economic Development Council in 1973. Following this, he pursued an active business career as chairman of an international engineering firm and director of a leading merchant bank, and later as chairman of the British Healthcare Consortium in post-Soviet Russia. He was knighted in 1975.



'This is a very special record, which henceforth no serious historian of postwar Britain will be able to ignore. McIntosh's people breathe and fret in these pages in a way no official note taker can capture. Those aspiring to a seat in a future cabinet, or to one of the higher posts in industry or the civil service, should read the McIntosh diaries and discover what governing in really hard times was like. And future scholars wishing to know why so many historians of my generation appeared near obsessed by the "great decline debate" need do no more than to start here.'  

Peter Hennessy



'This is an important account of the history of our turbulent times. Ronnie McIntosh is a shrewd observer, giving an authentic flavour of the critical years when Britain's economic failure threatened economic collapse. In wrestling with the Treasury, steering around trade unions, and coaxing along the captains of industry, the author describes all the key personalities, and the reader discovers lessons relevant to today's world.'

Bill Rodgers



'Ronnie McIntosh's diaries vividly capture the sense of doom and despair of the British economic establishment in the 1970s. He also had a well-founded sense of foreboding that the remedy might bring long-lasting and serious problems of its own.'

William Keegan



'Well-written and... witty historical insights'

Public Servant Magazine



'Interesting as a read in its own right, this book is positively intriguing when seen as a compendium of clues, hints and leads for further inquiry'

Lobster 52

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