Conservative Diary

Thatcher & Thatcherism

28 Jul 2012 17:08:26

David Willetts wants Conservatives to embrace the state (and he's right)

By Tim Montgomerie
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Willetts David BBCbSo much Olympics-related news overnight but I must point you to a typically thoughtful speech from David Willetts. David has been one of the party's most interesting intellectuals for more than a generation but he hasn't done much public thinking for some time. In a speech to the Bright Blue group today he has put that right. His remarks are multi-layered and I encourage you to read them in full via this PDF. I want to briefly focus on his remarks about the state.

"One of the strengths of the Conservative tradition," says Willetts, "is that ultimately we understand we are rooted in the British people as they are, not as some theory says they should be." "There is a strand of Conservative utopianism which is uncomfortable with this," he continues, "though for us as Conservatives our utopia tends to be in the past." Last night Danny Boyle portrayed Britain as it is. Not all of Britain, certainly. But a lot of Britain. My friends and family loved the whole event. Only on Twitter and in the blogosphere do I find a few right-wingers moaning. People who have to retain a readership of thousands rather than mobilise the millions necessary for majority government seem uncomfortable with celebrating Britain's diversity, with respect for gay people and popular support for the NHS and some kind of welfare state. The most important political point that Willetts makes is one recently made by New Zealand PM John Key and, in an American context, Francis Fukuyama... Conservatives must embrace the state. Not a big, unfocused state but an enabling state. It must certainly be limited but so, too, must it be strong.

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11 May 2012 13:42:00

Divided parties are "entirely healthy", says John Redwood

By Matthew Barrett
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On Wednesday, Tim Montgomerie reported the 1922 Committee's difficult meeting, in which pro-leadership backbenchers clashed with those some might characterise as too ready to attack the leadership. Clearly this infighting is causing some problems, and can't make backbench life easy. One complaint, usually made by modernising MPs, is that the very fact we know some of the details of the heated meeting is evidence of the 1922 being an ineffective and anti-leadership force. Many MPs feel the 1922 should be a place to talk privately, and find it disappointing that details of notable meetings invariably find their way into the press. 

Redwood on NewsnightHowever, on the subject of division in general, one senior backbencher has taken a different angle. John Redwood blogged earlier today:

"I feel one of the old myths reappearing in the political debate. Some are out and about saying that the Conservative party has to be more united to stay elected. They clearly remember no political history. Margaret Thatcher and Tony Blair were both very successful Prime Ministers when it came to winning elections. Both won three in a row with large majorities. Both led divided parties, with very visible splits."

He does add one important caveat:

"None of this is to say that divisions and mega personality rows at the top are a good thing, but it is a reminder that unity is not the main thing that electors look for. They look for a strong economy, for their own rising living standards, and for other policy changes that go in a direction they like."

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31 Mar 2012 08:56:44

If Ministers wish to confront the unions, tanker drivers are not the right way to do it

By Matthew Barrett
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Petrol station panicToday's news is filled with stories about the fuel crisis (or non-crisis). The pattern of stories is as follows: Ministers told the public to stock up on petrol. So they did. But it turns out the strike was never a sure thing, there had simply been ballot action urging a strike. So now we've all got more petrol than we needed, and we needn't have bothered anyway. Or something along those lines.

But Charles Moore's Daily Telegraph column - as is often the case - contains a passage that should make Conservatives question this fuel strike story:

"When I first heard Francis Maude’s suggestion on Sky News that we might all stock up “a bit of extra fuel with a jerry can in the garage”, I did not, I must admit, panic. His remark seemed a little unwise – and you could hear, by the way he immediately began to qualify it, that he thought so too – but I let it pass... But now that I have heard the Conservatives’ private explanation, which is being handed down to constituency associations by MPs, I begin to feel angry. The private message is as follows. “This is our Thatcher moment. In order to defeat the coming miners’ strike, she stockpiled coal. When the strike came, she weathered it, and the Labour Party, tarred by the strike, was humiliated. In order to defeat the coming fuel drivers’ strike, we want supplies of petrol stockpiled. Then, if the strike comes, we will weather it, and Labour, in hock to the Unite union, will be blamed.”"

