CHANGING THE PIANIST
The Conservative Party has never been slow to shoot the pianist as a substitute for changing its tune. So it proved in the wake of our narrow 1964 election defeat. Anyone seriously thinking about the way forward for Conservatism would have started by examining whether the established tendency to fight on socialist ground with corporatist weapons had not something to do with the Party’s predicament. Then and only then — after a more or less inevitable second election defeat, for there was a general sense in the country that Labour needed a larger working majority if it were to carry out its programme — would have been the time to consider a leadership change. I had hoped and indeed naively expected that the Party would soldier on under Alec Douglas-Home. I later heard that the supporters of Ted Heath and others anxious to oust Alec had been busy behind the scenes; but I never ventured into the Smoking Room and so I was unaware of these mysterious cabals until it was too late. I was stunned and upset when Alec told the 1922 Committee that he intended to stand down to make way for someone else; I was all the more distressed by his evident unhappiness. I kept on saying to people, ‘Why didn’t he let his supporters know? We might have been able to help.’
Reggie Maudling and Ted Heath were generally accepted as the only two figures in serious contention for the leadership, which for the first time would be decided by a ballot of MPs. Iain Macleod was considered too left wing and by many, in Lord Salisbury’s jibe, as ‘too clever by half’. Enoch Powell, who did indeed put his name forward, had no large following at this time. Of the two serious contenders, Reggie Maudling was thought to have the better chance. Although his performance as Chancellor of the Exchequer had incurred serious and in some ways justified criticism, there was no doubting Reggie’s experience, brilliant intellect and command of the House. His main weakness, which grew more evident in later years, was a certain laziness — something which is a frequent temptation to those who know that they are naturally and effortlessly cleverer than those around them.
Ted had a very different character. He too had a very well organized mind. He was methodical, forceful and, at least on the one question which mattered to him above all others — Europe — a man of unyielding determination. As Shadow Chancellor he had the opportunity to demonstrate his capabilities in attacking the 1965 Finance Bill, which in those days was taken on the floor of the House. Ted was regarded as being somewhat to the right of Reggie, but they were both essentially centrists in Party terms. Something could be made of the different approaches they took to Europe, with Reggie regarding EFTA more favourably and Ted convinced that membership of the EEC was essential. But their attitudes to specific policies hardly affected the question of which to support.
I did not start with any particularly strong views on the matter. I knew both of them — Reggie Maudling as a neighbouring MP for Barnet and Ted Heath over a longer period when we were candidates for Kent constituencies. At this time I knew Reggie better. I liked his combination of laid-back charm and acute intellect. My acquaintanceship with Ted, though there was none of that bitter hostility which would develop in later years, had never risked developing into friendship. Although we came from not dissimilar backgrounds, neither of us having enjoyed the educational and social advantages of the traditional Tory politician, we were totally different sorts of people. Ted, of course, had fought with distinction in the war while I was a student at Somerville. He had been part of that generation which had been ineradicably affected by the rise of Nazism and fascism and the question of appeasement in the 1930s. So, of course, was I; but rather differently. Ted, to my mind, had swallowed a good deal of the fashionable interpretation of what had gone wrong in the world between the wars. For him, I imagine, as for many others who were to become passionate advocates of all things European, the evil genius of those times was nationalism. Consequently, Britain now had a duty to help create a Europe-wide structure which would supplant the nation state, provide an alternative focus for loyalties and so prevent war. For me, such grandiose visions had little appeal. I saw the principal cause of the conflict as being the appeasement of dictators — something which Ted himself had courageously opposed at Oxford — and I saw the principal victor of the conflict, whose health was itself the best guarantee of peace, as being the spirit and unity of the English-speaking world. Ted’s character seemed to me in many ways admirable. But he was not charming — nor, to be fair, did he set out to be. He was probably more at ease talking to men than women. But it was not just women who found him difficult to get on with. I felt that though I had known him for years, there was a sense in which I did not know him at all. Perhaps I never would. I was not conscious at this time of any hostility, simply of a lack of human warmth. I did not either then or later regard amiability as an indispensable or even particularly important attribute of leadership. Yet, all things considered, I thought that I would vote for Reggie Maudling.
It was Keith Joseph who persuaded me to change my mind. By now Keith was a friend, not just a senior colleague whom I liked. We worked together, though with him very much as the senior partner, on pensions policy in 1964—65. Like everyone else who came to know him, I was deeply impressed by the quality of his mind and the depth of his compassion. Keith had gone into politics for the same reason that many on the left had done so — he wanted to improve the lot of ordinary people, particularly those he saw living deprived, stunted, unfulfilled lives. Many jokes would be made — and the best of them by Keith himself — about the way in which he changed his mind and reversed his policies on matters ranging from housing to health to social benefits. But the common thread was his relentless search for the right answer to the practical problems of human suffering. So I took him very seriously when he telephoned to say that while he knew I was currently intending to vote for Reggie, I should think again. Keith understood Reggie’s weaknesses, and as a long-time colleague in Government and the Shadow Cabinet he had seen these weaknesses at close hand. But it was Ted’s strengths that he wanted to speak about. He summed them up: ‘Ted has a passion to get Britain right.’ And, of course, so did Keith, and so did I.
This was decisive for me. To the disappointment and surprise of Reggie Maudling and his PPS, Neil Marten, I told them that Ted Heath would be getting my vote. Sufficient numbers thought similarly. Ted emerged with a clear majority on the first ballot, Reggie withdrawing to make a second ballot unnecessary.
I was not displeased to be given a different portfolio by the new Leader, exchanging my role as Shadow spokesman on Pensions for that of Housing and Land under my old boss, John Boyd-Carpenter. I would always regard my knowledge of the Social Security system as one of the most important aspects of what turned out to be my training to become Prime Minister. Now that we were in Opposition, however, it was not easy to oppose the large pension and benefit increases which the Labour Government was making: only later would the full financial implications of this spending spree become evident. So it was a relief to me to be moved to Housing and Land, where I was able to set about attacking with a will one of the most ideological socialist measures — the setting-up of the Land Commission, a means of achieving the socialist obsession of nationalizing development gains. It was in this role also that I first became fully acquainted with the complexities and anomalies of the rating system, whose fate seemed destined to be inextricably intertwined with mine. One of my early tasks was to devise and explain to a sceptical Conservative Party Conference how we intended to reform domestic rates by a combination of moving some expenditure onto central government and introducing rate rebates. It was my first Conference speech. At least those who heard it would have appreciated that I grasped the problems. But it would be too much to claim that I offered any very satisfactory solutions. It was only a
AGAINST THE TREASURY
As was widely expected, Harold Wilson called an early snap election at the end of March 1966. The result — a Conservative rout and an overall Labour majority of ninety-seven — was equally expected. We fought an uninspiring campaign on the basis of a flimsy manifesto entitled
I received a further fillip when Ted Heath made me Treasury spokesman on Tax under the Shadow Chancellor, Iain Macleod. There had been some speculation in the press that I would be promoted to the Shadow Cabinet myself. But I was not expecting it. I now know, having read Jim Prior’s memoirs, that I was indeed considered but that Ted, rather presciently, decided against it because if they got me in ‘they would never get [me] out again’.
