Alf Roberts would have been appalled by ‘Thatcherism’

Yesterday’s barking put me in mind of my favourite passage in John Campbell’s generally very good first instalment of his biography of Margaret Thatcher, The Grocer’s Daughter (2000):

“Politically she embraced – and at the zenith of her premiership enthusiastically promoted – materialistic values and an ideology of consumption, based on the easy availability of credit, which would have made Alderman Roberts blench. To Brian Walden in 1981 she admitted that her father disapproved of the Stock Market, which he considered ‘a form of gambling’. She explicitly abandoned his dedication to serving the whole community (‘Together – and for all’) in favour of a blatant policy of rewarding her favoured supporters, the home-owning middle class. She devoted much of the energy of her administration to destroying the independence and vitality of local government, to which Alfred had given his life. One could even see her loathing of railways as a rejection of Grantham. All the while, however, she continued to hymn the homely values of the corner shop, lauding the neighbourly virtues of the ‘small town’ and the ‘close family’ in which she had been brought up, as a smokescreen for the increasingly fractured society her policies were deliberately creating. Alf Roberts would have been appalled by ‘Thatcherism’.” (pp.29-30)

The thought about the railways seems a little forced (a bit like the old theories about Mrs Thatcher’s fondness for America possibly stemming from adolescent encounters with G.I.s based in England during the war). But the rest seems to me to be quite right, and insufficiently appreciated.


Dan writes in to the Virtual Stoa:

Did you see the Telegraph editorial yesterday? It concludes with the line (repeated on the front page), “Yesterday was the most desperate day in the history of the Conservative Party.” Now there must SURELY be some competition for that particular title…

Does anyone have any alternative suggestions? Do send them in. In fact, I hadn’t read that particular leader – and I’m very glad Dan pointed it out. Near the end, Charles Moore (or whoever) writes this:

It’s a remarkable passage. First, in the way in which it transplants the rhetoric of “Tory democracy” out of its nineteenth-century context (and the notion that the Tory party might in fact do rather well out of the extended franchise of 1867) into a purely internal party matter. Second, because it itself illustrates the depth of the crisis in the Tory party – still in agonies about the removal of Mrs Thatcher in 1990, all those years ago. The parliamentary party conspired to get rid of Thatcher, against the desires of the grassroots, because they were terrified that they would lose the 1992 election with her in charge. And they were almost certainly right, and the party won the election that followed. Similarly, today, elements of the parliamentary party – with their finely developed instinct for electoral survival – want to get rid of IDS for the single reason that they are already convinced they will lose ignominiously if he leads them into an election, in the manner advocated by the leader column. And they are almost certainly right, again. And it is the Telegraph and the party grassroots who seem to have the most developed death instinct – which would be comic, if it weren’t so comic already.

Shadow Cabinet

How well do you know the Shadow Cabinet? (How well do you want to know them? I scored 9 out of 10, which seems an embarrassingly high score, really. Never having heard of Tim Collins was a problem).

Nick wrote [13.10.2002]: This has to be one of the cruellest things I have ever seen. 3/10, BTW. And I thought I was paying attention.

Martin wrote [14.10.2002]: I only managed 8/10, I fear, also never having heard of Tim Collins. I had no idea that Eric Pickles, that foul grotesque, was now in the Shadow Cabinet. Talk about scraping the bottom of the barrel. There really isn’t a single redeeming feature among the current Shadow Cabinet. By comparison, to remember figures like Denzil Davies is to remember an era of political Leviathans. What a sorry damn state we’re now in.

Josephine wrote [15.10.2002]: I got 3/10 too, and I had never actually heard of any of them, so I don’t think Nick was paying much attention. I had heard of Michael Howard, but I think I got that one wrong.

Nick wrote [17.10.2002]: Picky, picky, picky. So it’s somehow *my* fault the Tories today are a crowd of anonymous no-hopers, Josephine? I vaguely remember Michael Howard, too… “the worst Home Secretary since Henry Brooke,” or some such.

Tory Party Conference

Here are some of the better bits of Theresa May’s speech to the Tory Party conference earlier today. Every word is true, every promise credible, oh yes. (The whole thing is here, but you really shouldn’t bother.)

Some Tories have indulged themselves in petty feuding or personal sniping instead of getting behind a leader who is doing an enormous amount to change a party which has suffered two massive landslide defeats….And there are reasons for real optimism. The Conservative Party has made progress this year and has laid the foundation for sustainable progress ahead. The reason is clear. Iain Duncan Smith has had the courage to recognise the seriousness of our problems and the imagination to develop a programme for recovery…

And on Wednesday afternoon you won’t just have Oliver Letwin’s speech, you will have, in your hands, a campaign pack for you to take the message of this conference out onto the streets where the real battle is there to be fought…

Yes we’ve made progress.

