Plummer, Desmond

Plummer, Desmond

Desmond Plummer (Lord Plummer of Marylebone) Star 1932 died on 2 October 2009 at the age of 95.

Long obituaries appeared in the national press for he had been a veritable star of London politics- the obituary that appeared in the Daily Telegraph is reproduced in full below.. When the Conservative party won the Greater London Council election in 1967, he was the first leader of that party to be victorious since 1934, and he went on to spearhead Edward Heath’s general election victory in 1970. After Hurst, he was educated at the College of Estate Management where he trained as a surveyor and estate manager. He joined the TA and served in the Royal Engineers during the 1939-45 war, rising to the rank of major. He had many various posts including chairmanship of the Horse Race Betting Levy Board and President of The Portman Building Society. He was a magistrate for many years and a Deputy Lieutenant for Greater London. He was knighted in 1971 and raised to the peerage in 1980.

LORD PLUMMER OF ST MARYLEBONE, who died on 2 October 2009 aged 95, became the first Conservative to run London since 1934 when the party won the Greater London Council elections in a landslide in 1967; he led the GLC for six years until 1973, but resigned as leader of the opposition a year later to take over as head of the Horse Race Betting Levy Board.

Under Desmond Plummer, the GLC Tories helped to spearhead Edward Heath’s general election victory in 1970, and Plummer emerged as one of a handful of Tory Local  Government leaders whose robust style of leadership and willingness to try out new ideas inspired the direction taken by Mrs Thatcher in the 1980s. Plummer had the sort of strategic vision for the future of the capital which, whether or not one agreed with it, showed what local government could do given political will and effective leadership.

During the Plummer years, the GLC initiated the policy of council house sales which saw tens of thousands of former GLC homes sold at a discount to their tenants.At the same time the council invested heavily in transport, giving the go-ahead for the construction of the Piccadilly Line extension to Heathrow and starting work on the West Cross road route, and investing in new trains and buses. It also launched new development proposals for Covent Garden and oversaw preliminary work on the Thames Barrier. At the same time, by cutting costs, it held rate levels steady for two years at a time of rising inflation.

Plummer was never shy of controversy and not all his schemes came to fruition. Among other projects, the London Motorway Box scheme, which would have seen the construction of a 30-mile-long, eight-lanes-wide elevated inner ring road similar to the Peripherique in Paris, foundered on grounds of cost and environmental considerations.

By carrying the torch for Tory policies, the GLC undoubtedly contributed to Edward Heath’s election victory in 1970, but Plummer did not appear to hit it off with the new prime minister; and there was resentment among his colleagues on the GLC when he was passed over in the 1971 New Year’s Honours, in contrast to his Labour predecessor Sir Reginald Goodwin, who had been knighted in 1968 by the Wilson government.

Feelings were hardly assuaged by the honouring of lesser fry such as the leaders of Birmingham and Glasgow councils.The omission was rectified in the Birthday Honours the same year, but relations between County Hall and Downing Street remained prickly. In 1972 Plummer was attending a conference of city leaders in Tokyo when he was surprised to receive a phone call from Number 10 complaining about the traffic in central London and demanding to know what he intended to do about it.

The previous evening, Heath had to walk the 200 yards from the Commons to Downing Street because of a traffic snarl-up in Parliament Square, and had been 10 minutes late at a reception he was giving. Furious at the delay, the prime minister instructed a member of his staff to track down the man responsible and give him a dressing-down.

Sensing a wonderful opportunity for free publicity (and relishing prospect of having a little fun at Heath’s expense), Plummer retorted that traffic jams would continue unless Parliament legislated for the GLC to build new roads. He had been lobbying ministers to this effect for years, he observed, but to no avail. At the conference the following day, to gales of laughter, Plummer related the incident to his fellow city leaders: “All this because Ted had to walk from Parliament to a party he was giving at Number 10.”.

Arthur Desmond Herne Plummer was born on May 25 1914 and educated at Hurstpierpoint College and at the College of Estate Management, where he trained as a surveyor and estate manager. He became a fellow of the Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors, a chartered auctioneer and an honorary fellow of the Faculty of  Architects and Surveyors.

Plummer joined the TA before the Second World War, during which he served with the Royal Engineers, rising to the rank of major. He began his local government service when he was elected to St Marylebone Borough Council in 1952. He became mayor of the borough in 1958 and was elected to the London County Council in 1960. When the GLC replaced it in 1964 he was elected to represent the Cities of London and Westminster. He was a member of the London Electricity Consultative Council from 1955 to 1966.

Elected leader of the opposition on the GLC in 1966, Plummer led the Conservatives to victory in 1967 and again in 1970. But the 1973 GLC election took place during a time of great unpopularity for the Heath government, and the electors delivered a sizable Labour majority.

The following year Plummer resigned as leader of the opposition to take up the chairmanship of the Horse Race Betting Levy Board, the statutory body responsible for the collection of a levy on off-course betting turnover from bookmakers and the Tote to finance the improvement of horse racing. He resigned from the GLC in 1975 and remained chairman of the Levy Board until 1982.

Among various business interests, Plummer was deputy chairman of the National Employers’ Mutual General Insurance Association from 1973 to 1986, and chairman of the National Employers’ Life Assurance from 1983 to 1989. He was chairman from 1983, and from 1990 president, of the Portman Building Society.

Plummer served as a member of the executive committee of the National Union of Conservative and Unionist Associations from 1967 to 1976, and chairman of the Carlton Club political committee from 1979 to 1984, acting as president from 1984 to 1998. He was a member of the Court of the University of London and of the South Bank Theater Board.

A keen cricket fan and fisherman, Plummer was a member of MCC and served as president of the London Anglers’ Association and the Thames Angling Preservation Society. He also enjoyed swimming gardening and stamp collecting.

He was appointed a magistrate in 1958 and served as deputy chairman of the Hampstead bench from 1961 to 1964. He was Deputy Lieutenant for Greater London in 1970. In 1986 Plummer was appointed a Knight of the Order of St John. He was raised to the peerage as Lord Plummer of St Marylebone in 1980.

Desmond Plummer married, in 1941, Pat Holloway, who was president of the Greater London Area Conservative Women’s Advisory Committee from 1967 to 1971. They had a daughter.

Reproduced from the Daily Telegraph 6 October 2009

1 July 2010

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