In any case, I was better placed to make an impact as Treasury spokesman outside the Shadow Cabinet than as something else within it. As a tax lawyer I already knew my way around my new brief. Although I had no formal training in economic theory, I felt naturally at ease with the concepts. I had always had strong convictions about the way in which public money should be handled. As I had found when junior minister responsible for pensions, I was lucky enough to have the sort of mind to grasp technical detail and understand quite complex figuring fairly easily. None of which meant, however, that I could afford to relax. Debating Finance Bills from Opposition, necessarily without the technical assistance available from the civil service, and relying on the help of a few outside experts and colleagues in the House, is immensely demanding.
Luckily, the family’s domestic arrangements permitted me to keep to my rigorous parliamentary schedule. By now, Mark and Carol were away at boarding school. Denis was still very active in business, although in 1965 he had sold the family firm to Castrol, which itself was soon bought by Burmah Oil. We felt that it would now make life much easier for us both to rent a flat in Westminster Gardens, not far from the House of Commons. We also sold our home in Farnborough and bought ‘The Mount’, a mock-Tudor house with a large garden in Lamberhurst, near Tunbridge Wells. One of my very few hobbies is interior decorating, and I now spent most of my free time painting and papering the bedrooms — all eight of them. But even I was defeated by the large hall and staircase and had to bring in the professionals. One reason why we bought the house was to have somewhere in the country for the children when they came back from boarding school in the holidays. But at this age they seemed to prefer staying in London with their friends. So ‘The Mount’ was not as much used as I would have liked. My programme of repairs and redecoration was not wasted, however: in 1972 we sold it, and out of the proceeds bought the house in Flood Street (Chelsea) which would be my home until in 1979 I moved into the flat above 10 Downing Street.
I not only felt well-suited to my new job: it was also an exciting time to begin it. The incoherence and irresponsibility of socialist economic management had become apparent. The optimistic projections of George Brown’s National Plan, published in September 1965, were an albatross to hang around Labour’s neck, as forecasts of economic growth were not met. Labour’s pre-election promises of ‘no severe increases in taxation’ were broken with the announcement in the Budget of May 1966 that a new Selective Employment Tax (SET) would be introduced, in effect a payroll tax falling particularly heavily on service industries: it was a major part of my brief to oppose it. The Labour Government’s reliance on its alleged special relationship with the trade unions to secure voluntary incomes restraint as a means of controlling inflation had already lost credibility with the failure of the Government-TUC joint
In preparing myself for my first major Commons speech in my new role, I got out from the House of Commons Library every Budget speech and Finance Bill since the war and read them. I was thus able to demonstrate to a somewhat bemused Jim Calla-ghan, then Chancellor of the Exchequer, and Jack Diamond, his Chief Secretary, that this was the only Budget which had failed to make even a minor concession in the social services area. Then I sunk my teeth into the SET. It was riddled with absurdities which I took great pleasure in exposing. The attempt to distinguish between manufacturing and service industries, shifting the tax burden onto the second and handing the money back as subsidies to the first, was a demonstrably inefficient, anomaly-ridden procedure. As I put it in the House: ‘Whatever the payroll tax is, it is thoroughly bad administration… I only wish that Gilbert and Sullivan were alive today so that we could have an opera about it.’
Our side of the House liked it. I got a good press, the
He did the same after my speech that autumn to the Party Conference in Blackpool, my first real Conference success. I put a special effort into it — though the nine hours of work I did would have seemed culpable idleness compared with the time I took for Conference speechwriting as Party Leader. That autumn, however, I spoke from notes, which gives extra spontaneity and the flexibility to insert a joke or jibe on the spur of the moment. Although the debate I was answering was on taxation, the cheers came in response to what I said about the way in which the Government was undermining the rule of law by the arbitrary powers it had taken through incomes policy and tax policy. With more than a touch of hyperbole, it must be admitted, I said: ‘All this is fundamentally wrong for Britain. It is a step not merely towards socialism but towards communism.’ Some of the more squeamish journalists demurred. But not the new and still left-of-centre
I was right to see a connection between the socialist approach to public expenditure and taxation on the one hand and to incomes policy on the other. They were both aspects of the same collectivist programme which, if taken to its ultimate conclusion, would jeopardize not just economic but political freedom as well. But what I and almost all of my colleagues at this time failed to do was to think through the full implications for our own policies. Although we wanted lower and simpler taxes on people and businesses, we were still inclined to assume — and not just for public presentation, but because we really thought it — that faster economic growth would allow us to cut taxes, as public expenditure measured as a share of GDP fell. We had some proposals to reduce public expenditure on socialist projects and waste. But we thought that we could create an atmosphere favourable to enterprise and so establish what was called a ‘virtuous circle’ in which higher growth allowed larger tax revenues with lower tax rates, which in turn stimulated further growth. Consequently, we were not as serious about making real public expenditure cuts as we should have been. Indeed, over the whole of this period — whether in 1956, 1966 or above all in 1976 — real cuts in public spending were only made by governments of either party under the exigent circumstances of a sterling crisis, a gilt strike or the arrival on the scene of the International Monetary Fund. This approach was only finally changed when in the run-up to the 1979 election the Conservative Opposition actually planned for public expenditure cuts because we believed in them.
