Why the Left should love Margaret Thatcher

Paul Abbott 11.36am

With a new film out, some brickbats will be thrown. But forget the myths. Margaret Thatcher was actually one of the most sensible Prime Ministers we have ever been lucky enough to have.

Imagine a drafty auditorium hall in London. It is 1975. A female trade union member is speaking. She has just been elected as the first female leader of a mainstream political party - against the odds, in the face of opposition from the right-wing press. Now she is addressing a movement called the Conservative Trade Unionists (CTU).

This woman is a progressive, a firebrand Member of Parliament: one of only a handful of MPs to support Leo Abse’s bid to legalise homosexuality, or to vote in favour of David Steel’s Bill to legalise abortion.

Considered left-wing by many, this is what Margaret Thatcher had to say to her trade union comrades:

“As you well know, for over 100 years, ever since Disraeli’s day, since before the Labour Party existed, it has been the belief of the Conservative Party that the law should not only permit, but that it should assist, the trades unions to carry out their legitimate function of protecting their members…

It is not just for the benefit of this Party—it is for the benefit of the trades union movement, and of the whole country, that those of reason and moderation should be as active and determined in union affairs as are the extremists.”

Margaret Thatcher is often remembered in crude and simplistic terms. But consider the facts. The truth is more subtle:

1. Thatcher believed in the state school system. As Education Secretary, in the early 1970s, she hugely increased the number of pupils at comprehensive schools from 32 per cent to 62 per cent. In 1971, at the very first opportunity, she increased funding for state schools, saying: “The substantial replacement and improvement of primary school buildings will be continued. Grants to direct grant schools will be increased. Provision for higher and further education will be improved and expanded.”

2. Thatcher believed in public spending. Her first act as Prime Minister, on her very first day in office, was to increase the wages of rank-and-file police officers. Over ten years, she raised NHS spending in real terms - up 32 per cent. Social security spending - up 32 per cent. Employment and training spending - up 33 per cent. And she paid for it all with a ‘Robin Hood Tax’, by taxing North Sea Oil at 90 per cent - something that is too left-wing these days even for the Labour party frontbench these days.

3. Thatcher campaigned for women’s rights. As Prime Minister, she toughened guideline sentencing for rape; put extra money into the NHS for tackling breast cancer and cervical cancer; and hugely expanded the numbers of women both in work, and at university.

Margaret Thatcher is a divisive figure. She had an ear for the rabble-rousing phrase. But the truth is, she did more to advance the NHS, state education, and women’s rights than almost anyone else in the 1970s and 1980s. That is why the Left - indeed, anyone with a progressive bone in their body - should love Margaret Thatcher.

Paul Abbott works for a Conservative MP in Parliament, and tweets at @Paul_T_Abbott

Why the Conservatives could lose in 2015 unless we value the public sector

Paul Abbott 6.03am

A defining moment of the 2010 general election was when George Osborne, at a private meeting of candidates and volunteers, said: "We didn’t lose in 1997, 2001 and 2005 because a few thousand people went to fringe parties. No. We lost because millions of people went to Labour."

This is the most basic and fundamental political insight for the Conservative party. It should be writ large on the wall of every Minister, Member, think-tanker and researcher. It should scroll across our PC screensavers, and be inscribed on our mobile phones.

Why? Because as soon as we forget it, we will all be back in Opposition again for another thirteen years.

There is a strain of language out there today that confuses a desire to cut the deficit with a dislike of the pubic sector. Thus we hear constant attacks on Civil Service salaries, or libertarian fantasies about a no-holds-barred economy. We hear endless calls for tax cuts for millionaires, but not enough about tax cuts for the millions of people on ordinary wages.

This has to stop. Many low-paid workers voted Conservative in 2010. 
In fact, in June 2009, of the public sector workers questioned who were “certain to vote”, Ipsos MORI reported that 32 per cent would vote Conservative, 29 per cent for Labour and 19 per cent for the Lib Dems.

