Do we need a dose of Thatcherism?

The old battle lines are being redrawn as if it were 1979 all over again. Let me surprise you with my answer to the question. Some daring commentators suggest we need a new dose of Thatcherism. Labour are out to portray their old caricatures and lies about the Thatcher era. My answer to the question is “No, we don’t”. But then, I never saw myself as a “Thatcherite”.

Don’t misunderstand me. This is not some latter day conversion on the road to Damascus, not some repentance for past sins which I only committed in the fertile imagination of my opponents. I admired Margaret Thatcher then, and defend her still, for two great qualities she brought to the job of Prime Minister – honesty and courage. She was the best boss I ever worked for. If only her successors as PM had half her honesty in tackling problems and half her courage we would be in a much better position today. She was not driven by focus groups and by the best spin. She wanted honest anslysis of problems from her advisers, and serious debate of options for tackling them. She would back a course of action if she believed it was right, even if it were unpopular. I hope our next Prime Minister will share those caracteristics, as they will be much needed.

The reasons I do not think we need another dose of Thatcherism are two fold. There are presentational reasons, ever popular in today’s debased politics, and reasons of policy.

Thatcherism was a creed defined as much by its opponents stressing what they did not like as by its supporters turning it into a cannon of truth and light. I have never written essays defining or defending Thatcherism, as in a way to do so is to accept the opposition baggage that was deliberately heaped on the idea. Labour were always good at spin, even when they were losing by a mile. They endowed Thatcherism with the negatives – cuts, get on your bike, there is no such thing as society. Some of their imputations were lies, others selective half truths that misrepresented by failing to point out the purpose or the greater good being served. The current crisis facing our country is different from that in 1979. We do not have time to waste fighting the presentational battles of the past.

Today we do not face a problem of excess Trade Union power making it impossible for any government to govern. In 1979 we were very conscious that Trade Union power had gravely damaged the first Wilson government, defeating their Trade Union policy “In place of Strife”, had brought down the Heath government, and had brought down the Callaghan gvernment through the winter of discontent. The next government has no such bitter legacy, and would be wise to see modern Trade Unions as a force for the good whilst not being a push over when it comes to public service management.

Today we do not face an immediate inflationary surge as we did in 1979. The money taps were only turned on in late 2008, so it takes time. With broken banks it takes longer.

We do, on the other hand, face a spending and borrowing crisis on an altogether bigger scale than that of 1979. In 1979 we were a couple of years beyond the IMF visit and their enforced cuts, which started the process of sobering up after the big spend. In 2010 we will be at the peak of unprecedented waste and over spending. We need to tackle the immediate problem of malfunctioning, highly expensive and loss making nationalised banks, which were absent in 1979. Unless we get the banks to work better and return them to the private sector promptly, not much else will work. We need more banks, and more competitive banks. We need to split up the naitonalised monoliths as quickly as possible.

There is one important similarity. Just as in 1979, we face long months of rising unemployment, as the full impact of the disastrous economic policy is felt. To sort this out requires the maximum degree of common purpose throughout society. That is why another dose of Thatcherism would set the wrong tone. We need a new dose of a new medicine for the dreadfully damaged economy. Welfare reform and banking reform are essential ingredients. The agenda of popular capitalism, empowering more people in the economic life of the nation, will also be part of the answer. Everyman and woman an owner is a slogan for a future that could work.

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58 Comments

  1. Mike Stallard
    Posted August 23, 2009 at 6:59 am | Permalink

    Angela Merkel has, in my opinion, debased herself with an advertisement based on the size of her breasts. Underneath is a slogan which reads something like “I give more.”
    That is how we have come to see the State: a huge bowser of milk. Important people drink most. The left, who provide a lot of income for skivers on Quangos and even more for their own fact finding missions and Public School Education, are loudest in condemnation of fat cat bankers here.
    Less important people take the dole and compensation. I mean, it isn’t fair, is it that Skye, who has five children and a selection of husbands, should be out of work. Have some compassion!
    Middle people take salaries out of taxes. They will defend this to the death: they do not like being on the dole.
    We ancients all want free bus passes, the very best medical treatment – it is our right, after all, isn’t it. I mean we’ve paid and look at little Rockall who has cancer!!!
    Unless we stop seeing the State as some sort of breast and start to see it as our hands, then we are going to go the way of Argentina, Iceland and Turkey, and perhaps even Zimbabwe and Weimar.

    The million pound question is this: can Mr Cameron really do anything about this very national attitude?
    Probably not.
    But we can!

  2. Stuart Fairney
    Posted August 23, 2009 at 7:45 am | Permalink

    If I hear one more socialist mis-quoting the “no such thing as society” soundbite, from a speech they have never even heard much less read, I may scream

    All good common sense, though I fancy inflation maybe with us a tad sooner than some commentators believe due to fast eroding confidence in the national fiat currency. And when such an inflation starts, it can become horribly fast and self-sustaining as confidence ebbs away.

  3. Silent Hunter
    Posted August 23, 2009 at 7:58 am | Permalink

    NO!

