The news in yesterday's Evening Standard that among those invited to Lady Thatcher's funeral are her old "friends and colleagues" the Lords Howe and Heseltine (what glorious revenge to make them listen to all those eulogies) reminded me of the time I took over the editing of the Conservative History Journal.
The issue came out in summer 2004 and naturally enough we had to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the 1979 Conservative victory that was to become momentous in the history of the country and the Conservative Party. I decided to ask some of Margaret Thatcher's colleagues to write short pieces about her. For reasons I can no longer recall, only two were approached, the Lords Tebbit and Howe. Both agreed with alacrity and sent me their pieces (in hard copy, being true Tories).
The time has come to republish them. This is what Lord Tebbit wrote:
Margaret Thatcher took office as Prime Minister of a country possessed by both hope and
fear. The Heath government had been defeated following its failure to defeat a miners’ strike in 1974. The Callaghan government fell in 1979 , following the “winter of discontent” during the strike of local government workers. Many voters hoped she
would go the same way. Rather more hoped she would not - but many even of these feared that she might. Foreign embassies were reporting to their governments that Britain had become ungovernable. Multi-national companies had all but ceased to invest as the English Disease, a lemming-like propensity to strike, savaged businesses. The vast stateowned sector of industry gorged itself on taxpayers’ money with no prospects of profitability. Inflation was endemic and conventional wisdom held that it could be restrained only by a state sponsored “prices and incomes policy”, that is either voluntary or state control of prices and incomes. During Margaret Thatcher’s term British industrial relations changed from the worst in the developed free world to the best. She went on to win two further elections, defeated the unions’ “nuclear option” of a miners’ strike, and was brought down not by an ungovernable nation - but an ungovernable cabinet. In the meantime inflation had been controlled by monetarism - not incomes policy - and foreign investment had poured into Britain. The financial haemorrhage of the nationalised industries had been stanched. After privatisation they became profitable corporation taxpayers. Living standards soared, millions of the “working classes” had become homeowners and shareholders and Britain’s occupational pension schemes were the envy of Europe. In passing Margaret Thatcher defeated Argentina, bringing down
the junta and by a military operation pursued with purpose, skill and daring, established that Britain still had the will and power to defend unilaterally its people and its interest. She left a great deal still undone, having had neither time - nor enough competent Ministers with courage to resolve other issues. Neither education, the Health Service, nor the welfare system were properly reformed. Local government finance reform
was botched by Christopher Patten. Reform of the European Community
was sabotaged by Geoffrey Howe. Nor did Thatcherism cure the sickness of the permissive society, which has - as some forecast - become the yob society of the 21st century. Abroad Margaret Thatcher stiffened the resolve of President Reagan to defeat the challenge of the Soviet Union and bring a decisive victory in the Cold War. Thatcherism” was widely adopted throughout the world. So much achieved - so much more to be done.
Who can argue that it was a fine piece in Tebbit's inimitable style? The same could be said for the piece sent to me by Lord Howe, which had been typed on a typewriter with the paper clearly torn out of the carriage with fury. There was a corner missing. Perhaps, he had been chewing it.
This is what the article said:
No government, in my judgement, did more in the last quarter of the twentieth century to change the shape of our world. Some mistakes, of course - but overall it was fundamental and enduring change for the better. Margaret Thatcher’s most important domestic achievement was the dismantling of the unspoken, but crippling, compact between state ownership and monopoly trade unionism. Almost as crucial was the recovery of control over the public finances and the key switch of Britain’s tax structure away from on which positively obstructed enterprise. The real triumph was to have transformed not just one party but two - so that when Labour did finally return, these changes were accepted as irreversible. The irony is that Thatcherism might never have survived at all, had it not been for John Major’s success in consolidating it. The one sadness is that Michael Heseltine might have done better still, by securing as well the European role for Britain, which Ted Heath had made possible.
As editor, I was overjoyed to have these two pieces, so clearly in furious disagreement with each other. (We editors are a heartless race.) Readers were pleased. Not so Lord Howe, who wrote to me soon after the journal's publication. He thought I ought to have warned him that his contribution was going to go in next to Norman Tebbit's.