Our failure in the 1960s to consider as an alternative government where we really stood on incomes policy was at least as serious. As Iain Macleod and I demonstrated by our vigorous opposition to Labour’s statutory incomes policy, we knew what we were against, but we were much less clear about what we were for. There was good reason for this, because the Shadow Cabinet itself was sharply divided. Ted Heath, true to the pragmatic, problem-solving approach which he prided himself on taking, was never able to give the lead required on this question. Probably the only member of the Shadow Cabinet who was opposed in principle to all kinds of incomes policy — voluntary or involuntary — was Enoch Powell, and he had failed to persuade his colleagues by the time I entered the Shadow Cabinet in 1967.
But Enoch was right. He had made the two intellectual leaps in economic policy which Keith Joseph and I would only make some years later. First, he had grasped that it was not the unions which caused inflation by pushing up wages, but rather the Government which did so by increasing the supply of money in the economy. Consequently, incomes policies — quite apart from their other effects of diminishing incentives, imposing distortions and leading to strikes which pitted the state against organized labour — were a supreme irrelevance to anti-inflation policy. In effect, Government was creating a problem which it then blamed on others. The only aspect of the matter which Enoch then and later failed sufficiently to grasp was the importance of the
Secondly, he had seen that the consensus economic policy nurtured another damaging delusion. This concerned the ‘constraint’ allegedly exercised by the current account of the balance of payments. It was in order to increase exports and reduce imports that corporatist, interventionist industrial policies were considered necessary. But the real ‘constraint’, which was assumed and not challenged, was that imposed by a pegged exchange rate. If sterling were allowed to float freely, as Enoch advocated, the alleged constraint of the balance of payments disappeared. And so did some of the pressure for other kinds of interventionism. As he put it in a seminal Institute of Economic Affairs pamphlet in 1967: ‘The control of the international price of currencies, like every other suppression of market prices, leads to other controls, which make a mockery of the individual’s freedom to trade, travel or invest.’
True, in abandoning pegged exchange rates, one loses the anchor of the dollar (or gold). True too, a country which persists in running a large trade deficit may well be one with a weak economy which needs radical restructuring. (Though that may not always be so: a current account deficit may be evidence of large inflows of private capital into an economy which,
None of these qualifications, however, diminishes the fundamental importance of Enoch Powell’s contribution. By showing that it was government monetary policy rather than wages which caused inflation, and that freely floating exchange rates would break free of the ‘constraint’ allegedly exercised by the current account of the balance of payments, Enoch permitted a radical revision of Conservative economic policy. He allowed us to break out of the mind-set which seemed to condemn Britain to an increasingly planned economy and society.
In October 1967 Ted made me front-bench spokesman on Fuel and Power and a member of the Shadow Cabinet. It may be that my House of Commons performances and perhaps Iain Macleod’s recommendation overcame any temperamental reluctance on Ted’s part. My first task was to read through all the evidence given to the inquiry about the causes of the terrible Aberfan disaster the previous year, when 116 children and 28 adults were killed by a slag tip which slipped onto a Welsh mining village. Many of the parents of the victims were in the gallery for the debate, and I felt for them. Very serious criticisms had been made of the National Coal Board and as a result someone, I thought, should have resigned, though I held back from stating this conclusion with complete clarity in my first speech to the House as Shadow spokesman. What was revealed by the report made me realize how very easy it is in any large organization to assume that someone else has taken the requisite action and will assume responsibility. This is a problem which, as later tragedies have demonstrated, industrial civilization has yet to solve.
Outside the House, my main interest was in trying to find a framework for privatization of electricity generation. To this end I visited power stations and sought all the advice I could from business contacts. But it turned out to be a fruitless enterprise, and I had not come up with what I considered acceptable answers by the time my portfolio was changed again — to Transport — in October 1968. Transport was not one of the more interesting portfolios, because Parliament had just passed a major Transport Bill reorganizing the railways, nationalizing the bus companies, setting up a new National Freight Authority — in effect, implementing most of the Government’s transport programme in one measure. In the brief period during which I shadowed Transport I argued our case against nationalization of the ports. But, all in all, Transport proved a brief with limited possibilities.
TED AND ENOCH
As a member of the Shadow Cabinet I attended its weekly discussions, usually on a Wednesday, in Ted’s room in the House. Discussion was generally not very stimulating. We would begin by looking ahead to the parliamentary business for the week and agreeing who was to speak and on what line. There might be a paper from a colleague which he would introduce. But, doubtless because we knew that there were large divisions between us, particularly on economic policy, issues of principle were not usually openly debated. Ted was a competent chairman. On matters which really interested him, like Europe and trade union legislation, he would lead the discussion. But generally he allowed the spokesman to make the running on whatever subject was being considered.
For my part, I did not make a particularly important contribution to Shadow Cabinet. Nor was I asked to do so. For Ted and perhaps others I was principally there as the statutory woman whose main task was to explain what ‘women’ — Kiri Te Kanawa, Barbara Cartland, Esther Rantzen, Stella Rimington and all the rest of our uniform, undifferentiated sex — were likely to think and want on troublesome issues. I had, of course, great affection for Alec Douglas-Home, then Shadow Foreign Secretary, and got on perfectly well with most of my colleagues, but I had only three real friends around the table–Keith Joseph, Peter Thomas and Edward Boyle. And Edward by now was very much on the opposite wing of the Party from me.
The atmosphere at our meetings was certainly made more difficult by the fact that the most senior figures now had somewhat tense relations with each other. Ted was settling into the role of Party Leader with determination, but without any real or easy assurance. Reggie Maudling, Deputy Leader, had never really recovered from his unexpected defeat for the leadership. Iain Macleod was the most politically acute of us, with a special understanding of how whatever line we took would be interpreted by the press. But though a superb public orator he was in truth a rather private and reserved character. He was also growing out of sympathy with his old friend Enoch Powell, who was increasingly concerned about immigration, a topic about which Iain felt equally strongly on the other side. Undoubtedly, Enoch was our finest intellect — classicist, historian, economist and biblical scholar. In a quite different way from Iain, he was a powerful public orator and able to command the House of Commons, or indeed any audience, with his remorseless logic and controlled passion. But as regards the Shadow Cabinet, by this stage he had largely withdrawn into himself. He was disliked and probably feared by Ted Heath. He had fought and lost his battle against the chimera of incomes policy. As Defence spokesman, he had the uneasy task of attacking Labour’s policy of withdrawal of British troops from east of Suez when he himself believed such withdrawal was inevitable. Above all, as a West Midlands MP witnessing the effect of large-scale immigration in his constituency he was frustrated by the Party’s failure to take a tougher stance on the question.