    “Thatcherism”, or rather the “Greed is Good” culture it nurtured, is why we’re in the appalling mess that we are today.

    The last thing we need is more of the same repressive, authoritarian, Nanny knows best, government that we have had to suffer under for most of my adult life.

    Good grief! . . . I never thought that ‘I’ would end up living in . . .

    “Interesting times” :o(

    • Stuart Fairney
      Posted August 23, 2009 at 9:55 pm | Permalink

      You are confusing Thatcherism with a Michael Douglas film critical of the same. It was parody not reality surely you realise that?

      Repressive, authoritarian, nanny state? Surely you speak of the present not the past?

      And one final point, why is it Baroness Thatcher’s fault (who left office in 1990, ie 19 years ago) that we have a record budget deficit today?

  4. Silent Hunter
    Posted August 23, 2009 at 8:00 am | Permalink

    Sorry! that emoticon should be 🙁

    Clearly the addition of a ‘nose’ has transformed its meaning somewhat.

  5. Waramess
    Posted August 23, 2009 at 8:38 am | Permalink

    I despair at the direction in which the Conservative party seems to be heading.

    Margaret Thatcher was no more defined by her stance against the unions than she was by her de-nationalisation of steel, telecoms, gas, and electricity and so on nor by her scrapping of exchange controls: Margaret Thatcher was defined by her courage and her principals, none of which were up for changing just because the Labour party didn’t like them.

    Cameron gives the impression that he has no principals and where he seems to display any the Labour party do not like he changes them: I have principals and if you don’t like them I have others.

    Historically the Tory party has been a party of right wing economic policies and Margaret Thatcher was true to this.

    Cameron seems to be taking the party to new lows and looking to capture Middle England at all costs, such that we risk the majority of “new” Tory supporters having left wing views; ingrained after such a long period of socialist rule, leaving the right of the party to move its vote to the likes of UKIP or more likely to not vote at all.

    It appears that it will not be long before any Tory MP with right wing views will be excluded from high office, if that has not already happened.

    The risk with this policy, if it can be described as such is that it is open to a charismatic Labour leader, like Blair, to come and snatch it away. Look at Camerons support levels when Blair was in power if you are in any doubt.

    We may face new challenges today but that is not to say we face challenges that require different responses to those shown by Margaret Thatcher; we will need a leader with courage; courage to stand up to the Bank of England and courage to stand up to all those Keynesian economists that have been spawned out of demand over the past decade, and most of all to stand up to the Civil Servants who will resist change at all cost.

    We will more than all need a leader with unshakeable beliefs and principals that will see him through the dark lonely hours ahead

    Reply: I quite agree that the next Prime Minister does need some of Margaret Thatcher’s courage and honesty – I thought that was clear from the piece I wrote.

    • Simon D
      Posted August 23, 2009 at 1:03 pm | Permalink

      I know what direction in which the Conservative party is heading. It looks as if it is heading to electoral victory with a working majority. This would not be the case if David Cameron had adopted Thatcherite policies updated to allow for 20 years of change. All those floating voters in Milton Keynes would be reaching for the garlic and hiding in the broom cupboard.

      Politics is the art of the possible. Nothing is possible if you fail to get elected to government. Perhaps someone from UKIP, the market leaders in wasted votes, could explain the benefits of another five years of Labour government. If enough people vote UKIP that’s what we will get.

      The Conservatives will never be re-elected on a right wing ticket.

      • Freddy
        Posted August 23, 2009 at 5:52 pm | Permalink

        We-e-e-ell, I wonder. Selecting Cameron might have been the right thing to do back when the economy was still rosy, but is he the right person to have now ? If the Tories had selected Davis, and if he had done sensible things like making Mr Redwood the Shadow Chancellor, and if they had spent the years since then telling it like it is/was, as New Labour’s boom turned to bust … and now would be able to sit there saying “told you so”, or some politically sophisticated equivalent.
        I dunno, you could be right, but I am far from convinced.

      • Don't Call Me Dave
        Posted August 23, 2009 at 5:53 pm | Permalink

        The Conservatives will get elected on the same basis that Labour won in 1997. Voters didn’t think that Tony Blair had the best policies for Britain. They were simply sick to death of the previous government, plain and simple, and wanted a change.

        Of course, the politicians will never admit to it, but policies play very little part in determining who people vote for.

      • Waramess
        Posted August 24, 2009 at 7:35 am | Permalink

        You have a right to your opinions even though they may be considered by some to be somewhat shallow.

        There is indeed no point in having principles without power but this does not justify having power without principles. That would be to tread the same road as Blair.

        I would cautiously agree that we must get rid of the wrecker Brown at all costs but someone then has to carry on with the job of governing.

        In my lifetime people have said on many occasions that right wing economics is dead; it never is. Sound money and free market disciplines has saved Britain every time the socialists have had the opportunity to test out statist economics.

        reply: When have I ever failed to stand up for more freedom and a sound fiscal position based on a smaller state? Remember I was the only MP who denounced the bank naitonalisations in public at the moment of nationalisation.

        • Waramess
          Posted August 24, 2009 at 11:33 am | Permalink

          My reply was intended for Simon D.

