(4/10) Thatcher was a great Tory Prime Minister but the party must also be inspired by other great conservatives
By Tim Montgomerie
Follow Tim on Twitter
Last week in Birmingham I presented a ten step plan to deliver the first Conservative majority since 1992. The plan is summarised on the new StrongAndCompassionate.com website. Parts one, two and three have already been published. This essay chimes with today's ConHome column from Peter Hoskin; 'Let’s look at the Thatcher Years in full, not just in parts'.
(Step 4) Without diminishing the importance of the 1980s, conservatism must again become bigger, deeper and richer than Thatcherism, drawing inspiration and identity from all of history’s conservative heroes.
If we are to develop the idea in point three of this plan - that we are a one nation party of prosperity and solidarity - we must take more pride in our party’s great traditions. Successful movements carefully develop iconographies. We must learn more about Conservative history and learn to tell the stories of that history. Margaret Thatcher was a great leader but Tories are too obsessed with her time in power. She was arguably modern conservatism’s greatest peacetime leader – rescuing Britain from economic and social decline - but conservative history did not begin in 1979. Moreover there is often an inaccurate remembering of her time in office. She was more pragmatic and conservative than some of today’s more doctrinaire and libertarian disciples would like to admit. On both sides of the Atlantic Anglo-Saxon Conservatism is in danger of becoming distorted by this unbalanced and inaccurate focus on the Thatcher and Reagan legacies. Too much focus on economic liberalism is crowding out the other great conservative traditions. They were right for their time but they were neither the first or last words of conservative thinking.
By studying the richness of conservative history we become a broader party again.
Of Shaftesbury and of social reform.
We remember that we are the party of Disraeli and of one nation, united under one flag.
We remember that we are the party of Pankhurst and of equality for women.
The party of Churchill – that for some time stood alone against the greatest threat to freedom that the world has ever known.
We remember that we are party of Rab Butler and education reform - of Harold Macmillan and therefore of property ownership.
The party of Major that turned the tide on the post-war rise in crime.
We are the greatest of parties with a proud record of achievement that didn’t begin in 1979 and didn’t end in 1990.
The following list of Tory heroes was written by Stephen Parkinson of the Conservative History Group.
William Wilberforce (1759–1833) – the abolition of slavery
Although, like his great friend Pitt the Younger, he rejected a party label, Wilberforce was a man of deep conservative principles. An evangelical Christian convert, he waged a long campaign for the abolition of slavery. It led to the Slavery Abolition Act 1833; he died just three days after learning that it would become law.
1st Duke of Wellington (1769–1852) – victory at Waterloo and Catholic Emancipation
After a military career which brought him great fame – particularly following his victory against Napoleon at Waterloo – Wellington went into politics. As Prime Minister, he overcame vehement opposition to pass the Roman Catholic Relief Act 1829, granting almost full civil rights to Catholics in the United Kingdom.
Sir Robert Peel (1788–1850) – father of modern policing
As Home Secretary for most of the 1820s, Peel made a number of significant reforms in law and order. His greatest legacy was the Metropolitan Police Act 1829, which established the first modern police force – its officers known as ‘bobbies’ in his honour. By 1857, all cities in the UK were required to have their own police force.
7th Earl of Shaftesbury (1801–85) – social reformer
From his maiden speech supporting improvements to lunatic asylums, Anthony Ashley-Cooper devoted himself to social reform – earning the sobriquet ‘the poor man’s Earl’. Though he barely held office, he helped to enact a number of reforms – improving factory conditions, limiting the use of child labour, and outlawing the employment of women and children in coal mines.
Benjamin Disraeli (1804–81) – bridged the gap between the ‘two nations’
Disraeli identified ‘two nations’ – the rich and the poor – in his 1845 novel, Sybil, and committed the Conservative Party to ‘elevat[ing] the condition of the people’. He gave the vote to working men in urban constituencies, and enacted many social reforms – including, in 1875 alone, the Artisans’ Dwellings Act (enabling slum clearance), the Climbing Boys Act (banning juvenile chimney sweeps), a Public Health Act, and measures to allow peaceful picketing.
3rd Marquess of Salisbury (1830–1903) – Villa Toryism
When Clement Attlee was asked to name the greatest Prime Minister of his lifetime, he replied: ‘Salisbury’. Initially wary of mass democracy, Salisbury was in fact the most electorally successful Tory leader of the nineteenth century, winning new support among the suburban middle class and transforming the Conservatives into a popular, national party committed to the maintenance of the United Kingdom.
Emmeline Pankhurst (1858–1928) – founded the Women’s Social and Political Union
After a left-wing youth, the famous leader of the suffragettes joined the Conservative Party under Stanley Baldwin in 1926 and was selected to contest the 1929 election in Stepney. However, weakened by periods of imprisonment, she died in 1928 – the year a Conservative Government gave women the vote on the same terms as men.
Neville Chamberlain (1869–1940) – welfare reform after the Great Depression
Though his premiership was overshadowed by foreign policy, Chamberlain had a remarkable domestic record. His housing subsidies stimulated a building programme which swept away the slums and helped bring Britain out of depression. Rent controls were introduced to protect the less well-off, along with unemployment benefit, health insurance, and paid holidays for most families.
Winston Churchill (1874–1965) – Second World War leader
From a lone voice in the wilderness to a triumphant wartime premier, Churchill’s blood, toil, tears, sweat – and rhetoric – saw Britain through her darkest hour. His acceptance of the 1945 Labour landslide brought the Conservatives back to power within six years – with a rejuvenated Party organisation and its largest ever membership (nearly 3 million).
R.A. Butler (1902–82) – 1944 Education Act
The greatest achievement of his long and distinguished political career, Butler’s 1944 Education Act extended free education to all. Grammar schools gave bright children from poor backgrounds the chance to rise up by merit, boosting social mobility and helping a generation to climb to the top of British society. Some of them, sadly, pulled the ladder up behind them.
Harold Macmillan (1894–1986) – built a property-owning democracy
As Housing Minister, Macmillan rashly pledged to build 300,000 new homes a year – but he delivered, and home ownership rose from under a third to nearly half by the end of his time as premier. The standard of living went up too (by 50 per cent), with earnings rising more than twice as quickly as prices.
Margaret Thatcher (1925–) – where there was despair, brought hope
Mrs. Thatcher smashed the post-war consensus to heal a country which had become the sick man of Europe. By 1990, Britain had had eight years of economic growth, 27 million people were in work – the highest ever figure – and the number of strikes was the lowest for half a century. Privatisation raised £27.5 billion for the public finances, nearly a quarter of the adult population owned shares, and more than a million council tenants were given the Right to Buy their own homes.
John Major (1943–) – cut crime; boosted growth; created the National Lottery
As well as initiating the Northern Ireland peace process and laying the foundations for Britain’s longest period of continuous economic growth, Major established the National Lottery. It has already raised more than £21 billion for good causes, supporting nearly 90 per cent of the British athletes at London 2012. With the help of his Home Secretary, Michael Howard, he turned the tide on crime – which fell by 18 per cent 1992–7.