Giles Marshall 8.00am
I was nursing a hot chocolate in a small café beneath one of the North Yorkshire peaks when someone told me that Margaret Thatcher had died. There were no rumblings in the nearby mountains, no lighting strikes and the rain didn’t stop falling, but it was possible nonetheless to feel a sense of the profound.
All of us, after all, live in a country whose political environment she has largely created, and the acres of print and online commentary that followed her passing were produced by men and women whose own outlook was shaped by her’s.
We are all children of Thatcher. Progressives and reactionaries, lovers and haters, nationalists and internationalists, we have all had our political consciousness defined by the woman whose funeral procession will move along the Strand and Fleet Street and up to St Paul’s Cathedral this morning. It is an extraordinary reflection of her impact. Just as politics seemed to be retreating into blandness, and fewer people want to be bothered with political argument, it all comes flooding back. Thanks to her.
My earliest political memories and actions are to do with the Lady. I canvassed for her, as a member of a relatively political family, in 1979; rejoiced in her triumph at a preternaturally early age on that sunny May day; went on to join the Young Conservatives, where Mrs Thatcher would be greeted by enthusiastic ovations on the last day of the national conference, even while it was in the hands of some distinctly non-Thatcherite chairmen and vice-chairmen. And even when I started to move away from the Thatcherite creed, I never doubted – no one did – the impact of this woman who had taken Britain by the scruff of the neck in 1979 and sought to re-boot it. Meeting her in person was a defining moment, even if she did spend some time attacking the profession – teaching – that I had recently joined. But then that was – and is – the point about Margaret Thatcher. She had no time for false niceties. She was blunt in her opinions and her actions, in the black and white world she looked upon, and she expected others to be the same.
There is an irony in the Ding Dong brigade being so triumphalist. You can sing Ding Dong Socialism’s dead. Or communism. Or militant trade unionism. And you’d be right in those instances. Indeed, if you really must, you can remind everyone via a 1930s Munchkin song that the Lady herself is dead. But her ideas aren’t. Her legacy isn’t. Enjoy the song while you can, you preening lefties, for Thatcherism has survived everything you sought to protect.
Yet of course, she also managed to destroy One Nation Conservatism, Egremont’s creed. She gave it lip service, commenting, “We must learn again to be one nation, otherwise we shall end up as no nation”. It was not truly a commitment to what we understand as One Nation Conservatism. She was as happy to spell the end of a brand of conservatism that she considered weak and inarticulate as she was the trade unionism which had halted much of Britain in the months before her march on power. Yet even for us, the last remaining outpost of old Toryism, her death is an event to provoke respect and to stimulate reflection.
Why should we respect her? Why should we draw ourselves to mark her passing on this funeral day? Because she is of a rare breed. She is of a breed that sees politics as a can-do vocation. A breed that allows no obstacle to stand in the way of political passion. A breed that comes to political maturity at just the time they are needed, to change things, whether through conflict or persuasion, because actually, the change is so very needed. A breed that makes the political world seem so much larger and so much more important because the scale of their own thinking and activity is so monumental. We mark her passing because we know very well that she will be one of only a handful of political leaders whose name will remain part of the common currency of discussion and memory a century or more hence. That is what makes her passing worth marking.
When this day is done the passions won’t much die down, and her name and legacy will still inspire furious argument on either side. Nevertheless, we shall return to the oft dead-ended politics of today and may occasionally wonder what could happen if another person of the Lady’s ilk were to bestride the political nation again. We might have some nostalgia for a time when ideas really seemed to matter, or we might be grateful for our less troublesome, more mediocre politicians. But we will know that the era to which Margaret Thatcher gave her name was indeed an extraordinary one in the annals of British politics. We are still living in its shadow.
Follow Giles on Twitter @gilesmarshall
Jack Blackburn 10.40am
Nik Darlington 9.00am
The morning’s newspapers are devoted to the death of Baroness Thatcher. The TRG made a statement yesterday and I made my own comments later.
While millions around the world mourn her passing, we remember her words at this organisation’s birth, in September 1975.
“I am pleased to learn of the formation of this new and vigorous group, and thank you for your good wishes to me as Leader of the Conservative Party.
As a nation, we face three problems:
First, we must beat inflation, or it will destroy the basis of our society.
Second, we must secure the future of economic and political liberty by genuinely distributing power and property among our people—a policy which is the reverse of that which the present Government is pursuing.
Third, we must play an active and influential part in world affairs, showing concern both for the western democratic ideal and for those nations whose primary task is to overcome poverty.
It is good to know that the Conservative Party can look to the Tory Reform Group for creative and practical ideas on these matters and for the will to see them through. We face the future with a sense of hope, and confidence in the capacity of our people to cope with whatever lies ahead.”