          You have indeed always stood up for a sound fiscal position as you say and a smaller state involvment.

  6. alan jutson
    Posted August 23, 2009 at 9:00 am | Permalink

    John I agree with your points that we do not need another Thatcher, But we do need a leader with courage, honesty and commonsense in spadeloads, as this surely must be the very basic requirement of anyone who proposes to be a leader of a nation.

    What we also need is a Prime Minister who REALLY understands what is happening at grass roots levels, and its effect on the population.

    The waste of talent and misery that unemployment causes for those who geuinely are looking for work.

    The scandel of waste in public spending.

    The big brother metality of a Government who seem to want to ineterfere with, and dictate policy on everyones lives.

    The complexity of our laws.

    The complexity of our tax system.

    The complexity of our benefits system

    The thought that our armed forces can still act as the worlds policemen.

    We also need Mp’s who are prepared to serve the public first, and themselves last (not a dig at you).

    Not sure any Party opposition leader fits the bill yet.

    Clearly any leader also needs competent backroom staff to investigate and shape policy ideas ready, for analysis, discussion and implication. I can think of a few competent people here, yourself and Frank Field spring immediately to mind.

    reply: The distinction I was making was between the lady herself – a great leader – and the ism that some attached to her

  7. APL
    Posted August 23, 2009 at 9:00 am | Permalink

    JR: “I admired Margaret Thatcher then, and defend her still, for two great qualities she brought to the job of Prime Minister – honesty and courage.”

    Those two qualities would be good in the next Prime minister too, you know.

  8. Brian Tomkinson
    Posted August 23, 2009 at 9:02 am | Permalink

    Here we go again looking for another slogan. Last week it was the “progressive party”, prior to that wasn’t it “compassionate Conservatives”, “heir to Blair” or some such tosh? We need honesty, integrity and determination to implement the policies essential to undo the endless damage done by Labour. I don’t care what you call it. Margaret Thatcher did have all those qualities. Will those qualities be brought to this enormous task by the Conservatives under Cameron’s leadership?
    The inflationary surge will come during the first term of the next government. We don’t have deflation, contrary to what we are continually told. If you don’t have a certain type of mortgage the RPI figure is mere fiction. The CPI is only just below its 2% target and the Bank of England is busily printing more money which is currently used to finance government profligacy. I want to think that a Conservative government will have the ability and determination to deal with these massive problems and control inflation at a low level, but I remain to be convinced.

  9. Phil Cowburn
    Posted August 23, 2009 at 9:32 am | Permalink

    It is probably wishful thinking that a Conservative government tackling with massive debts and deficits can avoid being labelled Thatcherite. But the answer may have to be ‘yes, if that means courage, honesty and real government instead of spin and statistical manipulation’.

    But it also seems to me that to support the levels of public services that are necessary, the Treasury has to liberate some of them- the personal ones- into the marketplace, where individuals can have direct impact, topping them up if they wish. Schools, NHS and pensions/elderly care would benefit from this approach. Treasury involvement would be to pay competing providers, as selected by individual consumers on the basis of convenience and quality and their flat rate monthly charge (should the provider decide to make one), fixed per capita sums for meeting statutory standards.

    That way a real market will result increasing resources without raising taxes. Indeed it could allow taxes to be reduced by giving tax allowances for the top-up charges. Resulting in natural growth in areas where demand is inevitably increasing without increased tax.

  10. David Gale
    Posted August 23, 2009 at 9:57 am | Permalink

    It’s all too easy to look to the familiar culprits in making an assessment of the requirements for the government of the day. Increasingly, however, there is an area of government that has been held untouchable for all too long. Whitehall chiefs now conduct the affairs of state with all of the worst idiosyncrasies of baronial thiefdoms.

    Whilst the media focus on the excessive expenses of elected representatives, all corners of government policy are held to ransom by the fortress walls erected to protect the delineated empires of senior civil servants. E-Government policy is one example where the opportunity to deliver true transformation has been missed. Instead of a building a flexible framework to benefit citizens, we have been treated to a monumental pig-fest as half-hearted attempts have played into the hands of favoured suppliers, with the deal ensuring that the empires stay intact.

    Is it ignorance or expedience that prevents the UK from delivering a 10-15 year strategy for enabling technology to deliver true transformation in a sustainable way? Who hijacked the vision of empowering citizens by giving them control of their own information? Senior civil servants delivered this deflection by design, hidden under the smoke-screen that is short-term performance managed targets that masquerade as political accountability.

    Perhaps the need for revolution spiked with Thatcherite zeal is a little closer to the corridors of Whitehall?

  11. Freddy
    Posted August 23, 2009 at 10:05 am | Permalink

    Ooof – careful with the phrase “Common purpose”. If you haven’t come across it, it is one of those non-charities, with a particular line in networking and spin doctoring seminars. I don’t have any direct experience, but I keep coming across people who have, and who seem to put it second only to the BBC in spreading the NewLabour dogmas throughout our public sector.

