Michael Forsyth

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Michael Bruce Forsyth, Baron Forsyth of Drumlean PC, (born 16 October 1954, Montrose) is a British Conservative politician. His highest office was as Secretary of State for Scotland from 1995 to 1997.

Forsyth first entered parliament for Stirling in the 1983 election, and lost his seat to Anne McGuire from Labour in the 1997 election. In 1997, he received a knighthood and in 1999 was elevated to the House of Lords given a Conservative life peerage as Baron Forsyth of Drumlean, of Drumlean in Stirling.

Federation of Conservative Students

To London, think tanks and PR - Late 1970s

London did not realise what was about to hit it when the young Michael Forsyth moved south of the border soon after graduating. From the outset he realised that if he were to achieve his ultimate ambition, he had to move close to the centre of power. Already a convert to the free-enterprise creed of Dr Madsen Pirie and his Adam Smith Institute, Michael Forsyth saw himself as something of an evangelist. It was his duty to proclaim the "Gospel" at every opportunity. He was preaching Thatcherism before the word was coined, even before Margaret Thatcher knew such a thing existed. After a spell with an organisation known as the Campaign Against Building Organisation, he was re-cruited by the public relations company KH Publicity in the late 70s. Tate and Lyle were one of this firm's most prestigious clients and they had run into some difficulty over dealings in South Africa. Michael Forsyth was specifically recruited by the agency to handle this more than delicate problem that was generating unfavourable publicity and was therefore a threat to profits. Those who worked for the public relations company at the time did not doubt Michael Forsyth's brainpower or his dedication to work. What they might just have underestimated was his ambition. Soon they realised this young whippersnapper with the Scottish accent was a force to be reckoned with...
Within months of his recruitment to the firm several senior employees had left. At the same time Michael Forsyth was riding the promotion ladder and within months of joining KH Publicity, he was made a director. Amid all the disruption that was then taking place in the company, employees and directors alike were deeply shocked by the tragic suicide of a colleague. At the time it must have hit Michael Forsyth particularly hard as he was sharing an office with the unfortunate executive. Michael Forsyth worked more than diligently and loved to drive around in flash cars. But more than any-thing he was a political animal. He had to get into mainstream politics and the first step he reckoned was to become a local government councillor. Living in Pimlico, his son attended the kindergarten where Diana Princess of Wales was employed be-fore her marriage, he chose Westminster City Council to cut his electoral teeth. Aged 24, Michael Forsyth already knew where his future lay. His election to the council in the Churchill ward must have come as great a surprise to him just as much as it was a shock to his Labour opponents.
From almost the first meeting Michael Forsyth pursued the free- market theories as taught at the feet of Madsen Pirie and his like. From the start he did not concern himself with the minutiae of local government politics. Where a lesser person might have dipped a toe in the water, he jumped straight in from the high div-ing board. Straight away he was into the big and controversial issue, promoting compulsory competitive tendering. While it never happened during his term of office with Westminster City Council, he now has the satisfaction of knowing that privatisation in the many fields he had long been advocating was to take off big-time as soon as he entered Parliament and have since become part of history. Unquestionably Michael Forsyth was setting out the future programme for the Thatcher government. The direct works departments of councils, he argued, gave employees the right to tax ratepayers, so they could enjoy inefficient jobs and easy conditions...Certainly, at this stage in his political career, Michael Forsyth was not one for diplomacy. During Jim Callaghan's winter of discontent, the future Secretary of State for Scotland led a brigade of vigilante cleaners in Westminster, in a bid to thwart strikers.
Outside politics, but only just, Michael Forsyth in 1981 set up his own company, Michael Forsyth Associates, a public relations-cum-political lobbying organisation. KH Publicity was not faring as well as it had done previously, and anyway he realised his views on priva-tisation were attracting interest from firms anxious to break into areas that the current thinking concluded would be run only by the State or local government . . . just as they had always been. It was time for Michael Forsyth to break out on his own and he took his opportunity. A major client was the Prichard Services Group, a company that was to win street-cleaning contracts from Margaret Thatcher's favourite Wandsworth council, and British Laundry, Cleaning and Rental Services, which was to win NHS deals. Forsyth played a key role in lobbying the Department of Health and Social Security and other depart-ments for the introduction of competitive tendering into the NHS and elsewhere. He organised meetings with clients and key figures in Government. His was a highly successful campaign. Much earlier the young Michael Forsyth produced pamphlets that brought congratulatory telephone calls from 10 Downing Street after Margaret Thatcher won the election. She told him that he was making the right sounds, that he should carry on with what he was saying, and that he had a major role to play in the future of British politics.
At the time, Michael Forsyth was a mere city councillor, and this was praise indeed. Could a young ambitious man have hoped for greater encouragement than this? Through his pamphlets he was upsetting architects, trade unions, and, not least, senior local govern-ment officers who felt the long- tried system of "in -house" direct- labour workforces was the only option open to rate-payers. It was not just manual labourers who feared for their insecure jobs. Professionals such as architects whose careers had begun in local government and until then might reasonably have expected would end there, were also deeply concerned by outbursts from this young councillor, who, by all rights, should have carried little political weight. Michael Forsyth ignored complaints and continued to speak out relentlessly. He wanted everything to go out to tender. This he argued could save ratepayers something between 20% and 40% on their bills. In one of his pamphlets Michael Forsyth insisted it was only when private contractors were brought in to take over operations previously carried out by councils that public sector wastage would become apparent. "The public service has been swindled for years," he insisted.[1]