Everyone wants the public sector to be good value for money. Of course this means thinning out the quangos and endless back office administration. But surely we are happy to pay for positive outcomes? What is wrong with higher salaries for nurses, teachers, university lecturers, immigration personnel and police officers, if they are doing a good job? If we do not pay good wages, how else can we persuade bright young graduates to become public servants, rather than City solicitors?

There will inevitably be some hardliners who say that this argument is soft, liberal sogginess. To them, I say this: remember 1997. And 2001. And 2005.

There is nothing socialist about standing up for the admirable parts of the public sector. One of Tony Blair’s great domestic triumphs was to rebuild the public realm, which had been neglected in the 1990s. This was a large part of his electoral appeal.

The first political office that Margaret Thatcher held was in the Conservative Trade Unionists. One of her first acts as Prime Minister was to increase the wages of rank-and-file police officers.

Too many dodgy PFI deals were struck and billions of pounds were wasted, but there was a genuine public appetite for things like better motorways and more police officers. Such public policies should not solely be championed by the Left.

This is so often merely a matter of emphasis. Many Conservative Ministers are already quietly finding ways to reward deserving public sector workers. Academies and Free Schools can pay good teachers more than the national union rate. Nurses can set up co-operatives and have a stake in the success of their clinic. George Osborne has protected the pensions of the lowest paid civil servants, and boosted their income by £250, despite a general pay-freeze. There are lots of other examples. But we need to make more of them. Champion them.

I accept that Britain is still too dominated by the public sector, and that we need to rebalance our economy. I accept that Labour wasted our money, and hopelessly ran up debts. I accept that Ed Balls in particular seems to have an almost criminal disregard for our financial stability.

But we are in Government now. It is our public sector. We should look after it.

Follow Paul on Twitter @Paul_t_abbott

"Words, words, mere words", but Ken Clarke is correct about reforming Britain’s prisons

Nik Darlington 8.10am

The Justice Secretary, Ken Clarke, has an important article in the Guardian today, in which he blames the riots that swept English cities this summer on this country’s “social deficit” between mainstream society and a “feral underclass”.

Some people are dismayed by the language used. Be that as it may, dismay all you wish but I would wager that more people are horrified by the criminal acts in Tottenham, Croydon and elsewhere than some choice words of a popular old hand known for plain speaking. Actions speak louder than words.

For what it is worth, “feral” derives from the Latin ferus meaning “wild”. In turn, “wild” means “uncontrolled or unrestrained, especially in pursuit of pleasure” - an apt description of what occurred in English cities in August.

And Mr Clarke is not playing to any ‘nasty party’ gallery because he is writing in the Guardian, whose readers have not voted Tory since the 1950s; if it had passed you by, the Tory press and the Justice Secretary do not see eye to eye in many things beyond a penchant for beer and cricket.

More importantly, Ken Clarke writes that the underlying nature of the riots and the rioters must be a prompt for “radical reform”. Our prisons are places for punishment, of course, but there must be a heightened emphasis on rehabilitation.

Punishment alone is not enough… Locking people up without reducing the risk of them committing new crimes against new victims the minute they get out does not make for intelligent sentencing.

It’s not yet been widely recognised, but the hardcore of the rioters were, in fact, known criminals. Close to three-quarters of those aged 18 or over charged with riot offences already had a prior conviction. That is the legacy of a broken penal system - one whose record in preventing reoffending has been straightforwardly dreadful. In my view, the riots can be seen in part as an outburst of outrageous behaviour by the criminal classes - individuals and families familiar with the justice system who haven’t been changed by their past punishments.

I am introducing radical changes to focus our penal system relentlessly on proper, robust punishment and the reduction of reoffending. This means making our jails places of productive hard work, addressing the scandal of drugs being readily available in many of our prisons and toughening community sentences so that they command public respect. And underpinning it all, the most radical step of all: paying those who rehabilitate offenders, including the private and voluntary sectors, by the results they achieve, not (as too often in the past) for processes and box-ticking.