The first modern immigration control measure had been introduced by Rab Butler in 1961. Hitherto, Commonwealth citizens had not been subject to the controls which applied to the admission of alien immigrants from foreign countries. The Commonwealth Immigrants’ Act 1962, bitterly opposed by Labour and the Liberals, introduced an annual quota of employment vouchers to limit the inflow, a system subsequently tightened up by the Labour Government in 1965. During 1967 the Kenyan Government’s discriminatory policies against Kenya’s Asians resulted in a large inflow of immigrants into Britain. This raised awareness both of the scale and impact of past immigration and fears about its unchecked future size. There was particular worry about UK passport holders who were not connected by birth or descent with the United Kingdom. In February 1968 Jim Callaghan announced legislation to deal with this. The issue was also closely linked to the introduction of race relations legislation, which became the Race Relations Act 1968, aimed at curbing discrimination on grounds of colour. This was opposed by many on the right who saw in it a danger of making immigrants a legally privileged community which would have no incentive to integrate fully into British society.
On Monday 26 February 1968 Shadow Cabinet discussed the Government’s Commonwealth Immigrants’ Bill to introduce the new controls. A statement had been issued the previous week setting out the principles on which we would judge the measure. Ted Heath said that it was now up to Shadow Cabinet to decide whether the Bill came sufficiently within those terms. In fact, it did some of the things which we advocated. But it did not provide for registration of dependants, nor for appeal by those refused entry, nor for financial help for voluntary repatriation. It was decided to support the Bill, but also to move amendments where possible and appropriate. Iain Macleod, however, said that he would vote against the Bill, and he was as good as his word.
On Wednesday 10 April Shadow Cabinet discussed the other side of the Government’s policy, the Race Relations Bill. Ted again opened the discussion. He said that though the Bill itself appeared to have many faults he thought that some legal machinery would be necessary to help improve the prospects for coloured immigrants in Britain. Quintin Hogg, the Shadow Home Secretary, outlined his own views in some detail. He thought that legislation was necessary, but that we should move amendments. However, he noted that our backbenchers were very hostile to the Bill. Reggie Maudling agreed with Quintin on both points. In the discussion which followed, in which I did not participate, the main point in dispute was whether, flawed as the Bill was, to vote against it at Second Reading would be misinterpreted as racist. Shadow Cabinet’s view was that the best assurance for good race relations was confidence that future numbers of immigrants would not be too great and that the existing law of the land would be upheld. In the end it was decided that a reasoned amendment would be drafted and there would be a two-line whip. Keith Joseph, Edward Boyle and Robert Carr, on the liberal wing, reserved their positions until they had seen the terms of the amendment. In the event they all supported it, though there were to be a number of abstentions by backbenchers.
On Sunday 21 April 1968 — two days before the debate — I woke up to find the front pages of the newspapers dominated by reports of a speech Enoch Powell had made in Birmingham on immigration the previous afternoon. It was strong meat, and there were some lines which had a sinister ring about them. But I strongly sympathized with the gravamen of his argument about the scale of New Commonwealth immigration into Britain. I too thought this threatened not just public order but also the way of life of some communities, themselves already beginning to be demoralized by insensitive housing policies, Social Security dependence and the onset of the ‘permissive society’. I was also quite convinced that, however selective quotations from his speech may have sounded, Enoch was no racist.
At about eleven o’clock the telephone rang. It was Ted Heath. He said: ‘I am ringing round all the Shadow Cabinet. I have come to the conclusion that Enoch must go.’ It was more statement than enquiry. But I said that I really thought that it was better to let things cool down for the present rather than heighten the crisis. Ted was having none of it. ‘No, no,’ he said. ‘He absolutely must go, and most people think he must go.’ In fact, I understood later that several members of the Shadow Cabinet would have resigned if Enoch had not gone.
Yet for several reasons it was a tragedy. In the short term it prevented our gaining the political credit for our policy of controlling immigration more strictly. This was an issue which crossed the political and social divide, as was demonstrated when London dockers marched in support of Enoch. Moreover, in practical terms there was very little to choose between the policies of Ted and Enoch on the matter. Although it is true that as a result of the speech the official Conservative line on immigration became more specific, essentially we all wanted strict limits on further New Commonwealth immigration and we were all prepared to support financial assistance for those who wanted to return to their country of origin.
But the longer-term consequences of Enoch’s departure on this issue and under these circumstances extended far beyond immigration policy. He was free to develop a philosophical approach to a range of policies, uninhibited by the compromises of collective responsibility. This spanned both economic and foreign affairs and embraced what would come to be called ‘monetarism’, deregulation, denationalization, an end to regional policy, and culminated in his opposition to British membership of the Common Market. Having Enoch preaching to such effect in the wilderness carried advantages and disadvantages for those of us on the right in the Shadow Cabinet and later the Cabinet. On the one hand, he shifted the basis of the political argument to the right and so made it easier to advance sound doctrines without being accused of taking an extreme position. On the other hand, so bitter was the feud between Ted and Enoch that querying any policy advanced by the leadership was likely to be branded disloyalty. Moreover, the very fact that Enoch advanced all his positions as part of a coherent whole made it more difficult to express agreement with one or two of them. For example, the arguments against prices and incomes policies, intervention and corporatism might have been better received if they had not been associated with Enoch’s views about immigration or Europe.
At this time, as it happens, other Conservatives were moving independently in the same direction, with the notable exception of Europe, and Ted gave me an opportunity to chart this way ahead. The annual Conservative Political Centre lecture is designed to give some intellectual meat to those attending the Tory Party Conference. The choice of speaker is generally reserved to the Party Leader. It was doubtless a pollster or Party adviser who suggested that it might be a good idea to have me talk about a subject which would appeal to ‘women’. Luckily, I was free to choose my subject, and I decided on something more topical which might appeal to thinking people of both sexes: I spoke on ‘What’s Wrong With Politics?’
There is no better way to clarify your own thinking than to try to explain it clearly to someone else. I was conscious that there were great issues being discussed in politics at this time. Whatever else can be said of the sixties they were intellectually lively, even if too many of the ideas motivating change originated on the left. I took armfuls of books on philosophy, politics and history, White Papers, Hansard Society publications and speeches down to Lamberhurst. I had no one to guide or help me so I just plunged in. Like the proverbial iceberg, most of the work lay below the surface of the document I finally wrote.