As Moore goes on to point out, the difference between the two situations is that Mrs Thatcher's government built up coal reserves. They did not simply urge the public to go out and buy coal in the hope enough would be panic-bought to weather the storm. Moore concludes with this point: "In 2012, the Coalition is trying to press-gang the public, without saying so, into its political battles. All those people queuing on the forecourts were pawns in a Government-organised blame-game."

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27 Jan 2012 10:46:22

To Sayeeda Warsi falls the duty of countering Nick Clegg... and defending Margaret Thatcher's tax system

By Paul Goodman
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THATCHER 1979Thatcher's tax settlement...

Margaret Thatcher inherited economic ruin and high taxes, and the two were intimately connected to each other.  The top rate of income tax was 83% and the basic rate was 33%. She believed that such rates thwarted enterprise, slowed growth, depressed revenues as avoidance thrived, and thus ultimately deprived the public services of the funds they needed as well as citizens of money that should rightfully be theirs.  By the time she left office, that top rate had been slashed to 40% and the basic rate to 25% - and revenues had come rolling in to the Treasury to fund schools, hospitals, roads, railways and all the rest of it.

She eventually lost patience with her first Chancellor, Geoffrey Howe, over Europe (very broadly, because he was a fervent Euro-enthusiast) and her second lost patience with her over the same matter (though more narrowly, because although he was suspicious of the Euro-project he was a supporter of the exchange rate mechanism, having given up on monetary targets).  It is therefore easy to forget how close this tiny band of believers were, personally and ideologically, when they first came into Government together, and how isolated, too - and to fail to honour them all for shaping a tax settlement that dominated British politics for a generation.

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19 Jan 2012 14:50:35

David Cameron's moral capitalism speech emphasises free markets and the Tories' popular capitalist roots

By Matthew Barrett
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Cameron banking speechDavid Cameron's much-previewed speech on "moral capitalism" is not particularly heavy on grand policy statements. Any policies on boardroom/executive pay have already been announced - earlier this month, Cameron told the Andrew Marr Show that shareholders should get a binding vote on executive pay scales, and that boardrooms should be more transparent. This is comparable to Ed Miliband's position, which the BBC summarised a few days before Cameron's Marr appearance:

"Labour's measures to tackle high executive pay include increasing transparency by simplifying remuneration packages. Companies should also publish a pay ratio between the highest paid executive and the company median average - and the government could publish a league table highlighting the biggest pay gaps. Accountability could be promoted by putting an obligation on investors and pension fund managers to disclose how they vote on remuneration packages."

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9 Jan 2012 16:04:40

Baroness Warsi is the most powerful example of Tory feminism

By Joseph Willits 
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WarsiWith the release of 'The Iron Lady' last Friday, political commentary has focused on feminism, and women in politics a great deal. This morning in a Telegraph blog, Cristina Odone discusses the superiority of Tory feminism. She writes:

"Blue feminists don’t go in for the tokenism their red counterparts support. They despise positive discrimination as a confidence-sapper. Red feminists want the nomenklatura filled with quotas and box-ticking representatives; but blue feminists argue that women, like men, should be chosen on merit, not sex. Knowing they’re the best for the job gives them the self-confidence that the Left’s token women lack."

Whilst other commentators have been keen to focus on rising female Tory MPs such as Louise Mensch, Claire Perry and Amber Rudd as examples of card carrying Tory feminists, a more subtle, yet incredibly powerful example would be that of Baroness Warsi.

Commenting on the guilty verdict for Stephen Lawrence's killers, Trevor Phillips cited Warsi's position in the Cabinet, as an example of how far politics and race relations had come since 1993.

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8 Jan 2012 12:28:25

Cameron tells Andrew Marr that "every avenue of policy is about helping the economy to grow"

By Joseph Willits 
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Screen shot 2012-01-08 at 11.41.06On this morning's Andrew Marr Show, Cameron reiterated his commitment to battle against "crony capitalism" and pursue a transparent agenda. Both the Observer and the Sunday Telegraph reported that the Prime Minister would personally back plans to make shareholder remuneration votes mandatory. Speaking to Andrew Marr, Cameron said that "pay going up and up and up when it’s not commensurate with success businesses are having" was wrong in a time of "market failure". He continued:

"Excessive growth in payment unrelated to success that’s frankly ripping off the shareholder and the customer, and is crony capitalism and is wrong ... payments for failures, big rewards when people fail, make people’s blood boil."