I have noticed some people lazily describing the Justice Secretary’s words as lacking depth and an understanding of underlying problems. Evidently, they read the sexy headline (probably chosen by the Guardian) about a “feral underclass” and bypassed the article itself, which if they had bothered to read might have found their answer.

However, reform can’t stop at our penal system alone. The general recipe for a productive member of society is not secret. It has not changed since I was inner cities minister 25 years ago. It’s about having a job, a strong family, a decent education and, beneath it all, an attitude that shares in the values of mainstream society.

Just in case the casual reader thought this was mere rhetoric, replete with the ethos of long-held experience, are coalition government policies such as deficit reduction, welfare reform, work programmes and liberalising our schools.

Rehabilitation must be the watchword of this Government’s penal reforms. After this summer’s riots, in which three-quarters of the tried perpetrators are reoffenders, that fact is staring us in the face more than ever.

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NEW POLICY SPECIAL: How to repair the Two Nations of Britain

Paul Marsden 6.00am

Nearly three thousand people have been arrested since the summer riots. Hundreds have been processed through the criminal justice system. Many have gone to prison for a long time.

Still we are left with a distraught and angry majority, fed up with the bad news coming from the same areas of our towns and cities.

The minority who perpetrated the trouble remain angry with the world and transfixed by instant fame, celebrities and a ‘bling’ culture. They demand respect without earning it. They refuse to tolerate others and live in fear of each other, the police and anyone in a position of authority. That fear is turned into aggression. An aggressive mindset manifests itself in groups - or gangs - of ‘honour’ with their own uniforms, music and language. If they cannot beat the system they beat each other, they rob from local shops and they mug the elderly. Every day there are over 180 acts of anti-social behaviour in the UK.

There is a small, isolated section of British society that despises traditional British society. Two societies. Two nations.

The response of politicians to the riots has been considered and firm but it has been reactive. We must be proactive. The riots present Britain with a real opportunity to turn failed systems upside down. We cannot persist with the status quo.

Britain must bridge the divide between the so-called “underclass” and the rest of society. We need to listen and understand those angry voices. Violence, threats and law-breaking are not ways to break a conflict. Dialogue is the only way to affect meaningful change.

In 1845, Benjamin Disraeli, a future Conservative Prime Minister, wrote his seminal novel Sybil, or the Two Nations. It is a story about the worsening poverty in Britain’s industrial towns and cities and the gulf between rich and poor. Its male lead, Charles Egremont, gave his name to these pages. In Sybil, Egremont undergoes a Damascene conversion from louche layabout aristocrat to passionate investigator of that widening divide between people like him, and people like the Chartists.

We now face a more subtle divide in this country. The divide is no longer between rich and poor but rather between people who generally respect others in society and those who generally rebel against society. The growing tension spilled over into violence and looting this summer and it could do so again. We need practical solutions, now.

Over the coming days, I will describe a range of solutions and policies that could be put in train right away, broadly around four themes.

'Renovation Zones' to improve skills, restore faith in communities and get people working again. Reward responsibility and loyalty.

Accelerate the removal of entrenched obstacles in our education system. Reinstate and augment the traditional factors that work, and remove the ones that don’t. Replace them with greater flexibility, particularly micro-learning.

Regenerate communities through real leadership. Replace the gang structures with street leaders who are outside the political system but inside communities.

Carry out meaningful and lasting prison and justice reform, centred around a rehabilitation revolution.

Together, they form a programme of renovation - a programme to repair the Two Nations of Britain.

Visit Egremont tomorrow for the first instalment on ‘Renovation Zones’.

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Paul Marsden was a Member of Parliament for eight years between 1997 and 2005. He was elected as Labour MP for Shrewsbury & Atcham on a crest of Blairite hope and promise but went on to oppose Labour’s foreign policy after 9/11 when he rebelled against the war in Afghanistan. In December 2001, he crossed the floor to join the Liberal Democrats. In 2002, he was appointed a shadow health minister responsible for mental and prison health, and highlighted the dramatic increase in suicide rates among prison populations. In 2005, he was disillusioned with the Liberal Democrats and became the first MP since Winston Churchill to re-cross the floor of the House of Commons, prior to retiring from Parliament at that year’s General Election.