I began by listing the reasons why there was so much disillusionment with politics. Some of these really consisted of the growth of a critical spirit through the effects of education and the mass media. But others were the fault of the politicians themselves. Political programmes were becoming dominated by a series of promises whose impact was all the greater because of the growth of the Welfare State. This led me on to what I considered the main cause of the public’s increasing alienation from political parties — too much government. The competition between the parties to offer ever higher levels of economic growth and the belief that government itself could deliver these had provided the socialists with an opportunity massively to extend state control and intervention. This in turn caused ordinary people to feel that they had insufficient say in their own and their families’ lives. The Left claimed that the answer was the creation of structures which would allow more democratic ‘participation’ in political decisions. But the real problem was that politics itself was intruding into far too many decisions that were properly outside its scope. Alongside the expansion of government had developed a political obsession with size — the notion that large units promoted efficiency. In fact, the opposite was true. Smaller units — small businesses, families and ultimately individuals — should once again be the focus of attention.
Apart from these general reflections, my CPC lecture also contained a section about prices and incomes policy. Although I stuck to the Shadow Cabinet line of condemning a compulsory policy while avoiding the issue of a voluntary one, I included a passage which reads:
We now put so much emphasis on the control of incomes that we have too little regard for the essential role of government which is
In retrospect, it is clear to me that this summed up how far my understanding of these matters had gone — and how far it still needed to go. I had come to see that the money supply was central to any policy to control inflation. But I had not seen either that this made any kind of incomes policy irrelevant or that monetary policy itself was the way in which demand should be managed.
Partly as a result, I suspect, of the attention I received for the CPC lecture, I was asked to contribute two articles on general political philosophy to the
JOURNEYS TO THE FUTURE
By now (1968) the left-of-centre consensus on economic policy was being challenged and would continue to be. But the new liberal consensus on moral and social matters was not. That is to say that people in positions of influence in government, the media and universities managed to impose metropolitan liberal views on a society that was still largely conservative morally. The 1960s saw in Britain the beginning of what has become an almost complete separation between traditional Christian values and the authority of the state. Some politicians regarded this as a coherent programme. But for the great majority, myself included, it was a matter of reforms to deal with specific problems, in some cases cruel or unfair provisions.
So it was that I voted in 1966 for Leo Abse’s Bill proposing that homosexual conduct in private between consenting adults over twenty-one should no longer be a criminal offence. In the same year I voted for David Steel’s Bill to allow abortion if there was substantial risk that a child would suffer from such physical or mental abnormalities as to be seriously handicapped, or ‘where the woman’s capacity as a mother would be severely overstrained’. On both these issues I was strongly influenced by my own experience of other people’s suffering. For example, when I was a barrister I had been moved by the humiliation I had seen inflicted in the dock on a man of considerable local standing who had been found engaging in homosexual conduct.
On the other hand, some aspects of the liberal agenda, even at the time, seemed to me to go too far. Divorce law reform was such a case. I had talked in my constituency surgeries to women subjected to a life of misery from their brutal husbands and for whom marriage had become a prison from which, in my view, they should be released. In these circumstances divorce might be the only answer. But if divorce became too easy it might undermine marriages simply going through a bad patch. If people can withdraw lightly from their responsibilities they are likely to be less serious about entering into the initial obligation. I was concerned about the spouse who was committed to make the marriage work and was deserted. I was also very concerned about what would become of the family of the first marriage when the man (or woman) chose to start a second family. So in 1968 I was one of the minority who voted against a Bill to make divorce far easier. Divorce would be possible where it was judged that there had been an ‘irretrievable breakdown’, broadly defined, in the marriage. I also supported two amendments, the first of which made available a special form of marriage that was indissoluble (except by judicial separation). The second would seek to ensure that in any conflict of interest between the legal wife and children of the first marriage and a common-law wife and her children, the former should have priority.
Similarly, I voted against Sydney Silverman’s Bill to abolish the death penalty for murder in 1965. Like all the other measures listed above this was passed by Parliament, but subject to a Conservative amendment to the effect that the Act was to expire at the end of July 1970 unless Parliament determined otherwise. I then voted against the motion in December 1969 to make the Act permanent.
As I had shown in my earlier speech as a backbencher on corporal punishment, I believed that the state had not just a right but a duty to deter and punish violent crime and to protect the law-abiding public. However sparingly it is used, the power to deprive an individual of liberty, and under certain circumstances of life itself, is inseparable from the sovereignty of the state. I never had the slightest doubt that in nearly all cases the supreme deterrent would be an influence on the potential murderer. And the deterrent effect of capital punishment is at least as great on those who go armed on other criminal activities, such as robbery. To my mind, the serious difficulty in the issue lay in the possibility of the conviction and execution of an innocent man — which has certainly happened in a small number of cases. Against these tragic cases, however, must be set the victims of convicted murderers who have been released after their sentence was served only to be convicted of murder a second time — who have certainly numbered many more. Despite all the uncertainties and complexities, for example of forensic evidence, I believe that the potential victim of the murderer deserves that highest protection which only the existence of the death penalty gives. The notion of certain particularly heinous murders as ‘capital murders’ (as under the 1957 Act) — a concept which now again underlies changes in the system relating to life sentences — seems to me the right model. I have consistently voted in Parliament for a return of capital punishment for such murders.
As regards abortion, homosexuality, and divorce reform it is easy to see that matters did not turn out as was intended. For most of us in Parliament — and certainly for me — the thinking underlying these changes was that they dealt with anomalies or unfairnesses which occurred in a minority of instances, or that they removed uncertainties in the law itself. Or else they were intended to recognize in law what was in any case occurring in fact. Instead, it could be argued that they have paved the way towards a more callous, selfish and irresponsible society. Reforming the law on abortion was primarily intended to stop young women being forced to have back-street abortions. It was not meant to make abortion simply another ‘choice’. Yet in spite of the universal availability of artificial contraception the figures for abortion have kept on rising. Homosexual activists have moved from seeking a right of privacy to demanding social approval for the ‘gay’ lifestyle, equal status with the heterosexual family and even the legal right to exploit the sexual uncertainty of adolescents. Divorce law reform has contributed to — though it is by no means the only cause of-a very large increase in the incidence of marriage breakdown which has left so many children growing up without the continual care and guidance of two parents.
