Archiver > WORLD-OBITS > 2007-01 > 1168297869

From: "Peter McCrae" <>
Subject: [W-OBITS] MASON: Douglas Mason dec/2004
Date: Mon, 8 Jan 2007 23:11:09 -0000

Douglas Mason
Last Updated: 1:05am GMT 14/12/2004

Douglas Mason, who died yesterday aged 63, was an influential but unlikely
policy maker during the Thatcher era, when his many pamphlets and his free
market ideas were warmly received in Downing Street.

He was best known as the "father of the Poll Tax". The Community Charge - as
the then government preferred it to be known - was one of the most
contentious issues of the day; but Mason was unrepentant, defending the
policy despite the riots which it inspired.

Although his policy proposals contributed to the free-wheeling wealth
creation of the 1980s, Mason continued to lead a relatively low-key,
solitary existence in his native Scotland, where he pursued his career as an
antiquarian book dealer at Glenrothes. Books were also his hobby, and the
walls of his house were double-lined with many thousands of volumes. He
amassed a large collection of topographical books illustrated with steel
engravings, and his collection of science fiction novels and magazines must
have been one of the largest in private hands.

Mason's research projects for the Adam Smith Institute included such topics
as university funding, licensing laws, arts subsidies, the management of
public libraries, privatising council estates, restructuring local
Government and the abolition of Quangos.

Douglas Mason was born at Dunfermline on September 30 1941; his father was
an accountant, his mother a schoolteacher. He was educated at Bradford
Grammar School before going up to St Andrews University. His time as an
undergraduate proved to be of lasting significance to his political life,
both ideologically and in the friendships he formed. Mason loved his time at
St Andrews, where he took a BSc in Geology before going on to study

As an undergraduate, he built the university's Conservative Association into
a large and powerful body, and the representatives from St Andrews
invigorated conferences of the Federation of Conservative Students (FCS)
with a libertarian message which was somewhat surprising during the period
when Edward Heath was leading the party.

Mason became a constituency agent for the Tories, and he served as a
Conservative member on Fife county council from 1967 to 1970 and on
Kirkcaldy district council from 1974 to 1988.

He developed a reputation for blowing the whistle on local government
extravagance, writing the "Waste Watcher" column in the Freedom
Association's newspaper, Free Nation. A network of fellow Thatcherite
councillors across Britain would supply him with information, some of which
was then followed up in the national press. He wrote a paper criticising the
growth of the "Qualgos" (Quasi-Autonomous Local Government Organisations),
cousins of the better-known Quangos.

A member of the Glenrothes Development Corporation from 1985 to 1996, Mason
advocated privatisation of the New Towns in a paper entitled Livingston PLC,
I Presume?

Mason was the Tory candidate for Central Fife at the 1983 General Election,
but never entered Parliament. However, he did work for two Conservative
ministers, Allan Stewart and Michael Forsyth, both of whom had also been
students at St Andrews - Stewart became a Minister of State, and Forsyth was
later appointed Secretary of State for Scotland under John Major.

These connections gave Mason direct avenues for his policy ideas, although
they were also published openly. Mason fell out publicly with the Scottish
Tories in 1990, when Lord Sanderson of Bowden (known to FCS as "Lord
Wallpaper") succeeded Forsyth as chairman of the party in Scotland and
forced Forsyth's appointees out of Scottish Central Office. Mason resigned
from the party, declaring: "I'm not returning while the chairman of the
Scottish Tory Party behaves like a Victorian mill owner."

But it is the Poll Tax for which he will be best remembered. Friend and foe
alike agreed that his Omega paper for the Adam Smith Institute in 1983 - two
years later it was codified as Revising the Rating System - had a crucial
impact on the government, not merely because of its arguments but also
because of its timing. Scotland had just seen a ratings revaluation push up
bills by 30 per cent, and William Whitelaw, then Deputy Prime Minister,
returned from taking soundings in Edinburgh to warn that "something must be

Margaret Thatcher was attracted by the accountability argument: if all
voters had to pay for local spending, they would soon make plain their
feelings to councils which were extravagant; there was also the argument
that it was unfair for 13 million householders to finance council services
which benefited 40 million.

In some places it worked. Those Tory authorities - notably Westminster and
Wandsworth, in London - which achieved a low Poll Tax enjoyed electoral
success. But many councils used the transition to the Poll Tax to cover
massive spending increases, making the shrewd political calculation that the
Thatcher government would be blamed. In addition, where there were two-tier
councils at district and county level, voters did not know which authority
should be blamed for increases.

Mason was unapologetic. He had argued all along that the introduction should
be combined with a local spending freeze and the introduction of single-tier
local authorities. And he was highly critical of the haste with which it was
abolished after Margaret Thatcher's fall from power; he felt that the
Community Charge would have "bedded down" had it been given the chance.

"After 600 years people were still tinkering with the rates," he pointed
out. "Nobody in their right mind expected the Community Charge to work
perfectly in its first year." He added that it was "like killing a year-old
child simply because it can't walk or talk." Presciently, he predicted that
Michael Heseltine's proposed successor, the Council Tax, would get into
trouble of its own.

Mason's somewhat dour appearance concealed a dry wit and a keen sense of
mischief. In 1990 he was diagnosed with a brain tumour and warned that he
might die within months. Despite this, he remained active, and travelled
abroad lecturing on behalf of the Adam Smith Institute and extolling the
advantages of market economics, something he invariably found was
appreciated more outside Scotland than it was at home.

He was a bachelor.

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