But let’s not kid ourselves. There’s a way to go before we can return to government.

There’s a lot we need to do in this Party of ours. Our base is too narrow and so, occasionally, are our sympathies. You know what some people call us – the nasty party.

I know that’s unfair. You know that’s unfair but it’s the people out there we need to convince – and we can only do that by avoiding behaviour and attitudes that play into the hands of our opponents. No more glib moralising, no more hypocritical finger wagging…

Yes, indeed. There’ll be no more glib moralising, finger-wagging, petty feuding or personal sniping. From now on it’s straight forward to victory with Iain Duncan Smith!

Dan writes [15.10.2002]: I thought you might appreciate this.

Ed Vaizey

I suggested a couple of weeks ago that Mr Duncan Smith’s Shadow Cabinet were a pathetic bunch of losers, or something similar. So do go and look at Ed Vaizey’s effort in The Guardian to persuade us of the contrary opinion. Ed Vaizey thinks that Michael Howard “is the Rudy Giuliani of British politics. He has never been loved by the public, but he is someone the public instinctively turns to when it wants genuine action” Do you turn to Michael Howard when you want some genuine action?

The C Team

The Conservative Party began to relaunch itself yesterday, with the election of Iain Duncan Smith as its new Leader.

David Lloyd George’s coalition government fell in 1922 when the parliamentary Conservative Party voted heavily to withdraw its support at the famous Carlton Club meeting of 19 October. As well as precipitating Lloyd George’s departure from office for the last time, the vote also led to the resignation of the Tory leader in the House of Commons Austen Chamberlain, who was the son of Joseph and a half-brother to Neville, as well as being, of course, the last Tory leader before William Hague who was never also Prime Minister.

Andrew Bonar Law became Prime Minister and Leader of the Conservative Party, but his ministry was not a strong one. In today’s language, a handful of the Tories’ “big beasts” refused to serve, including both Arthur Balfour (PM 1902-05, Foreign Secretary, 1916-19, etc.) and Chamberlain himself (War Cabinet, India Office, Chancellor, etc, 1915-22), and this led Winston Churchill — who also lost office in 1922 owing to his then association with the Lloyd George Liberals — to label the new administration of Bonar Law, Stanley Baldwin and various peers “a government of the second eleven”.

Let me pursue this useful analogy and be the first to brand the new Tory front bench an opposition of the Tory Party’s Third Eleven. It is quite simple. The last time the Tories fielded their 1st XI was in the early 1990s. The big beasts (although I’m not sure they were called that then) were all there: Michael Heseltine, Kenneth Clarke, Douglas Hurd, James MacKay, probably Malcolm Rifkind, possibly John Major; there were also of course assorted knaves and fools like Jonathan Aitken and William Waldegrave to make up the numbers, but in general, whatever one made of their politics, many of these people were at least credible as senior government ministers. From the middle of the 1990s until the present we’ve had the “B” team in charge: William Hague, Brian Mawhinney, Michael Portillo, Peter Lilley, Michael Howard, Ann Widdecombe, Francis Maude, and so on. And now with the premature passing of this political generation in another instalment of electoral oblivion, the Tories have picked a comically poor new squad to challenge for power. Iain Duncan Smith is now the Leader — and it is not too early to say that he will become the _second_ Tory Leader since Austen Chamberlain never to make it to the top job. Oliver Letwin is Shadow Home Secretary. Liam Fox at Health. David MacLean as Chief Whip. John Bercow. Eric Pickles. I could go on in this vein for a while. And together with these assorted mediocrities, we also have a blast of unsavoury wind from the past with the restoration of the odious Michael Howard, who is now Shadow Chancellor.

Part of this, of course, owes to the passage of time. Perhaps I am also being nostalgic in automatically thinking that today’s politicians just aren’t what they once were? Several members of the Tory team are no longer available for selection for various reasons, some of them electoral. (As many serving Cabinet Ministers lost their seats in 1997 as in the previous thirteen General Elections put together.) Political careers are getting shorter and shorter all the time — William Hague, the extreme case, is all washed up and he only turned forty in March. And no doubt a part of the problem owes to the difficulties of running a decent Opposition front bench with only 160-odd MPs from which to try to squeeze out the remaining droplets of talent. But the mediocrity of Mr Duncan Smith’s team is very striking, and it makes the Labour ministers look like Parliamentary giants. Quite an achievement. And whatever my reservations about the “New” Labour government, the continuing decade-long disintegration of the Conservative Party which began, I suppose, in the Autumn of 1992 — not so much with the pound’s ejection from the ERM as with Mr Heseltine’s difficulties over the pit closures — is still immensely entertaining to watch.