Following stints as chief executive of a trade association and an educational charity, Paul Marsden is an international business consultant working in the UK and Brussels.

Rap music plays a big part, but there is a lot else wrong with our Two Societies

Nik Darlington 10.50am

In the aftermath of this summer’s rioting, my Egremont colleague Sahar Rezazadeh wrote that music inspired gang culture has infected our streets.

The riots were a product of gang culture and nothing else. A gang culture that is inspired, encouraged and glorified by music, especially American rap music.

The rioting and looting that swept English cities had many causes and influences, though rap music and the gang culture it celebrates is undoubtedly one of them.

This is the argument given this morning in The Times (£) by Libby Purves, in an article that also offered a qualified defence of the historian David Starkey, whose ill-chosen but apt comments on Newsnight caused a brief media storm.

David Starkey was certainly an idiot to mention Enoch Powell, even though he was pointing out that Powell was wrong in his predictions, since it wasn’t black-on-white violence.

But when he said that in gang culture “white chavs have become black”, he was trying to sum up, in a pithy telly-debate way, something that everybody with ears knows perfectly well.

Listen to them on the bus, for heaven’s sake, or on the after-school trains in leafy suburbs. White kids who want to seem tough and cool do talk in Jamaican-Bronx patois, trying to sound black. A role model in this inauthentic imitation is the 53-year-old BBC disc jockey and all-white bishop’s son Tim Westwood.

…Also, in his defence, the reason Dr Starkey used the offensive word “chav” was that his fellow guest [Owen Jones] was plugging a book under that title. A clear nod towards him acknowledged that the word was the other man’s, not his.

…His comments on Newsnight were clumsy, the ensuing fracas with the other two (equally unqualified) speakers mishandled. But it would be a pity if his detractors, in their stumbling panic to announce their own non-racism, closed down all discussion of the animating lawless rhetoric of top rappers. We should not be forced to turn a blind eye, or respect gangsta material as a valid “culture”.

…Ideally, Dr Starkey should have come armed with quotations. It would have been a treat to hear him learnedly quote Gangstarr: “I make the moves, I’m never faking/ Cause the loot is for the taking.” Or B.I.G.: “I ben robbin muthaf*****s since the slave ships… I’m robbin’ bitches too, I wouldn’t give a f*** if you’re pregnant/ Give me the baby rings and the ‘I love Mom’ pendant.” Perhaps a line or two from Outsidaz: “Zee rob white guys with nice lives… I need trick money, quick money, get me real rich money… anything I wanna do, I goes and does it.”

…You reckon none of that has anything to do with the riots? That the rap culture had no influence on the twittish lad in Nottingham jailed for posting online “kill a million Fedz, riot til we own cities”? Of course gangsta rap isn’t the only reason for the riots. But it gave a language and a bravado to the hangers-on. Cultural historians should be willing to consider that, rather than pecking Dr Starkey to death like a shedful of panicking hens.

Or, to continue the bird analogy, doing like the the ostrich does and sticking your head in the sand at troubling but honest analysis. All of society - whatever that means anymore - has contributed to these developments via unrestrained economic and cultural liberalism.

Danny Kruger, a former adviser to David Cameron, put it brilliantly in an instant opinion piece for the FT (£).

London has an underclass (a hateful word to the people in it, but no worse, and more accurate, than “the poor”). To generalise brutally, they are un-nurtured, brought up in a microculture of neglect, arbitrary and erratic discipline, and love without its concomitant need for boundaries and good behaviour.

Meanwhile the wider culture - that is us - has abandoned virtue and adopted the ethics of indifference, dressed as liberalism. We have substituted welfare payments for relationships, rights for love, and the sterile processes of the public sector for the warm morality of living communities.