Peter Walker, the founder of the Tory Reform Group, who served under Mrs Thatcher as Energy Secretary in the pivotal period of the miners’ strike, responded with the following words:
“The members of the Tory Reform Group are holding their inaugural conference in London today and have asked me to convey to you their good wishes and to express to you their determination to do all in their power to see the early return of a Conservative Government and the defeat of the Socialist Government that is doing so much harm to our country.
They have also asked me to tell you that besides your being able to rely upon their fullest support in bringing victory to our Party they hope they will be able to make a creative and constructive contribution to the preparation of our Party’s policies for the years that lie ahead.”
The “Socialist Government” was indeed defeated in 1979. Margaret Thatcher went on to revolutionise British politics, and change the course of not one but two political parties as even her Labour opponents under Tony Blair and Gordon Brown comprehended the sea change before them.
For our part, the Tory Reform Group remains wholly committed to continuing that “creative and constructive contribution” as we all work towards the return of a Conservative Government in 2015.
Nik Darlington 4.30pm
Margaret Thatcher did not get everything right. What politician does? But her legacy is not just a few policies here, a few new organisations there. Her legacy is the Britain we know. For how many politicians can we say that?
She changed the direction of the country’s travel. Not by a margin of degrees, but by right angles.
The Telegraph’s Peter Oborne wrote recently:
“In a way that is probably hard for those who did not live through this period to understand, for the best part of that decade the very existence of the British state appeared to be under threat. Politicians from all mainstream parties seemed quite unable to cope with what appeared to be insoluble problems. Only the far Left was wholly confident of the answers, and the situation only started to clarify with Margaret Thatcher’s victory in the 1979 general election.”
The very existence of the British state. Say those words again. The more you do, the more implausible it sounds - but on a certain level it is as plausible as the rising sun. Over the course of the troubled 1970s, Britain had become nigh on ungovernable. Like today, global currents were in part sweeping the country along a course it could neither understand nor control. Yet infamous “enemies within” wrecked successive government attempts to reign them in - whether Ted Heath’s industrial policies of the first half of the decade, or Wilson and Callaghan’s palliative care in the latter half.
Ken Clarke said in 1985, when Paymaster-General:
“When we returned to office in 1979 one very major reason was that we were elected to curb excessive trade union power…and the abuse of trade union power vis-à-vis employees within trade unions. The background was that a good Government had been swept out of power in 1974 by a political miner’s strike, and the Labour Government in the late 1970s had been firmly controlled by trade union bosses.”
Mrs Thatcher’s government learned valuable lessons from her Tory predecessor’s failures. In contrast to the popular perception of her as a bludgeon, she was cautious. She knew when to pick her fights. She was better prepared. And she had an answer to the economic malaise of the time.
Following the 1984-85 miners’ strike, Britain witnessed its lowest rate of industrial unrest for half a century, with 1.92 million working days lost in 1986. In 1974, the country lost 14.75 million working days and over 6 million in 1975. The alleged ‘Winter of Discontent’ contributed to almost 29.5 million working days lost in 1979 alone. Thenceforth, strike activity was in overall decline - with the obvious exception in 1985.
We can argue till the end of our days about the merits, motives and consequences of Mrs Thatcher’s policies - and people will continue to do so, not least because hers is a fascinating period of study. When an undergraduate, I took a history course named, simply, ‘Thatcherism’ (taught by one of the 364 economists, no less). It converted me from a misty-eyed admirer to an awed, respectful and yet critical supporter. It enthralled me like only a genuine watershed in history can.
It cannot ever be doubted that Mrs Thatcher stood firm to her purpose. Her obduracy on certain issues earned her enemies, but it earned her many, many more adherents. ‘You may not have agreed with her, but at least you knew where she stood,’ is the typical refrain.
The Thatcher legacy is rich and multi-faceted. On industrial policy, certainly, she made the greatest break with the immediate past - not least in that she succeeded in bringing (relative) harmony where there was discord. On many other policies, she set in train a revolution that has traversed three decades of British life: privatisation for instance (a word she hated), a liberal economy based on a powerful and flexible financial sector (and subsequently fruitful symbiosis between other professional services such as law and accountancy), and - oft forgotten - a firm hand of environmental protection.
Today we remember across the newsreels - and tomorrow across the newspapers - a great woman, and a great Briton. Meanwhile a family weeps, a country stops, and an entire world mourns.
Follow Nik on Twitter @NikDarlington
The death earlier today of Baroness Thatcher marks the passing of an era in British politics. The most electorally successful of modern Conservative Prime Ministers and the only woman to hold the post, she helped change our country in a way that few leaders have ever done. Much of Britain’s domestic culture and international position is a result of her style of leadership and the vision of a leader who set our her stall based on simple principles, learned from her father, a shopkeeper. She showed how determination and hard-work can make anything possible.
