I R R OR PI X
©K E N L E N N OX / M
A conspiracy unmasked
Brian Griffiths Margaret Thatcher: Herself Alone By Charles Moore Allen Lane, 1072pp, £35
Despite having no instinct for organisation and never using the jargon of modern business management, Margaret Thatcher had extraordinary political instincts. These are a central theme of Herself Alone, the third volume of Charles Moore’s insightful biography. She believed the 1987 general election was won on the basis of “simple truths” about inflation, tax, ownership and free enterprise. What emerges from the first five chapters and three or four subsequent ones (there are 24 in all) is that the 1987 Conservative manifesto set the domestic policy agenda for the whole of her third term. It was a strategic document prioritising control of inflation, supporting enterprise, reforming education, health and broadcasting, privatising the monopolies of gas, electricity and water, and grappling with the problems of inner cities such as crime, unemployment, racial tension, public sector housing and family breakdown.
Many of these policies were hard fought because they were radical. Greater choice for parents, different kinds of schools, and regular tests at ages seven, 11 and 14 meant downgrading local education authorities. Privatisation became a more complex challenge because introducing competition into monopolies such as electricity, water and gas required major structural changes. The creation of NHS trusts and the purchaser-provider split challenged a huge and unwieldy institution. New ideas for the inner cities clashed with those of left-wing local councils. In all this she worked closely with colleagues who were not naturally on her side of the party such as Kenneth Baker, Kenneth Clarke and Peter Walker.
In many respects these policies have all lasted the test of time. They showed that Thatcherism had a social dimension. It was not simply concerned with free markets, low taxes and limited government but with the
Books plight of people living in run-down housing estates plagued by crime, drug abuse and vandalism, with parents who had aspirations for their children limited by the schools they could send them to, or young men leaving school without qualifications in areas which, because of mine, mill and factory closures, had no jobs. I believe concern with inner cities was largely a response to the Anglican report Faith in the City published in late 1985. It was highly critical of her policies on poverty, crime and lack of jobs; she felt it personally.
Moore describes the role played by the No. 10 Policy Unit, which I headed. The instincts for new policies were almost entirely Mrs. Thatcher’s. The Unit helped translate them into practice whether through legislation or moral support. It was very much hers. If we felt she was wrong, we would challenge her and she would love the argument. What surprised me most was although she was very clear in her instincts for reform, she was surprisingly full of doubt as to how it might be done. The Unit’s success depended on the fact that it was small, with only nine members; that four of those had practical private sector experience in helping to run businesses; that none of us spoke in public, only the Prime Minister did that; that two of its members were seconded civil servants, because it was important to work with not against the Civil Service; and that all of us recognised that we should “know our place”. We were not elected, we had not spent years attempting to get a seat in the House of Commons and then worked hard to retain it, and so we should treat Ministers with respect, even though the advice we offered the Prime Minister might be
Margaret Thatcher on November 22, 1990, leaving Downing Street for the last time