The Forsyth Interregnum - Scottish Party chairman 1989

Forsyth was appointed Chairman of the Scottish conservative Party i 1989 against the wishes of the Scottish Secretary Malcolm Rifkind.

Neo-con connections

Arnold Kemp, former editor of the Glasgow Herald, writes in his memoir that:

At the start of Forsyth's tenure there appeared an American adviser, Grover Norquist. He had apparently been a member of the republican team which had destabilised the Dukakis presidential campaign of 1998. He was supposed to be the master if the blacker arts of disinformation. According to anecdote he travelled round Scotland talking to people and compiling a 'hit list' of the politically incorrect in the party. John McKay was said to have spent an uncomfortable day in his company visiting the Borders. Hughes confirmed that his serviceshad been paid for by a right-wing American organisation though he could not recall its name. (It was, in fact, the Heritage Foundation). Hughes had an hour or so with him. He told him: 'You might be good for the States but I doubt if you're applicable to Scotland'. He did not think anything much came from his recommendations. but it is a fair deduction, admittedly from circumstantial evidence, that a decision was taken to purge the list of parlimentary candidates of 'unsuitable' names.[2]

Clashing with the traditionalists

CHAIRMEN of Conservative associations throughout Scotland have received a letter advising them not to hand over membership lists to party headquarters. The letter, anonymous but claiming to be from a constituency chairman, will heighten fears over the confidentiality of membership lists once they are handed over to party headquarters.
Eighteen associations out of 72 have failed to meet the deadline for submitting membership lists asked for by central office in Chester Street, Edinburgh, so the names and addresses can be put on the mailing list for Scottish Conservative, the new quarterly party magazine to be produced by Leith Communications, run by Brian Monteith. Although only one association, Glasgow Hillhead, formerly a marginal, has voted to withhold its lists, 17 others have not met the mid-November deadline. The letter has highlighted fears among rank-and-file members about changes at central office and the appointment of certain staff and party advisers. Concern over lists has also been expressed by Andrew Barnett, president of St Andrews University Conservative Association, in a six-page complaint to Bill Hughes, deputy chairman of the party, over the 'high-handed' attitude of Chester Street in suspending the assocation's Royal Bank of Scotland account after it refused to co-operate fully in providing membership details for Scottish Conservatives. Barnett said: 'My association is perfectly capable of mailing the magazine internally, saving considerable expense.' Grass-roots workers fear association membership lists could fall into the hands of groups not directly connected with the Tory party, as happened with the membership list of the now-defunct Federation of Conservative Students, bought by David Irving, the neo-fascist author. (See story, left).
That incident is specifically mentioned by Barnett in the letter to Hughes, which was also distributed to Malcolm Rifkind, Scottish secretary, and a number of other party officials and chairmen of marginal seats, such as North East Fife.Barnett also called for a formal apology from Michael Forsyth, chairman of the Scottish Conservative Party, over the 'unscrupulous' action of his staff, plus reimbursement of expenses to free the association bank account.[3]