If anyone broke the mould of British politics, it was her. Today is not the time to analyse her legacy but rather a time to reflect and express our sympathy for her family at this difficult time.
Tim Crockford, TRG chairman, said:
“It is with great sadness that we learn of the passing of Lady Thatcher. The thoughts of all TRG members are with her family.”
James Reekie 9.00am
The European Union’s unresolved constitutional status, and the sticking plaster approach of the Lisbon Treaty means that we need some new thinking in order to resolve our qualms over Europe. The Prime Minister can provide this.
Like most people on the centre-right, I am sceptical of increasing European powers. I don’t believe the UK should be outside of the EU, but I do think that Europe needs to change. That is why I welcomed David Cameron’s pledge to renegotiate our place in Europe and put the results of those negotiations to the British people in a referendum. Mr Cameron is providing important leadership in Europe by examining as part of this exercise those parts of the EU that are fundamentally incompatible with not only British values but also those of other Member States. It means that the European political classes will at least begin the debate by asking ‘What powers and competences need to be returned?’ rather than ’ How much state sovereignty can we take from Member States?’. The former question being the one which the British public have been rightfully asking for years.
The slow creep of European power cannot be simply blamed on the ‘bureaucrats in Brussels’ or on the European institutions, for on every European Treaty we find the tacit endorsement of Prime Ministers, Presidents and Foreign Secretaries in what has become a shameless acquiescence in the diminution of parliamentary sovereignty - if not in a theoretical sense then at least in a practical one.
David Cameron has demonstrated that he is no friend of this approach and finally at last, we have a leader in Europe who is actually willing to provide a robust alternative to the ‘integration will solve it’ mantra of the federalists.
However, simply moaning and groaning about Europe won’t solve the problem for us eurosceptics. We must call for a constitutional settlement that reigns in and defines in clear terms the powers and limitations of the European Union and its institutions. There does exist a reasonable approach to the European Union which satisfies our ambitions for free trade and co-operation that does not rely on full blown integration or withdrawal.
Eurosceptics need to take a much more coherent and holistic approach to the EU constitutional debate.
Firstly, by recognising that from its early conception until now the European Union has in fact developed along a distinctly British constitutional tradition. This type of constitutional evolution has made Britain’s constitution distinctive in its flexibility and contributed to our many successes within a state context but it is no remedy for a supranational entity such as the European Union. Of course in a legal and political order such as the European Union this was always going to lead to a constitutional crisis, especially considering there is the sovereignty of member states constitutional traditions to consider.
Secondly, by recognising that our alternative is the one sought by the vast majority of people. The former treaty establishing a Constitution for Europe contained articles on a European flag, anthem and various other nonsensical provisions in order to attempt to garner some sense of constitutional patriotism from citizens of member states, which was completely out of step with the vast majority of the European public. There is little clamour for a federal Europe. So let’s argue for an abandonment of pie in the sky symbolism and advocate a focus on solid constitutional reform.
We hear far too much nowadays of European human rights legislation or the next nanny-state measure to come through Brussels. This leads us to forget the fundamental reason why the European Union exists.
The common market in principle is good for business and good for trade within Europe and internationally. In fact, it is the principles of this common market that may just save us from the absurdity of minimum pricing for alcohol. The common market is not without its faults but the law makers and political leaders of Europe must appreciate that the fundamental premise of the European Union is a Common Market. It is time we got back to something that looks like one.
Thirdly, we need to recognise the European Union for what it is. It isn’t a state and we don’t want it to become a state. I often hear those across the political spectrum talk of the European democratic deficit. Of course the democratic deficit is still far too large but we must also appreciate that if we do not want Europe to become a state we must stop holding it to standards we expect from nation states. We must see it as a unique order which we are responsible for shaping and not leave the left to determine the future of the European Union.
Therefore, governments must also take some responsibility for constitutional collisions when they arise. Often constitutional compatibility issues can be resolved well beforehand but they often lack the political will or courage by both the EU and national parliaments to be tackled head on.
So what next for our relationship with Europe? Depending on the process followed in determining any future treaty, Mr Cameron must ultimately ensure that he plays his full part in leading and maintaining a coalition of centre-right reformists, but most of all he must also ensure that prominent eurosceptics from across Europe are playing their full part in the debate. There has been some interesting thinking about what the process could look like in order to ensure democratic legitimacy for a European constitution which has been decidedly lacking in any.
So far, David Cameron has led the way admirably. Firstly for promising a referendum and secondly for promising a renegotiated settlement to be put forward in that referendum. It’s time for all right-thinking eurosceptics to get on board and shape a European Union settlement that is democratically and constitutionally legitimate.
