Death of Derek Scott
I regret to have to report the death of Derek Scott, the Eurosceptic economist who was a leading adviser to Labour in government. He had been suffering from stomach cancer for several months.
I first met Derek at a Young Fabian summer school in Surrey 35 years ago, and he was adviser to the Chancellor of the Exchequer Denis Healey. He immediately struck me as an impressive figure – highly intelligent, good-looking, and very friendly towards a raw 19-year old like myself.
Scott had been a Labour councillor in London in the 1970s and sought a career at Westminster. When Labour went into opposition in 1979 he briefly acted as economic adviser to party leader Jim Callaghan but then joined those who broke away from Labour to form the new Social Democrat Party.
He fought Swindon for the SDP in 1983, and came a creditable third, but his vote was probably enough to deprive the Labour MP David Stoddart of the seat. He nursed Swindon diligently and stood there again in 1987, but fared no better.
By the early ’90s Derek was back in the Labour Party, and I seem to recall he tried to become candidate for the 1993 Newbury by-election, though came up against resentment from those who accused him of treachery in the ’80s. Just as well, as Newbury saw a lamentable result for Labour.
He became an economic adviser to Tony Blair after he became Labour leader in 1994. But Derek was still determined to become an MP, even though he knew his SDP past was a big handicap with Labour selection conferences.
Just before the 1997 election a last-minute vacancy came up in the safe Labour seat of Pontefract in West Yorkshire. Scott went for it, and I recall tracking him down as he toured the area trying to persuade Labour bigwigs to back him. (Finding him wasn’t difficult – I worked out what was the best local hotel in the vicinity!) Scott was considered the Blair candidate, but to everyone’s surprise the nomination went to a young journalist called Yvette Cooper.
In government, Blair appointed Scott as his economic adviser in Downing Street, though it’s thought Blair originally wanted Gavyn Davies, who’d fulfilled a similar role for Callaghan in Number Ten. Scott was never a powerful figure during his six years in Downing Street.
Blair had conceded most of the running on economics to Gordon Brown at the Treasury, and Brown’s adviser Ed Balls (Yvette Cooper’s husband) was far more influential. Scott also disagreed strongly in Number Ten with his friend and former SDP colleague Roger Liddle on Europe. Liddle was keen for Britain to join the fledgling euro, while Scott was firmly against.
On Europe at least there should have been an affinity between Derek Scott and Brown and Balls who effectively blocked Britain from joining the euro in 1999. But Brown and Balls were deeply suspicious of Scott’s role in Number Ten (as often happens with prime ministerial economic advisers), and Scott fell victim to the increasingly bitter cross fire between Downing Street at Treasury, as Scott tells in his book Off Whitehall, one of the best and earliest accounts of the Blair-Brown feuds.
By the noughties Scott had given up hope of a parliamentary career, but became increasingly outspoken on Europe and one of the leading Labour protagonists against Britain’s involvement in further EU integration. He often worked in collaboration with the Labour MP and former minister Gisela Stuart who had become increasingly Eurosceptic herself.
And before Gordon Brown became prime minister in 2007 Scott was one of only a handful of Labour figures willing to warn publicly of Brown’s character flaws – on which he was proved only too correct.
Derek Scott also had strong links with Channel 4 News, and married our then political editor Elinor Goodman in July 1985 (on the same day I got married, which made life difficult for Channel 4 News colleagues). He and Elinor later separated and Derek married Gisela Stuart.
It’s been a sad three months for the C4 News political community of the 1980s and ’90s, with the deaths of producer Howard Anderson; political correspondent David Walter; John Maples, husband of former C4 News founder reporter Jane Corbin; and now Derek. What’s worse is that they were comparatively young: all four men were still only in their sixties.
Derek Scott was a singularly courageous political figure. On joining the SDP (and rejoining Labour), on Europe, and on Brown, he was willing to speak out when staying silent (or staying put) would have done his career a lot more good. Had he not joined the SDP in the early ’80s, he probably would have been a senior minister in the Blair-Brown years.
Our sympathies go to both Gisela and Elinor, and all Derek’s friends and family.
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