    The tone of this piece is somewhat different from normal. Which is interesting.

    reply: I was not plannign to defect! I see no reason why a phrase like common purpose should be hijacked by the left. It needs to be our common purpose in the years ahead to reform the public service, to cut the deficit by cutting spending, and to getmany more people back to work. There is no need to be ideological or to be aggressive of language when the task is so difficult and when it needs more than just the government to change the way they do things.

  12. Adam Collyer
    Posted August 23, 2009 at 10:07 am | Permalink

    I suspect the general public are rather more robust in their attitudes than you are being in this blog today, John.

    The NHS provides filthy hospitals, long waits and inhuman treatment of suffering patients, and the public know it very well. Local government is fat, lazy and inefficient and the public know it very well. Our schools are an undisciplined mess that has failed a generation of youngsters already and is hard at work failing a second generation – and the public know it very well. Our transport system is characterised by congestion, crumbling infrastructure and lack of capacity, and the public know it very well. And our government is now running an unsustainable deficit whilst providing services only fit for a banana republic. And the public know that too.

    The State is completely broken in this country – and the public now know this very well. By falling back into the tired old debates of 20 years ago the Left are playing into our hands. The discussion has moved on. The public are waiting for new ideas to solve all these problems, not minor changes and better management of the broken system. There is a public appetite for radical change that we have not seen since 1945. I believe the public’s disillusion with politics in general has been caused by the failure of politicians of all parties to offer any more than tinkering. Carpe diem.

    • Mike Stallard
      Posted August 23, 2009 at 4:15 pm | Permalink

      I totally agree.
      But now let us ask: how would this read in tomorrow’s papers?
      Mail:WOUNDED SOLDIER STARVED OF HOSPITAL COMPENSATION. Defence Secretary quotes necessary reforms in NHS.
      Telegraph: GOVERNMENT TO PUT TAX CUTS ON HOLD. Chancellor blames Labour’s deficit.
      Guardian: TORIES TO CUT FRONT LINE SERVICES. Minister of Local Government announces removal of seven quangos.
      FT: DEFICIT CLIMBS DESPITE GOVERNMENT CUTS.
      etc…etc….
      Will reform really win the election?

      • Adam Collyer
        Posted August 23, 2009 at 6:34 pm | Permalink

        Of course that is always the other side of the argument. But do you really think anyone is fooled? The electorate really do understand, you know. And when we fail to speak up for what is really necessary, it proves in the public mind that “politicians are all the same” and there’s no point supporting the Tories or anyone else.

        How about

        Mail: TORIES PROMISE NEW NHS FOR A NEW CENTURY. 60 year old service to get root and branch reform.
        Telegraph: SOUND FINANCE THE PRIORITY IN OSBORNE’S FIRST BUDGET
        Guardian: DISMAY AS OPINION POLLS SHOW PUBLIC WANT MORE CUTS NOT LESS
        FT: BONANZA FOR TREASURY AS TAX EXILES COME HOME

        and of course my favourite

        Times: “REDWOOD IN SURPRISE APPOINTMENT AS CHIEF SECRETARY. Sign of Tory determination to cut spending.”

        Well, I can dream…

  13. Tony Makara
    Posted August 23, 2009 at 10:08 am | Permalink

    ‘Isms’ mean ideology and ideology clouds the way a government can respond to a given situation. Thatcherist economic policy was little more than monetarist ideology and too much deference was afforded to economic gurus who thought in terms of money and not people. Money, of course, is vital, but the analysis of money can lead to an abstraction away from everyday life. The mistakes of the 1980s must be learnt.

    • Lola
      Posted August 23, 2009 at 5:08 pm | Permalink

      The failure of the State to run sound money does more to damage people’s lives, opportunities and fortunes than most other mistakes Government can make. Up to 1979 and from 1997 to now Labour Governments have run completely unsound monetary policies which this time have precipitated the biggest financial bust in history. This will lead to more misery and unemployment and loss of wealth for all classes of people. ‘Monetaryism’ is just a shorthad way of saying that we will be responsible with currency monopoly we have enforced on you, the citizen. The lefties have tried to imbue it with an alternative meaning and make it an emotional and vituperative and entirely false attack on capitalism, in their usually totally deceitful way.

      The lessons to be learnt from the (pre) 1980’s are that we must never ever again let into power such an epically uselful, essentially deceitful and irresponsible goverment that will leave such an appalling legacy for the succeeding administration and the citizen to sort out.

      • Lola
        Posted August 23, 2009 at 8:13 pm | Permalink

        Corrected last paragraph!

        The lessons to be learnt from the (pre) 1980’s are that we must never ever again let into power such an epically useLESS, essentially deceitful and irresponsible goverment that will leave such an appalling legacy for the succeeding administration and the citizen to sort out.

        Hahahahhahah!

  14. Lance Grundy
    Posted August 23, 2009 at 10:08 am | Permalink

    “To sort this out requires the maximum degree of common purpose throughout society.”

    I never had you down as a CP ‘graduate’.

    Perhaps you should invite Brian Gerrish over to your club for some lunch and a chat.