An attempt to challenge the junior Scottish Officer minister Mr Michael Forsyth over his alleged business links with a private lobbying company led to more than an hour of chaos in the Commons yesterday. The allegations were raised by Mr Dale Campbell-Savours, Labour MP for Workington, at the morning session of the Commons committee scrutinising the bill to reform the National Health Service. He said Mr Forsyth, chairman of the Scottish Conservative Party, could in future benefit financially from a private lobbying company, Michael Forsyth Associates, which in the past has had clients involved in win-ning NHS cleaning contracts. The bill extends NHS contracting. The morning session was abandoned after 45 minutes when Mr Campbell-Savours refused to allow the matter to rest until the minister had given an undertaking to sever all links with the company.
The committee chairwoman, the Conservative MP Mrs Janet Fookes, reported Mr Campbell-Savours to the Speaker, Mr Bernard Weatherill, and at 3.30 pm the Leader of the House, Sir Geoffrey Howe, tried to move a motion to give Mrs Fookes the power to suspend the Labour MP from the committee. But amid farcical scenes during which the sitting was suspended, Sir Geoffrey was forced to withdraw the motion. Mr Campbell-Savours claimed he had already assured a Government whip he would not con-tinue to disrupt proceedings. The outcome disappointed Tory MPs angered by what they saw as a smear campaign.
Mr Campbell-Savours had earlier said Mr Forsyth had resigned as chairman and director of Michael Forsyth Associates in June 1987 when he joined the Government. But he said: 'The resignation was seen in the trade as only temporary while he remained a minister. The general view of the trade is that in the event of him not being a minister any more he would be reappointed. I believe an undertaking has been given by the company that he will be able to reacquire his shareholding if he is no longer a minister or loses his seat.' Mr Campbell-Savours said half the shares in the company had been bought by the husband of Mr Forsyth's Commons secretary, Mrs Griselda Haynes, and this meant the minister kept a daily contact with the company. MPs' mail about privatisation contracts to the minister would pass across the secretary's desk, he said. Mr Forsyth denied the allegations. 'I ceased to have any connection with the company when I became a minister. I have made no arrangements to resume any connection with the company at any time in the future and on checking with the company today I established that they have no clients in the health care field.' He added that Mrs Haynes had recently had a baby and was not working in the Commons. His official mail was dealt with in Scotland.[4]
Last week Michael Forsyth, the Scottish health minister, was challenged in a Commons committee over the manner in which he had divested himself of his shareholding in Michael Forsyth Associates, a lobbying company of which he had been chairman and director. The challenge by the Labour MP Dale Campbell-Savours - and the rebuttal - would have been more effective had the participants been allowed to refer to the Cabinet paper which covered Mr Forsyth's conduct on becoming a minister. As a result of this obsessional secrecy, it is impossible to say what the current version of the paper contains and to what extent it has been updated to meet contemporary conditions. The Prime Minister draws up the rules of this secret game and she decides whether her ministers are playing by them. It would be far better for the rules to be placed in the public domain where their adequacy, and the extent to which they were being followed, could be judged by Parliament and public.[5]



  • Name: Michael Bruce Forsyth
  • Date of Birth: October 16, 1954
  • Education: Arbroath High School and St Andrews University
  • Marital Status: Married Susan Jane Clough (1977), one son and two daughters
  • Employment History: On leaving university set up public relations firm in London
  • 1983: Elected Member of Parliament for Stirling
  • 1986: Parliamentary Private Secretary to Sir Geoffrey Howe, then Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs
  • 1987: Parliamentary Under Secretary of State at the Scottish Office
  • 1989: Chairman of the Scottish Conservative Party
  • 1990: Minister of State at the Scottish Office responsible for Education, Health & Social Work and Sport
  • 1992: Minister of State at the Department of Employment
  • 1995: Made Privy Counsellor in the New Year Honours List
  • 1995: Secretary of State for Scotland



  1. The Herald (Glasgow) March 29, 1997 The brash Scots councillor in London had his own solution to the dustmen's strike. He pulled on a pair of overalls and started clearing rubbish BYLINE: James Mckillop SECTION: Pg. 4
  2. Arnold Kemp, The Hollow Drum: Scotland since the war, Edinburgh: Mainstream, 1993, p. 195
  3. The Times (London) November 26 1989, Sunday Tories in fear over abuse of party names; Scotland BYLINE: Mark Whittet SECTION: Issue 8624.
  4. The Guardian (London) January 10, 1990 MP challenges minister over 'business links' BYLINE: By ALAN TRAVIS, Political Correspondent
  5. The Independent January 16 1990, Tuesday Leading Article: MPs and their interests SECTION: Editorial ; Pg. 18
  6. Lord Forsyth of Drumlean Parliament.UK, accessed 19 December 2014