In a few weeks time, seven Post Offices in the constituency will close. In North West Hants, we fought a vigorous campaign, against loaded odds. The Government had a fixed number of offices to be closed, with any escape by a Post Office on the hitlist being balanced by closure of a Post Office that would otherwise survive. The welcome reprieve in Goodworth Clatford will be balanced by a warrant for execution somewhere else.
The Post Office rightly has a special place in English life. My first financial transactions were with the Post Office. Half a crown would be handed over each Saturday to Mr Green, who would write the amount in the grey savings book, add it to the previous balance, initial and stamp the transaction. Every now and then, Mr Green would retain the book and send it off to the Headquarters of the Post Office Savings Bank for interest to be added. Mr Green had a dilemma; as Postmaster, he was in favour of the nation saving. But as proprietor of the sweetshop colocated with the Post Office, he was in favour of the nation spending. The margins on sweets were better than those on the Savings Account and, in his view, my custom was unevenly balanced.
My relationship with the Post Office matured when, after University, I joined the Post Office Corporation as Economic Adviser. Mr Green began to take more of an interest in me. My boss was the Postmaster General, one John Stonehouse MP. Our paths were to cross later, when I joined him in the House of Commons. The acquaintance came to an end when he was sent to prison for 5 years for faking his death, having been arrested by police who thought he was Lord Lucan.
But before joining the Post Office Corporation, I deemed it politic to open a Post Office Giro account. Older readers may remember these; it was a bank account without overdraft facilities (unless you were John Stonehouse). You could settle accounts with other Giro users by sending off giro transfer forms in free envelopes, and you got a statement every day there was a movement on the account.
At the end of my first day at Headquarters in Gresham St, I went to the finance department, charged with the duty of paying my salary. “How would you like your salary paid, Sir George?” I was asked. “By transfer into my Giro account” I said, with pride. A furrow appeared on the brow opposite me. “ We can’t do that – haven’t you got a proper bank account?”
I left the Post Office when I was elected to Parliament with a slender majority, assuming it would not be long before I was back at Headquarters. But I didn’t go back to see my colleagues until after BT was privatised in the 1980’s. We went to the canteen for lunch and I looked at the notice-board where, in my time, there had been all the notices calling us out on strike and vilifying the management.
There was one large piece of paper on display. It was a graph of the BT share price. Incentivised by employee shares, their view of life had been transformed.