  15. Simon D
    Posted August 23, 2009 at 10:19 am | Permalink

    I get more and more the feeling that many of our national institutions have become moribund and outdated under New Labour and that the Conservative Party should position itself as a reforming party with a commitment to an efficient public sector.

    “We want front line services which either meet or exceed the public’s expectations delivered efficiently in a consumer-responsive way at a proportionate cost.”

    Labour is too old fashioned and hide-bound by its past. What a 50 year old Marxist student radical thought 30 years ago is extremely unlikely to be a solution to contemporary problems. New Labour is dead in the water as a force for contemporary reform.

    Here are some moribund and outdated institutions:

    1. The Cabinet, the two Houses of Parliament and the political parties.
    2. The spin doctor element in the Civil Service.
    3. The devolution settlement (especially the dominance of Scottish MPs at Westminster).
    4. The comprehensive education system, the Police, the Prison Service, UK Border and the BBC (the broadcasting arm of New Labour).
    5. Many of our local authorities – especially those that have been fiefdoms of New Labour for many years.
    6. A high proportion of Quangos.
    7. Legacy banks.

    One could go on and on. When the Conservatives won back our local council (Hounslow), they were able to transform the delivery of services whilst holding the level of rates. In the words of one councillor “there were plenty of low hanging branches to lop.” The Conservatives will find the same if they attain national power.

    I hope that the economic catastrophe that will be staring us in the face by May 2010 will not deflect the Conservatives from carrying out just a few modest but necessary reforms.

  16. Josh
    Posted August 23, 2009 at 10:25 am | Permalink

    The specifics of what is called Thatcherism; restriction of the power of Union barons, defeating inflation and restoring an enterprise culture etc are not needed today because we already have controlled Unions, low (for now) inflation, and the enterprise culture that was unleashed in the 80’s could never be killed by Brown and his merry band of socialists.

    But the principles that guided Lady Thatcher; small government, low taxation, individual freedom and a constructive rather than a sycophantic relationship with the EU etc, are needed now more than ever.

    Michael Foot was an honest man who actually had principle. Cameron will face a drooling bunch of careerist politicians who care nothing for honesty, principle and respect. They are out for power and nothing else. Cameron will have it more difficult than Mrs Thatcher and I wish him all the luck in the world, because it isn’t a job I would like to do.

  17. DW
    Posted August 23, 2009 at 10:30 am | Permalink

    Mr Redwood

    A pause for thought for those of us whose doubts about your party are founded in no small part upon the perceived harm to large numbers of individuals within society which resulted from the first Thatcher government’s policies (and which may not have even been initially foreseen by those carrying out the policies). I don’t find the idea that Mr Cameron is an “heir to Blair” at all reassuring.

    Regards

  18. Phil Kean
    Posted August 23, 2009 at 11:09 am | Permalink

    Unemployment?

    But do we brush the reasons for indigenous unemployment under the carpet?
    It’s not only about welfare reform, though this desperately needs to be addressed, along with attitudes.

    Look around us. Some say we’ve 5+ million receiving some classification of employment benefit.
    My Waitrose delivery drivers seem to be approximately 70% EU foreign.
    Look at the numbers of EU foreign employees in the airports we pass through, the hotels we stay in and the shops who sell us goods.
    In fact, it’s common to even hear European voices when we call the endless numbers of British based call centres that now handle enquiries and other business.

    Free movement has been an unmitigated disaster for the UK, and we’ll never be able to reverse this farcical unemployment and benefit situation until we address the problem of Britain’s unfortunate membership of the EU.

    Ok, it’s a sensitive subject that Labour would make political capital from, and no one can talk about it now, – but we’ll surely have to if we want to reverse Britain’s near terminal economic & social decline.
    .

    • Simon D
      Posted August 23, 2009 at 12:54 pm | Permalink

      I came through Heathrow yesterday and was also visibly struck by the fact that the majority of employees appeared to be of foreign origin. I imagine you can keep pay levels low that way and have plenty in reserve to give telephone number bonuses to airport and airline bigwigs.

      Why should anybody struggle to get to work at some ungodly hour in the morning when they can enjoy the same standard of living on benefits? Until wages for basic jobs exceed benefits by a significant amount what incentive do benefit recipients have to leave the house?

      Meanwhile businessmen are very happy with the status quo and delighted to hand out large donations to New Labour.

    • Adrian Peirson
      Posted August 23, 2009 at 4:01 pm | Permalink

      The EU Federalists can Never have an EUSSR while Britain is full of Brits, Germany is full of Germans, Spain is full of Spaniards, there is method in their apparent madness, they are not incompetent just thoroughly evil, my guess is they are going to try to beat Mao, Stalin and Hitlers records combined in a Europe wide cultural revolution.
      Meanwhile, the masses are glued to Bread and Circus distractions on TV and in the Media, Big Brother, Jeremy Kyle, X Factor, Corrie, Eastenders, Road wars, Street wars, Britains toughest pub etc, if it wasn’t so Hideous I’d admire it.

      • alan jutson
        Posted August 24, 2009 at 7:18 am | Permalink

        Adrian

        Your last paragraph has some very, very, true aspects.

        The story lines of many of these soaps are so influential to so many, that a large number of the population think it represents true life.