Knowing how matters have turned out, would I have voted differently on any of these measures? I now see that we viewed them too narrowly. As a lawyer and indeed as a politician who believed so strongly in the rule of law, I felt that the prime considerations were that the law should be enforceable and its application fair to those who might run foul of it. But laws also have a symbolic significance: they are signposts to the way society is developing — and the way the legislators of society envisage that it should develop. Moreover, taking all of the ‘liberal’ reforms of the 1960s together they amount to more than their individual parts. They came to be seen as providing a radically new framework within which the younger generation would be expected to behave.
Indeed, this was a period of obsessive and naive interest in ‘youth’. Parents worried so much about the ‘generation gap’ that even teenagers began to take it seriously. A whole ‘youth culture’ of misunderstood Eastern mysticism, bizarre clothing and indulgence in hallucinatory drugs emerged. I found Chelsea a very different place when we moved back to London in 1970. I had mixed feelings about what was happening. There was vibrancy and talent, but this was also in large degree a world of make-believe. A perverse pride was taken in Britain about our contribution to these trends. Carnaby Street in Soho, the Beatles, the mini-skirt and the maxiskirt were the new symbols of ‘Swinging Britain’. And they did indeed prove good export earners. Harold Wilson was adept at taking maximum political credit for them. The trouble was that they concealed the real economic weaknesses which even a talented fashion industry and entrepreneurial recording companies could not counter-balance. As Desmond Donnelly remarked, ‘My greatest fear is that Britain will sink giggling into the sea.’
Although Britain gave a distinctive gloss to these trends, the affluent consumer society to which they catered was above all to be found in the United States. I had made my first visit to the USA in 1967 on one of the ‘Leadership’ programmes run by the American Government to bring rising young leaders from politics and business over to the US. For six weeks I travelled the length and breadth of the United States. The excitement which I felt has never really subsided. At each stop-over I was met and accommodated by friendly, open, generous people who took me into their homes and lives and showed me their cities and townships with evident pride. The high point was my visit to the NASA Space Center at Houston. I saw the astronaut training programme which would just two years later help put a man on the moon. As a living example of the ‘brain drain’ from which over-regulated, high-taxed Britain was suffering, I met someone from my constituency of Finchley who had gone to NASA to make full use of his talents. I saw nothing wrong with that, and indeed was glad that a British scientist was making such an important contribution. But there was no way Britain could hope to compete even in more modest areas of technology if we did not learn the lessons of an enterprise economy.
Two years after that I went on a week-long visit to the Soviet Union. I had already come up against the obstinate contempt for human rights which was so characteristic of the USSR in the case of the detention of my constituent, the lecturer Gerald Brooke, for alleged ‘subversive criminal activities’ (i.e. smuggling in anti-Soviet pamphlets). I repeatedly raised the case both with the Government and in the House of Commons, though to no avail. Mr Brooke had become a pawn in the game the Soviets were trying to play to have their spies, the Krogers, released to them. (Eventually an exchange took place in 1969.) One good thing which came out of my work on Gerald Brooke’s behalf was that I made contact with the AngloSoviet Parliamentary Group. To my great surprise, when I went along to it I found MPs with equally strong anti-communist instincts as mine, but who unlike me were real experts in the field. In particular, Cyril Osborne began my education in assessing and countering Soviet tactics. It was he who before I went to the Soviet Union advised me that first of all I should not allow the Soviets to pay for my fare, and second that I should insist on visiting some churches. I took his advice. He also told me that the only way to win any respect from them was to make it clear that one was no soft touch. This entirely accorded with my own inclinations.
I travelled to Moscow with the amiable Paul Channon and his wife. We had a full schedule including not just the sights of Moscow but also Leningrad (formerly, and now once again, St Petersburg) and Stalingrad (Volgograd). But though the names might vary, the propaganda was the same. It was relentless, an endless flow of statistics proving the industrial and social superiority of the Soviet Union over the West. At least to the visitor, the sheer unimaginative humourlessness of it was an open invitation to satire. Outside an art gallery I visited there was a sculpture of a blacksmith beating a sword with a hammer. ‘That represents communism,’ my guide proudly observed. ‘Actually, it doesn’t,’ I replied. ‘It’s from the Old Testament — “And they shall beat their swords into ploughshares, and their spears into pruning-hooks”.’ Collapse of stout aesthete. Methodist Sunday School has its uses. I reflected, however, that at least it was a better work of art than the usual lantern-jawed, muscle-bound Stakhanovite outside the factories.
On another occasion I was asked rhetorically whether since it must be the aim of all peoples to live together in peace and harmony, surely NATO, that symbol of Cold War hostility, could be dispensed with. ‘Certainly not,’ I said. ‘NATO has kept the peace and we have to keep it strong.’ A similar line was taken with me at Stalingrad where the local politicians complained that Coventry had severed its connections with them since the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia the previous year. I was not going to apologize for that either. Indeed, as sanctions went, it was hardly such as to strike terror into the Kremlin.
Yet, behind the official propaganda, the grey streets, all but empty shops and badly maintained workers’ housing blocks, Russian humanity peeped out. There was no doubt about the genuineness of the tears when the older people at Leningrad and Stalingrad told me about their terrible sufferings in the War. The young people I talked to from Moscow University, though extremely cautious about what they said in the full knowledge that they were under KGB scrutiny, were clearly fascinated to learn all they could about the West. And even bureaucracy can prove human. When I visited the manager of the Moscow passenger transport system he explained to me at great length how decisions about new development had to go from committee to committee in what seemed — as I said — an endless chain of non-decision-making. I caught the eye of a young man, perhaps the chairman’s assistant, standing behind him and he could not repress a broad smile.
The other abiding impression I had of Russia, which would be strengthened on my subsequent visits, was of the contrast between the exquisite cultural achievement, admittedly stemming from the old Russia but excellently conserved by the communists, on the one hand and the hardness of life for ordinary people on the other. Leningrad housed the extraordinary Hermitage collection and the Kirov Ballet, both of which I visited. And it was in Leningrad, from the window of my hotel bedroom, that at six thirty on a cold, dark morning I would see all the working mothers crossing the square with their children hanging on to them to place them all day in the state cr?che whence they would be collected some twelve hours later. At Moscow airport while waiting for my delayed flight home I bought an exquisite coral-green porcelain tea service, the pride of my collection. Whenever I see it I also think of the grinding, hopeless toil which the system that produced it exacted. There could be no more poignant demonstration that communism was the regime for the privileged ?lite, capitalism the creed for the common man.