Cameron promised "clear transparency" in three ways:

  • "The publication of proper pay numbers, so you can really see what people are being paid".
  • "Binding shareholder votes so the owners of the company are being asked to vote on the pay levels".
  • A shareholder "vote on any parts about dismissal packages and payments for failure.”

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4 Jan 2012 18:06:24

Britain's premiere of 'The Iron Lady' takes place this evening

By Joseph Willits 
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Ahead of this evening's European premiere at the BFI on London's Southbank, here is another opportunity to watch the trailer (ahead of Friday's release) of Phyllida Lloyd's The Iron Lady, starrring Meryl Streep as Margaret Thatcher. Before any Oscar nominations have been announced, Streep is already the bookies favourite to win Best Actress at the awards on February 26th.

The press has carried both criticism and praise for the film today. Former Foreign Secretary Douglas Hurd has described the portrayal of Thatcher's dementia as "ghoulish", adding to comments previously made by Norman Tebbit, who said Thatcher was never "the half-hysterical, over-emotional, over-acting woman portrayed by Meryl Streep." 

Director Phyllida Lloyd has defended her portrayal of Thatcher's old age, denying it is as "ghoulish" as Hurd suggests:

"We all felt that a portrait of somebody who is experiencing a failure of strength and health and forgetfulness is not a shameful thing to put on the screen. It's something that Meryl [Streep, who plays Lady Thatcher], and Abi Morgan [the writer] and I felt was a really worthwhile exploration".

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30 Dec 2011 08:38:59

Thatcher's determination to buy Trident and defeat economic wets revealed in 1981 Cabinet papers

By Tim Montgomerie
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In the week we learnt that Margaret Thatcher is still the Tory grassroots' favourite politician we get more insight into her government today. Under the thirty year disclosure rule the National Archive has released documents related to her government of 1981. The newspapers' coverage of those documents is summarised below.

THATCHER 1979The Liverpool riots and northern decline: "Margaret Thatcher was secretly urged to abandon Liverpool to ‘managed decline’ in the wake of the Toxteth riots, secret files released today reveal. Her senior ministers told her not to waste public money on the ‘stony ground’ of Merseyside, suggesting it would be like ‘trying to make water flow uphill’." - Daily Mail. The FT (£) implies that some thought northern cities in general could not be successfully regenerated.

Arming the police: The Thatcher Government considered arming the police because of the riots and also to ensure order during the Royal Wedding between Charles and Diana - ITN

Unions were linked with rioters: "Referring to the need to garner support for curbing trade union power, John Hoskyns, head of Mrs Thatcher’s policy unit, proposed: “We should try – implicitly and subtly, not very obviously – to link in people’s minds the moral similarity between high pay claims demanded with menaces and other forms of anti-social behaviour, including rioting and looting.” - FT (£)

Navy cuts before the Falklands: "The Prime Minister became embroiled in a bitter row with the First Sea Lord, Admiral Sir Henry Leach, over planned defence cuts. Sir Henry was later to convince Lady Thatcher she should send a naval task force to re-take the Falklands – but in the spring of 1981 he was furious over her “unbalanced devastation” of the armed forces." - Yorkshire Post

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28 Dec 2011 08:56:50

Tory members feel closest to the politics of Margaret Thatcher and Boris Johnson

By Tim Montgomerie
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In another ToryDiary this morning I note that the Tory grassroots are much more satisfied with David Cameron's leadership after his popular decision to veto the EU Treaty. We also asked members to rate fifteen politicians on a scale of minus five (furthest from their political views) to plus five (closest to their views). The results reveal that Margaret Thatcher's politics are still the gold standard for the party faithful. Boris Johnson is the highest rated of today's active politicians.

I don't think the survey results should be seen as an indication of how members would vote in a leadership contest. Although members, for example, may feel ideologically closer to David Davis or George Osborne the PM would handily beat either in a leadership contest. When electing a leader people don't just look for an ideological fit.