        Have you noticed that hardly anyone actually spends time working for a living in these programmes, they just accumulate money to spend, interesting that no one is portrayed as being on benefits either.

  19. Neil Craig
    Posted August 23, 2009 at 11:56 am | Permalink

    Thatcher was not as radical as either friends or foes portrayed her – Callghan did that speech about not being able to spend out of recession. In many ways, particularly over the EU she was considerably more Thatcherite after office than in.

    She also strengthened the power of the centralised state which laid the foundations for NuLabour to use it.

    This is not to denigrate her – we are all creatures of our time – but the future should not be a rebuilding of the past & in particular the Conservatives should devote themselves to getting the sort of growth rate Ireland managed (& they didn’t) & to shrinking the size & constitutionaly restraining the dictatorial power of the state so that it can not be pillaged next time round.

  20. Man in a Shed
    Posted August 23, 2009 at 12:06 pm | Permalink

    Whilst you are undoubtedly right about the need to restore the nations finances and financial system ( sound money sounds vaguely familiar here ) the next Conservative government needs a wider purpose.

    In 1979 it was to save industry and business from its spiralling decline, a cause of which was the premeditated wrecking of the economy by the left wing unions.

    Today the challenge is the the state which no longer functions according to its original purpose but has become cancerous – demanding ever greater resources and becoming ever more dysfunctional at the same time.

    The state needs the same sort of reforms that the nationalised industries and unions received.

    We have to hope that David Cameron is the man to deliver this.

  21. Steve Cox
    Posted August 23, 2009 at 12:19 pm | Permalink

    John,

    I’m afraid that I have to disagree with you when you say that “…we do not face an immediate inflationary surge as we did in 1979”. Core inflation in the UK is still at its +2% official target, whereas in every other developed economy I can think of it is negative. If that’s not the harbinger of a coming surge in inflation, then I will eat my hat.

  22. Lola
    Posted August 23, 2009 at 12:30 pm | Permalink

    The parallel with the unions then is the bureaucracy today. By 1979 the The Unions had the power to sutain endemic producer capture and the keeping in business of many organisations that were only viable due to state support.

    In the last 12 to 15 years the lefties have worked hard at expanding not only the dependents of the client state but also the self perpetuating bureaucracy that serves it. A lot them by the technique of the Quango.

    Consequently we have again ended up with the same X millions of ‘workers’ not actually working at all – that is not adding any economic value at all.

    Therefore in many ways the problem facing us now is the same as faced Thatcher’s administration. How to unload a vast overhead of unproductive people, all employed at the debilitating expense of the productive economy, from the bureaucracy and release them for more rewarding and productive career in wealth creation?

    Dealing with the suffocating State bureaucracy and regulation, (regulation configured and applied as a type of nationalisation by remote control) is THE problem that faces the next administration.

    • Freddy
      Posted August 23, 2009 at 5:55 pm | Permalink

      Strongly agree with the last paragraph. To use Mr Shed’s cancer analogy above, in 1979, the Tories had to excise a few large malignant tumours. In 2010, they will be dealing with a cancer that has metastasised throughout the body politic, which is a lot harder to deal with.

      • Lola
        Posted August 23, 2009 at 8:15 pm | Permalink

        Quite.

      • Paul
        Posted August 23, 2009 at 8:16 pm | Permalink

        Cancer is an appropriate metaphor. The “cancer” needs to be cut out – all of it. If you don’t remove it all it will come back rapidly.

        One can guarantee that the media will be full of whining quangos claiming everyone will die if the Underpant Colour Monitoring Board (or whatever) is shut down.

        It is all twaddle. My experience of these is they achieve absolutely nothing of any use, and waste alarming amount of money both in rubbish like ‘compliance officers’ and the amount of time real employees waste on their rubbish.

        (Dismiss-ed) them all.

  23. Frugal Dougal
    Posted August 23, 2009 at 12:43 pm | Permalink

    I’m reading a great book called Black Mass – Apocalyptic Religion and the Death of Utopia by John Gray right now, which broadly agrees with what you say. Another of Grey’s theses is that Blair, as a neo-conservative, was so right-wing that he could only have made the top job as leader of the Labour Party, as he implanted himself cuckoo-like as the high priest of socialists’ blind faith. By implication, I think, he could never have become leader of the Conservative Party, because he was too right-wing to unite free-thinking Tories behind him. He also paints Mrs Thatcher (as was) as one of Britain’s great reforming Prime Ministers, even something of a revolutionary.

  24. Demetrius
    Posted August 23, 2009 at 1:25 pm | Permalink

    A generation on from 1979 and a very different world, we do not need any “ism” from then or the earlier past. Whilst we can learn from history, and there have been more than enough financial crashes in the past to study, we have to realise what the situation is now. Many, probably, most of our notions from the recent past are wrong and even more wrong if we try to pursue them much further. More critically, in 1979 many did realise that things had changed, at the moment we seem to have a government and its media attendants try to tell us that we can go on as before.