On my return to London I was moved to the Education portfolio in the Shadow Cabinet. Edward Boyle was leaving politics to become Vice-Chancellor of the University of Leeds. There was by now a good deal of grassroots opposition at Party Conferences to what was seen as his weakness in defence of the grammar schools. Although our views had diverged, I was sorry to see him go. He was my oldest friend in politics and I knew I would miss his intellect, sensitivity and integrity. But for me this was definitely a promotion, even though, as I have since learned, I was in fact the reserve candidate, after Keith Joseph who was the first choice to succeed Edward: I got the job because Reggie Maudling refused to take over Keith’s job as Trade and Industry Shadow.
I was delighted with my new role. I knew that I had risen to my present position as a result of free (or nearly free) good education, and I wanted others to have the same chance. Socialist education policies, by equalizing downwards and denying gifted children the opportunity to get on, were a major obstacle to that. I was also fascinated by the scientific side — the portfolio in those days being to shadow the Department of Education
Education was by now one of the main battlegrounds of politics. Since their election in 1964 Labour had been increasingly committed to making the whole secondary school system comprehensive, and had introduced a series of measures to make local education authorities (LEAs) submit plans for such a change. (The process culminated in legislation, introduced a few months after I took over as Education Shadow.) The difficulties Edward had faced in formulating and explaining our response soon became clear to me.
The Shadow Cabinet and the Conservative Party were deeply split over the principle of selection in secondary education and, in particular, over the examination by which children were selected at the age of eleven, the 11-Plus. To over-simplify a little, it was possible to distinguish four different attitudes among Conservatives. First, there were those who had no real interest in state education in any case because they themselves and their children went to private schools. This was an important group, all too likely to be swayed by arguments of political expediency. Second, there were those who, themselves or their children, had failed to get into grammar school and had been disappointed with the education received at a secondary modern. Third, there were those Conservatives who, either because they themselves were teachers or through some other contact with the world of education, had absorbed a large dose of the fashionable egalitarian doctrines of the day. Finally, there were people like me who had been to good grammar schools, were strongly opposed to their destruction and felt no inhibitions at all about arguing for the 11-Plus.
Within the Shadow Cabinet I was aware of a broadly similar range of views. Shadow ministers in general did not want to make education a major issue in the forthcoming election. Nor was this necessarily a foolish view. Both the Party’s own internal polling and published polls showed that the 11-Plus was widely unpopular and that people were at least prepared to say that they supported comprehensive schools. Whether they would have felt the same if they had been asked about re-organizing specific local schools on comprehensive lines and whether, in any case, they understood what was meant by ‘comprehensivization’ were of course different matters. There was, for example, a large difference between the full expression of the comprehensive concept, which was essentially one of social engineering and only secondarily educational, under which there was no streaming at all according to ability, and — on the other hand — a school to which entry was open to all, but which streamed by ability. In fact, as I was to point out in the Second Reading debate of Labour’s Education Bill in February 1970, it was absurd for the socialists to attack the principle of selection, since it would continue to apply in one way or another throughout the system from the age of eleven. I might have added that when you stop selecting by ability you have to select according to some other inevitably less satisfactory criterion. In practice, this would usually be income, because families with sufficient money would move and buy houses in middle-class areas where a well-run school was available for their children. Some Labour Members and many Labour supporters understood all this well enough, and felt betrayed by Harold Wilson’s abandonment of his own personal commitment to keep the grammar schools. When I won a surprise victory in the Committee Stage debate, knocking out Clause 1 of the Bill, it was because two Labour Members absented themselves.
But by the time I took on the Education portfolio, the Party’s policy group had presented its report and the policy itself was largely established. It had two main aspects. We had decided to concentrate on improving primary schools. And in order to defuse as much as possible the debate about the 11-Plus, and in place of Labour’s policy of comprehensivization by coercion, we stressed the autonomy of local education authorities in proposing the retention of grammar schools or the introduction of comprehensive schools.
The good arguments for this programme were that improvements in the education of younger children were vital if the growing tendency towards illiteracy and innumeracy was to be checked and, secondly, that in practice the best way to retain grammar schools was to fight centralization. There were, however, arguments on the other side. There was not much point in spending large sums on nursery and primary schools and the teachers for them, if the teaching methods and attitudes were wrong. Nor, of course, were we in the long run going to be able to defend grammar schools — or, for that matter, private schools, direct grant schools and even streamed comprehensive schools — if we did not fight on grounds of principle.
Within the limits which the agreed policy and political realities allowed me, I went as far as I could. This was a good deal too far for some people, as I learned when, shortly after my appointment, I was the guest of the education correspondents at the Cumberland Hotel in London. I put the case not just for grammar schools but for secondary moderns. Those children who were not able to shine academically could in fact acquire responsibilities and respect at a separate secondary modern school, which they would never have done if in direct and continual competition and contact with the more academically gifted. I was perfectly prepared to see the 11-Plus replaced or modified by testing later in a child’s career, if that was what people wanted. I knew that it was quite possible for late developers at a secondary modern to be moved to the local grammar school so that their abilities could be properly stretched. I was sure that there were too many secondary modern schools which were providing a second-rate education — but this was something which should be remedied by bringing their standards up, rather than grammar school standards down. Only two of those present at the Cumberland Hotel lunch seemed to agree. Otherwise I was met by a mixture of hostility and blank incomprehension. It was not just that they thought me wrong: they could not imagine that I could seriously believe such things. It opened my eyes to the dominance of socialist thinking among those whose task it was to provide the public with information about education.
There were still some relatively less important issues in Conservative education policy to be decided. I fought hard to have an unqualified commitment to raising the school leaving age to sixteen inserted into the manifesto, and succeeded against some doubts from the Treasury team. I also met strong opposition from Ted Heath when at our discussions at Selsdon Park in early 1970 I argued that the manifesto should endorse the proposed new independent University of Buckingham. In spite of backing from Keith Joseph and others, I lost this battle but was at least finally permitted to make reference to the university in a speech. Quite why Ted felt so passionately against it I have never fully understood.