We can afford no longer to remain indifferent to the culture of gangs and rap music than we can to the twisted relationship between society and state. Or should that be societies and state? It is the condition of our Two Societies, and solutions to their problems, that Egremont will be focusing on in the coming days in a special series of features. I encourage you to watch this space.

Follow Nik on Twitter @NikDarlington

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Lord Heseltine insists localism is the solution to our ‘Two Nations’ problem

Nik Darlington 6.04am

Sometimes a scream is better than a thesis.

Ralph Waldo Emerson

The riots that engulfed English cities this summer have spawned supposed solutions, counter-solutions, right solutions to wrong solutions and platitudinous non-solutions. One of the problems with coming to terms with what has happened, aside from its nebulous causes and consequences, is that this country is not used to it - or has not had to be so for a very long time. The public and, most importantly, our leaders are uncertain how to react. The English are used to watching other people rioting, like the French.

The last time anything similar occurred was during the first years of the 1980s, when Margaret Thatcher was Prime Minister and David Cameron was still at school. Lord Heseltine was tasked, in his role as Secretary of State for the Environment, with addressing the aftermath of the Brixton and Toxteth riots. After the screams, Lord Heseltine produced a thesis, It Took A Riot, though the jury is out whether or not he disproved Mr Emerson.

Now a TRG patron, Lord Heseltine was writing for the Times (£) yesterday about that report and its lessons for today.

The biggest lesson, he says, is to mend ‘from the bottom up’. What the Prime Minister refers to as the ‘broken society’ is not an entire whole, rather it is many smaller entities that have to be dealt with in their own way. The riots are a wake-up call for localism.

In significant parts of England it is not so much that society is broken but that it accepts a very different set of standards to those supported by the majority of us.

A society based on families and parental authority has strength. Parents should encourage their children, provide discipline, instil shared values, live within the law, respect the police and expect them to enforce the laws that protect the quiet enjoyment of life and keep the streets safe. Of course this idyllic world has its blemishes: things go wrong, parents fail and children disappoint. Nonetheless the language of repair, of restitution, of putting right the broken society resonates. But is this the society where hooligans run riot? I think not.

There is another society - much smaller but with a different set of assumptions. Unemployment is passed almost as a right from generation to generation. For a significant proportion of children, a decade in school does not provide education, just a ten-year passage to the dole queue. Crime does pay and pays more than anything else on offer. Local law is the law of the gangs. Fear is the enemy of respect… This alternative society is getting worse.

…I believe that the Prime Minister understands the scale of the problem. But he will need local leaders on his side. He should involve them closely - and this means delegating power to them and creating incentives to drive their enthusiasm. To get things moving in the short term, it also means putting a senior civil servant or businessman in charge to co-ordinate the many public services at a local level that are essential for the task.

Thirty years ago my report noted that problems festered in the inner cities because there were no local leaders to take charge. The problem is the same today. We need local leaders if we are to create one society, not two.

What Lord Heseltine speaks of is similar to the ‘Two Nations’ of Benjamin Disraeli, only these ‘two societies’ are not separated merely by wealth, but also by values - a far more invidious divide.  It is a One Nation ideal, and going into battle to achieve it are Burke’s little platoons. The Government and the Prime Minister can talk of strong action and justice but it is local people who must make the changes that need to be made if two smaller societies at loggerheads are to become one big society at peace.

Follow Nik on Twitter @NikDarlington

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Music inspired gang culture has infested our streets

Sahar Rezazadeh 6.04am

If there is one thing that the events of the past few days has shown it is how out of touch some journalists, politicians and ‘community leaders’ really are with the issues affecting ‘disenfranchised’ communities and the lifestyles.

If we are to be serious about questioning the mayhem witnessed on our streets, then we have to be asking, what do these young people watch? What or who do they listen to? Who are their role models? Fundamentally, what is an outline of an average day or week in these young people’s lives?