  25. David Gale
    Posted August 23, 2009 at 3:20 pm | Permalink

    ‘Depressing how the debate reverts to familiar ground that both of the main parties screw-up on on a regular basis.

    Lack of coherent, long-term e-Gov strategy is leaving a legacy that will cost the tax-payer £billions and no one wants to debate it because it’s not an area that’s within their competence / comfort zone.

    I see the same accountancy-based performance management, that destroyed 30% of British Manufacturing Industry in the Seventies, being wielded by both main political parties like some crude navvy waving a pick-axe, presumably because they’re both being briefed by the same civil servants.

    This is going on right under our noses and the perpetrators are getting away ‘scot-free’ (sic)!

  26. Kenneth Morton
    Posted August 23, 2009 at 3:55 pm | Permalink

    The Party Conference in six weeks or so is surely the time when we can begin to assess whether a David Cameron Government will provide at least some answers.

    So many of us are willing the Party to ‘do the right things’. Over the last year various commissions and working parties have reported back. But it is up to those organizing the Conference to seize the opportunity to present to the public a programme of action that is virtually a manifesto.

    Do not waste the five days of exposure whatever the Labour party might do to divert attention. There is now enough experience on the front bench for them to show their character as well as the policies.

    Above all the Party and its Leaders need to be honest. No false promises, no misleading commitments. Honesty as you point out was ingrained in Mrs. T. From that firm foundation her courage blossomed.

    I am sure that no party has all the answers, especially at present when we do not even know the extent of the nation’s problems. What I do hope is that in twenty years time Mr Cameron can look back on the next five to ten years with pride.

    • Freddy
      Posted August 23, 2009 at 5:58 pm | Permalink

      Hmph. I’ve no doubt that Blair looks back on his ten years with pride.

      • Lola
        Posted August 23, 2009 at 8:18 pm | Permalink

        ‘Course he does. He’s done very nicely thankyou from ten years of self serving premiership.

        I reckon once he realised just how big a plonker Brown, and how he, Brown, would frustrate all attempts at genuine reform, was he just set to to build his own fortune and work out how to time his exit to best effect. Why do you think he went for ‘sofa government’? No records. No minutes of meetings. No accountability.

        I wouldn’t trust him….

      • Stuart Fairney
        Posted August 23, 2009 at 10:05 pm | Permalink

        If he has sufficient self-awareness, I wonder if he honestly does?

        He inherited a roaringly successful economy, goodwill and spanking majorities, yet honestly, what were the major, enduring achievements of the Blair years?

      • Kenneth Morton
        Posted August 24, 2009 at 6:42 am | Permalink

        In 2017, twenty years after he came to power, the true cost of Blairism will be clear to those of us playing the price.

        The longer that Blair delays writing his political biography, the more tricky he will find it to sell his message and his legacy. The contract that he signed with the publishers must make fascinating reading because he is becoming a more devalued persona as each year passes.

  27. True belle
    Posted August 23, 2009 at 5:21 pm | Permalink

    I feel so strongly about the direction Mr Cameron and his focus team are taking, that I feel the need to repeat my original thoughts on the matter.

    David Cameron is terrifying the middle /higher income earners , not to mention pensioners and the skilled workers with his higher tax/ pruning back on services etc etc.

    ‘Putting people first ‘ was their last election mantra, their new mantra- ‘ Time for change ‘ is really irritating many of us . We need a tranquil period of no extremes, because haven’t we all suffered for the past twenty five years , change for changes sake.

    • Lola
      Posted August 23, 2009 at 8:20 pm | Permalink

      I can absolutely confirm that he’s not doing a lot to allay the fears of those on lower incomes either.

    • Mike Stallard
      Posted August 24, 2009 at 6:09 am | Permalink

      You are stating the essence of conservatism here. And therefore what you say is deeply appealing.
      But are you not forgetting the enormous national debt and, even worse, the fact that the government is running with a growing deficit?
      For example, the interest on our debt is now a lot more than what we spend on the armed forces in time of war. Nobody knows how much the debt is, but it probably runs into trillions – yes, trillions – counting PFIs. We also face inflation about the time of the election because of printing more and more money.
      Something has got to give, whatever any government does or does not do.

  28. John Broughton
    Posted August 23, 2009 at 8:08 pm | Permalink

    JR – the only thing I take issue with you about is inflation. I fear that QE will rapidly influence prices here.

    Reply: I have written that we do have an inflation problem, and that our prices continue to rise despite the general disinflation around the world. However, the immediate future is not inflationary I suspect. it will take a further lurch down in the pound to rekindle more rapid inflation. The medium term could be worryingly inflationary unless the authorities have a good plan to rein back in the monetary excess and reassure the currency markets about the growth of state debt.

    • backofanenvelope
      Posted August 24, 2009 at 6:59 am | Permalink

      Personally I think that within 12 months we will have rising inflation. Its the only way out for the government – any government.

  29. Bazman
    Posted August 23, 2009 at 8:15 pm | Permalink

    There is a story saying that when Thatcher heard that all men should retreat to the drawing room Thatcher did not. Woman’s rights Etc…? Never. I made a simple post and John saw right that my post was deleted. Thatcher in my opinion made very complex problems seem simple. Foolish ideology.