The Selsdon Park policy weekend at the end of January and beginning of February was a success, but not for the reasons usually given. The idea that Selsdon Park was the scene of debate which resulted in a radical rightward shift in Party policy is false. The main lines of policy had already been agreed and incorporated into a draft manifesto which we spent our time considering in detail. Our line on immigration had also been carefully spelt out. Our proposals for trade union reform had been published in
This in turn led us into some trouble later. During the election campaign the fallacious assertion that high taxes caused inflation inspired a briefing note from Central Office. This note allowed the Labour Party to claim subsequently that we had said that we would cut prices ‘at a stroke’ by means of tax cuts.
Thanks to the blanket press coverage of Selsdon Park, we seemed to be a serious alternative Government committed to long-term thinking about the policies for Britain’s future. We were also helped by Harold Wilson’s attack on ‘Selsdon Man’. It gave us an air of down-to-earth right-wing populism which countered the somewhat aloof image conveyed by Ted. Above all, both Selsdon Park and the Conservative manifesto,
Between our departure from Selsdon Park and the opening of the general election campaign in May, however, there was a reversal of the opinion poll standing of the two parties. At Selsdon we were in the lead and we thought we would win. In May quite suddenly we lost ground and appeared to be several points behind. Influenced by the short-term change in the polls, Harold Wilson called the election for 10 June — a mistake I never forgot when I became Prime Minister. But at the time most of us — including myself — thought that we would lose. The gloom steadily deepened. During the campaign I called in one day at the Conservative Research Department offices in Old Queen Street for some briefing material and was struck by how depressed everybody seemed.
Quite why this turnaround had occurred (or indeed how real it actually was) is hard to know. With the prospect of a general election there is always a tendency for disillusioned supporters to resume their party allegiance. But it is also true — and it is something that we would pay dearly for in Government — that we had not seriously set out to win the battle of ideas against socialism during our years in Opposition. And indeed, although we did not realize it, our rethinking of policy had not been as fundamental as it should have been.
The campaign itself was largely taken up with Labour attacks on our policies. We for our part, like any Opposition, but with more cause and opportunity than most, highlighted the long list of Labour’s broken promises — ‘steady industrial growth all the time’, ‘no stop-go measures’, ‘no increase in taxation’, ‘no increase in unemployment’, ‘the pound in your pocket not devalued’, ‘economic miracle’ and many more. This was the theme I pursued in my campaign speeches. But I also used a speech to a dinner organized by the National Association of Head Teachers in Scarborough to outline our education policies.
It is hard to know just what turned the tide, if indeed there was a tide against us to turn. Paradoxically perhaps, the Conservative figures who made the greatest contribution were those two fierce enemies Ted Heath and Enoch Powell. No one could describe Ted as a great communicator, not least because for the most part he paid such little attention to communication. But as the days went by he came across as a decent man, someone with integrity and a vision — albeit a somewhat technocratic one — of what he wanted for Britain. It seemed, to use Keith’s words to me five years earlier, that he had ‘a passion to get Britain right’. This was emphasized in Ted’s powerful introduction to the manifesto in which he attacked Labour’s ‘cheap and trivial style of government’ and ‘government by gimmick’ and promised ‘a new style of government’. Ted’s final Party Election Broadcast also showed him as an honest patriot who cared deeply about his country and wanted to serve it. Though it would not have saved him had we lost, he had fought a good campaign.
So had Enoch Powell. There had been much speculation as to whether he would endorse the Conservative leadership and programme. Attitudes towards Enoch remained sharply polarized. When he came in March to speak to my Association we were subject to strong criticism and I decided to issue a statement to the effect that: ‘Those who use this country’s great tradition of freedom of speech should not seek to deny that same freedom to others, especially to those who, like Mr Powell, spent their war years in distinguished service in the Forces.’
In the June campaign Enoch made three powerful speeches on the economic failure of the Labour Government, law and order, and Europe, urging people to vote Conservative. Furthermore, a bitter personal attack on Enoch by Tony Benn, linking him to fascism, probably rallied many otherwise unsympathetic voters to his standard. There is some statistical evidence that Enoch’s intervention helped tip the balance in the West Midlands in a close election.
When my own result was announced to a tremendous cheer at Hendon College of Technology, it appeared that I had increased my majority to over 11,000 over Labour. Then I went down to the
Friday was spent in my constituency clearing up and writing the usual thank-you letters. I thought that probably Ted would have at least one woman in his Cabinet, and that since he had got used to me in the Shadow Cabinet I would be the lucky girl. On the same logic, I would probably get the Education brief.
On Saturday morning the call from the No. 10 Private Secretary came through. Ted wanted to see me. When I went in to the Cabinet Room I began by congratulating him on his victory. But not much time was spent on pleasantries. He was as ever brusque and businesslike, and he offered me the job of Education Secretary, which I accepted.
I went back to the flat at Westminster Gardens with Denis and we drove to Lamberhurst. Sadly my father was not alive to share the moment. Shortly before his death in February, I had gone up to Grantham to see him. Having always had a weak chest, he had now developed emphysema and had oxygen beside the bed. My stepmother, Cissy, whom he had married several years earlier and with whom he had been very happy, was constantly at his bedside. While I was there, friends from the church, business, local politics, the Rotary and bowling club, kept dropping in ‘just to see how Alf was’. I hoped that at the end of my life I too would have so many good friends.
I understand that my father had been listening to me as a member of a panel on a radio programme just before he died. He never knew that I would become a Cabinet minister, and I am sure that he never imagined I would eventually become Prime Minister. He would have wanted these things for me because politics was so much a part of his life and because I was so much his daughter. But nor would he have considered that political power was the most important or even the most effective thing in life. In searching through my papers to assemble the material for this volume I came across some of my father’s loose sermon notes slipped into the back of my sixth-form chemistry exercise book.
Men, nations, races or any particular generation cannot be saved by ordinances, power, legislation. We worry about all this, and our faith becomes weak and faltering. But all these things are as old as the human race — all these things confronted Jesus 2,000 years ago… This is why Jesus had to come.
My father lived these convictions to the end.
See pp. 247-9; also The Downing Street Years, pp. 642-67.
A Balance of Power (1986), p. 42.
Exchange Rates and Liquidity.
Desmond Donnelly was a Labour MP for almost twenty years. He resigned the Labour whip in 1968 in protest at the withdrawal from east of Suez and died a Conservative.
In Place of Strife was the — in retrospect ironically chosen — title of a Labour White Paper of 1969 which proposed a range of union reforms. The proposals had to be abandoned due to internal opposition within the Cabinet and the Labour Party, led by Jim Callaghan.