The riots were a product of gang culture and nothing else. A gang culture that is inspired, encouraged and glorified by music, especially American rap music. To my knowledge, Katherine Birbalsingh has been the only commentator to point this out, stating that some teenagers are spending 7-8 hours each day watching the likes of MTV. Clearly she understands how this kind of music influences the lifestyles and decisions of some young people, including the disregarding of a school education.

The state school system is itself failing pupils, drowning their aspirations and neglecting to equip them with basic literacy as well as discipline. The playground bullies took to the streets this week. Schools had let them off lightly for their bad behaviour and now they think wider society will too.

Rampant materialism, promiscuity, power trips, sexualisation, violence and glorification of criminal activity are all prevalent themes. It always interest me that some young people in this country refer to police officers as ‘Feds’, which is again an example of how American gang culture is becoming an inspiration. Gang culture has been allowed to flourish in the UK for decades. Young people are led to believe that leading a rebellious life is the only way to achieve. It is the cool lifestyle preached by the music they listen to and in the modern ‘culture’ they consume.

Such themes hinder the attempts of teachers and parents to show young people the difference between right and wrong. Some of our communities are suffering from moral deprivation and if we are serious about getting to the bottom of it then it is time to face facts.

Anyone who denies that music or movies have no impact on attitudes and lifestyles should look at the scientific recommendations for pregnant women to play soothing classical music  for themselves and their child. Rowdy music has the opposite effect. There are a host of scientific studies showing the powerful impact music has on the brain and thus potentially on our actions.

It disappoints me to learn that the Government now wishes to look to the United States for anti-gang measures. The US’s failure to stamp out gang culture is infecting other countries, so why presume they have the solutions?

Writing on ConservativeHome recently, Simon Marcus is right: we need to listen to the children but we also need to note what the children are listening to.

Follow Sahar on Twitter @SaharRezazadeh

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Removing rioters’ benefits will only make the ‘sick society’ sicker still

Craig Barrett 10.54am

Some 90,000 people have signed a Cabinet Office e-petition* calling for the removal of benefits from any person convicted of offences connected with the rioting and looting of the past week.

Not only is it dangerous for laws to be forced by those who can shout the loudest; there is a real danger that this is being seen as a sort of solution to the problem.

The correct way of dealing with unrest such as this is to implement the full force of the law. Charles Moore yesterday lamented the cessation of the word “force” as a description of what the police do - the typically New Labour substitution of the word “service” meaning that the police appear to be there to serve the community rather than their actual purpose, which is to enforce our laws.

The Prime Minister has spoken before of our “broken society” and yesterday went as far as to describe it as a “sick” society.

To take that analogy further, you do not heal the sick by kicking them out of hospital. Once the dust has settled and the smoke has drifted, you can bet that the analyses of the riots will identify motivations such as detachment - a feeling that the rioters are somehow beyond the cosy society we like to think we live in.

Removing people’s benefits will only serve to increase this feeling of detachment and augment a perception that “government”, “society”, “responsibility” and “law” are words for other people, words for those foolish enough not to fight for themselves.

Once this break has been made there is unlikely to be any going back. Then we would face an even harder battle to try to enforce the laws of the land and insist on responsible behaviour.

The solution is to give the police forces the proper powers of enforcement rather than leaving them as well-armoured bystanders who are prevented from doing their job for fear of ending up in the dock themselves. 

Eventually the rioters will be caught and punished. Indeed, magistrates courts are working at breakneck speed to deal with the sudden influx of prosecutions.

That being said, we must ensure that those people (many of them very young) who have chosen to riot, steal and injure do not find themselves entirely cut adrift from communities.

Removing benefits will simply further their extant detachment and, in all likelihood, force them to commit further criminal acts in order to survive.

You don’t fix what is broken by making people broke.

Follow Craig on Twitter @MrSteedUK

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*Egremont had trouble opening the Cabinet Office’s e-petitions webpage this morning, seemingly because of an unexpectedly high volume of traffic. Speaks volumes.