  30. True belle
    Posted August 24, 2009 at 7:40 am | Permalink

    Mrs Thatcher became a scientist, she was at ease with men of all types, and had nothing to prove because she was a top dog in her own right. She appeared to be a true leader and captain of her side!

    I am not sure where grass roots Tories fit in with DCs idea of new Tory ism.

    Some of us feel there is a wishy washy element to the party, and that it is one huge PR exercise.

    I think that DC has ignored the vast majority of would be voters who are now at retirement age, and has failed to engage with them. Don’t forget we have been through boom and bust many times before, in particular remembering the early seventies when interest rates were so high that they damaged everyone. Mortgages and fuel inflation and power outages.

    Many will probably vote UKIP, but who knows. Many preferred David Davis as a sound pair of hands, but ideas change don’t they.

    Many bods in county towns are not at all easy with Tory thoughts on pruning back local government etc, and all the partnerships associated with them, they are the higher income earners and potential Tory voters!

    The Lib Dems are a quirky bunch. Pensioners are drawn to Vince Cable and his ideas, rather like a flock of sheep. The Libs say they have something pleasant in store for retired people.

    The Tory leadership will fall back on their own tribal allegiances , but the remainder of us back in our constituencies will not be heard.

    I am more concerned about when we had the good years of financial growth, what were fund managers playing around at/ when now we are all seeing our life savings ruined.

    The fat cats got fatter.

  31. David Gale
    Posted August 24, 2009 at 12:03 pm | Permalink

    For all their faults (and there are plenty!) my dealings with the Chinese Government illustrate exactly what’s missing in the UK. The Chinese cabinet (upper & lower) is stuffed full of engineers and scientists, not professional politicians. These people understand the requirement for long-term vision, aligned to long-term strategies and they are given individual, long-term responsibility for seeing them through.

    When Murdoch & Co and the popularity statisticians are allowed to call the tune, all we get is short-term manipulation of the same tired old ‘policies’, measured by accountants as ‘performance indicators’. Just as was proved in the Seventies, these bean-counters know how to dress a balance sheet to make a finance director’s bonus but they are utterly clueless when it comes to long-term vision.

    Yet we see Whitehall mandarins still in protectionist mode of their empires and budgets. What the country needs is revolution in Whitehall, not Sir Humphrey’s convenient and comfortable evolution. To enable that kind of transformational change, we need a flexible technology framework that starts with a vision of the citizen at the centre of information management, not trifling tweaks of already moribund systems and processes. The good news is that this CAN be done. The bad news is that I see little difference between either of the main parties and their professional politicians…

    • True belle
      Posted August 24, 2009 at 8:42 pm | Permalink

      David Gale
      I hope some one sits up and takes notice of your words. I believe that Whitehall and the rest has a comfortable cosy zone . The administrative mindset is incapable of doing things with out a manual!

      We won’t have many scientists left to even act as advisors , unless politics economics and philosophy is banned completely and proper sciences take precedence again!

      The Nuclear industry is a prime example, especially with the decommisioning of elderly power stations, and the promise of new ones, and the unpopularity of nuclear physics with youngsters. (Scientist shortages looming again))

      • Freddy
        Posted August 25, 2009 at 11:31 am | Permalink

        “We won’t have many scientists left to even act as advisors , unless politics economics and philosophy is banned completely and proper sciences take precedence again!”

        Quite agree. But don’t forget us mathematicians.

  32. ManicBeancounter
    Posted August 24, 2009 at 9:07 pm | Permalink

    John, a very good posting, which I very much agree with. However, as well as honesty and courage, Mrs T was guided by purpose and vision. She upset those who believed in consensus politics, which in practice meant listening to everyone’s opinion, and getting a compromise based on who could shout loudest. Now we have the inexpert opinions of spin doctors dressed up as proposed policy to fill the daily news bulletins.
    It is a vision again that we are needing. One of fiscal conservatism to sort out the public finances and the old-fashioned notion of value for money.

  33. True Belle
    Posted August 25, 2009 at 7:21 am | Permalink

    True belle Reply:Your comment is awaiting moderation.
    August 24th, 2009 at 8:42 pm

    David Gale
    I hope some one sits up and takes notice of your words. I believe that Whitehall and the rest has a comfortable cosy zone . The administrative mindset is incapable of doing things with out a manual!

    We won’t have many scientists left to even act as advisors , unless politics economics and philosophy is banned completely and proper sciences take precedence again!

    The Nuclear industry is a prime example, especially with the decommisioning of elderly power stations, and the promise of new ones, and the unpopularity of nuclear physics with youngsters. (Scientist shortages looming again))

    Reply

  • About John Redwood


    John Redwood won a free place at Kent College, Canterbury, and graduated from Magdalen College Oxford. He is a Distinguished fellow of All Souls, Oxford. A businessman by background, he has set up an investment management business, was both executive and non executive chairman of a quoted industrial PLC, and chaired a manufacturing company with factories in Birmingham, Chicago, India and China. He is the MP for Wokingham, first elected in 1987.

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