The Banker’s Irish connection

An Irishman’s Diary: Brendan Bracken was a Thatcherite before the term was invented

‘The Banker magazine was founded 88 years ago by Brendan Bracken (above), a Tipperary man  who later served with distinction as minister of information in Churchill’s wartime government and became the effective founding father of the most prestigious group of newspapers in post-war Britain.’  Photograph: HF Davis/Topical Press Agency/Getty Images

‘The Banker magazine was founded 88 years ago by Brendan Bracken (above), a Tipperary man who later served with distinction as minister of information in Churchill’s wartime government and became the effective founding father of the most prestigious group of newspapers in post-war Britain.’ Photograph: HF Davis/Topical Press Agency/Getty Images

Tue, Jan 21, 2014, 01:00

The Banker magazine, which has chosen Michael Noonan as European Finance Minister of 2013, has an interesting and little-known Irish connection. It was founded 88 years ago, in January 1926 by the 24-year-old Brendan Bracken, a Tipperary man and a past pupil of the famous Christian Brothers School in North Richmond Street, who later served with distinction as minister of information in Churchill’s wartime government and became the effective founding father of the most prestigious group of newspapers in post-war Britain.

The Banker was the foundation stone of this group. It was first published by a respectable, if sleepy, old publishing house called Eyre and Spottiswoode, whose main source of income was an exclusive royal patent to print the authorised version of the Bible and the Book of Common Prayer. Bracken, who had previously edited another magazine for the firm, persuaded them to start a monthly one to cover the banking sector and became its first editor. He was rewarded with a seat on the board.

With the powerful presence that served him so well, he made an immediate impact. “There was this boy of 24 with his mop of red hair,” recalled one guest at a board lunch, “sitting at the head of the table flanked by two or three elderly co-directors addressing us each in turn as ‘my dear’ and relating with great gusto the latest inside stories from the political world.”

Bracken persuaded his compliant board that they should acquire a city daily called the Financial News and a half share in the Economist. The weekly Investors Chronicle was added later. Aided by the steadier income generated by a medical journal called the Practitioner, they survived the testing years of the Great Depression and the second World War.

In 1945 the pink-paper Financial Times was acquired and replaced the Financial News as the group’s daily paper. With Bracken as chairman and fellow Irishman Garrett Moore (later Earl of Drogheda) as managing director, the group set off on a massive expansion that culminated in the Financial Times and the Economist becoming the most authoritative and most internationally read of all British papers.

The trend was well set by the time Bracken died in 1958 at the early age of 57, having organised in the previous year the sale of the papers in the group to Pearsons, whose prized possession they remain over half a century later. The Banker thrives. Honouring its founder’s memory, it has a Bracken column, which comments on unfolding
events.

Bracken was proud to proclaim himself “a caveman” in matters of public finance, firm in his conviction that high government expenditure on lush doles and social services, wage increases for workers and the taxation of profits were damaging Britain’s economy destroying, as he put it, “the spirit of enterprise that had once made our country great”.

He had little patience with those, like the economist Maynard Keynes, who thought countries should spend their way out of depression with budget deficits financed by government borrowing. “Keynes,” Bracken once wrote, “will be best remembered as the man who made inflation respectable.”

A Thatcherite before the term was invented, Bracken tried in vain, as a member of the Tory shadow cabinet in the post-war years, to woo his party away from its acceptance of nationalisation, state planning, bloated bureaucracy, taxation of the enterprising and lavish government expenditure.

Expressing his distaste for Marshall Aid from the United States, he wrote to a friend: “‘I don’t like this sort of mendicancy. The sooner John Bull stands on his own feet the better. This country rose to greatness through our own efforts and our determination to pay our own way.”

Declining office when his great friend Winston Churchill became prime minister again in 1951, Bracken railed in the background against the new chancellor “Rab” Butler because vanity had led him to choose popularity and stoke up inflation instead of making cutbacks.

It is, it may be thought, fitting that Michael Noonan, the high-priest of austerity who has restored some of our financial independence, should be honoured by Bracken’s heirs at the Banker “for braving unpopularity to serve the long-term national interest”.

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