James Reekie is the Vice-Chairman of the Scottish Conservative and Unionist party
On these pages in November 2012, I predicted that the Scottish party leader Ruth Davidson would eventually reverse her ‘line in the sand’ position on devolution of further powers to the Scottish Parliament, namely powers over the levying and collection of taxation.
The concept of our party supporting the transfer of additional powers was first espoused by Murdo Fraser. Alex Fergusson - who endorsed Murdo Fraser’s leadership bid – has also set out his support for this move on Egremont and sits on the board of the DevoPlus campaign group to further that objective.
I had predicted that this breakthrough would come during Ruth Davidson’s leadership – and I use the term breakthrough very deliberately – but not until the ‘Yes’ camp were defeated at the Scottish Independence referendum, now fixed for 18 September 2014.
Put simply, the Scottish electorate needs a more compelling vision of exactly what Scotland they can expect to see after voting ‘No’ at the referendum, and they need that vision set out for them now, before the referendum.
Ms Davidson has stepped up to the plate and furnished a centre-right vision for Scotland’s constitutional settlement within the UK post-2014. No longer would the ‘tax and spend’ members of the Scottish Parliament be allowed to practice fiscal irresponsibility unchecked. No longer pursuing blanket policies of free NHS prescriptions and free concessionary bus travel for all - including fellow MSPs and millionaires - without suffering from the discipline of having to raise the necessary tax revenue to pay for those policies.
Whether the Scottish electorate decide policies such as universal free benefits during times of fiscal constraint, or not, is up to them to decide. Our role is merely to argue our case. We should not deny a legislature the democratic rights which a growing number of electors would like to see it gain because we fear the governing party would use those powers to the contrary of what we would do (i.e. they raise the burden of taxation whereas we would reduce it). We lost that basis of argument in 1997 on the referendum on Scottish devolution, and are still suffering from it. It is time to get ahead of the curve for once and all on this particular issue.
With greater fiscal autonomy, the Scottish budget would directly benefit from policies which help promote economic growth and simplify the tax system, thereby increasing tax compliance and collection rates. The Scottish Conservatives hand is strengthened because it is our message of sensible tax rates, a pro-enterprise economy, and cracking down on tax evasion which chimes perfectly with this type of devolution settlement.
Ruth may well have alienated figures such as Lord Forsyth, whose backing was instrumental to winning the leadership of the Scottish Conservatives in the autumn of 2011, but this is silly. We are all Conservatives first and foremost - our core values are the same. The reformist wing of the party should believe in reforming political institutions to further our beliefs of fairness, democracy and progress. Allowing a Parliament to determine its own taxation levels to pursue its own political priorities naturally follow from that belief.
The job of the TRG throughout the Scottish Conservatives’ review on greater devolution for Scotland must be to represent our grassroots members’ views and to ensure the process is not hijacked by figures such as Lord Forsyth, and some of the others who previously backed Ruth Davidson’s leadership bid, all of whom could potentially put the brakes on what has been a breakthrough announcement today.
Andrew Morrison is a member of TRG Scotland, serves as the current Vice-Chairman of the Scottish Conservative & Unionist Party West of Scotland Regional Council, and stood for election recently at the Local Authority elections in May 2012. Andrew previously stood for the Holyrood constituency of Glasgow Pollok, being ranked number three on the Glasgow regional list.
So the lacklustre rigmarole of a Royal Charter takes another turn. The House of Lords has been debating whether to exempt small blogs from the new cross-party press regulations.
The Government is considering its own response to the quandary posed by Internet blogs like Guido Fawkes that are based overseas.
It can be argued that a result of the Internet age is faster, better connected, more nimble scrutiny of the holders of power. Politicians and press barons have been in each other’s pockets for decades, and to suppose this is a new phenomenon is naïve.
Yet political bloggers are beholden to no greater power (at least that is what they claim - and most ought to be believed). Unlike newspapers with their failing business model, most bloggers have no paying market of consumers to chase.
How does a Government get to grips with curtailing them in the manner it is attempting to curtail the mainstream press? To murder a phrase, qui regulates ipsos regulatiem?
It can’t. Which is why ministers, shadow ministers and advisers are hurriedly trying to patch up this particular hole (of several) in the new regulations.
For our part, I am not entirely aware yet whether as de facto digital lessees of Tumblr, the Egremont blog falls into the same category as Guido Fawkes - i.e. an offshore concern.
That small print aside, there are no circumstances under which I can see our being subject to this attempt at regulation. Zero funding, zero revenue, and a relatively small but of course highly influential and intelligent band of readers.
So for Egremont at least, it is business as usual.