Tales from an author

Archive for the month “April, 2015”

Why NOT trust the CONservatives – lessons from Tory history

Another extract from my book about the Tories – covering the era of Ted Heath and Enoch Powell (the thinking man’s Farage maybe??)

Rivers of Blood 1964-1974

A Labour government was formed in October 1964, with Harold Wilson as Prime Minister. Election defeat led to some reorganisation of the Conservative Party, and in January 1965 Edward du Cann became Party Chairman. In view of the fiasco of 1963, a feeling finally developed that a formal procedure should be established for the election of the Leader. There had not previously been any pressure for this, given the anti-democratic outlook of the party. Alec Douglas-Home set up an election procedure, and the rules were adopted by the party in February 1965. Voting would be confined to Conservative MPs. To win on the first ballot, a candidate would require an overall majority equivalent to 15 per cent of those voting. On the second ballot a simple majority would suffice. The old process for choos­ing a Leader was not entirely dispensed with. The rules provided that the winner of the election would sub­sequently be confirmed as Leader by a party meeting. In the following months, a number of MPs set about attempt­ing to secure the replacement of Douglas-Home, and this prompted him to resign on July 22. There now followed the Conservative Party’s first genuine Leadership election, with three candidates, namely Edward Heath, Reginald Maudling, and Enoch Powell. The ballot was held on July 27, when Heath received 150 votes, Maudling 133, and Powell 15. Although Heath had not won the requisite majority, Maudling and Powell both withdrew from the contest so Heath was declared the winner, with victory confirmed at a party meeting on August 2. The Conservatives had reacted to defeat in the 1964 Election with a major rethink of their policies. The process culminated with a policy document, Putting Britain Right Ahead, being published in the Autumn of 1965, to coincide with the Party Conference. The main theme was economic growth, through policies of lower taxation, reduced government expenditure, reduced social services, legislation to curb trade union power, and entry into the EEC.

In February 1966 Wilson called an Election for March 31, looking to increase the government’s majority. Labour won 363 seats, the Conservatives 253, the Liberals 12, and the others 2. Labour had won a majority of 96 seats. The Conservative Party responded to defeat with a further development of their organisation and policy. Heath had been intent on sacking du Cann – who he did not like – as Party Chairman from the outset of his Leadership. Eventually differences between Heath and du Cann led to the latter resigning in 1967. The policy exercise continued throughout the Conservatives’ period in opposition. The basic policy lines featured in the 1965 statement were developed, and the emphasis remained on economic growth. Meanwhile Heath faced a challenge from the right wing of the party, for whom Enoch Powell emerged as the main spokesman. Powell served in the Shadow Cabinet as Defence Spokesman, but he and Heath did not enjoy an easy relationship. Powell developed an increasingly indepen­dent line, as he did not support Britain’s retention of nuclear weapons, and stated so publicly, differing from the vast majority of the Conservative Party. Powell argued that Britain’s national identity had to be defined, and also protected from threats posed by immigration and the EEC. In April 1968 Heath dismissed Powell from the Shadow Cabinet, after he made a speech attacking immigration, claiming that racial tension could lead to “rivers of blood”. The right saw Powell as attacking the post-war political consensus, allowing a new Conservative approach to replace it. The right believed that the Party needed something more substantial than Heath’s economic policy if it was to regain power. The right was also con­cerned by Heath’s support for the modernisation theme, introduced by Macmillan. They argued that modernisation had not proved itself, and that the Conservatives should only follow policies that experience had shown to be successful. As an alternative the right sought support through an assertion of traditional Conservative concerns. The leadership originally saw the right as a possible threat to the party’s new strategy and an electoral liability, viewing them as inflexible supporters of outdated ideas. Nevertheless the right’s arguments gained support in the party, with the result that the leadership made concessions to them.

The next General Election took place on June 18 1970. The Conservatives, who campaigned on the programme developed in opposition, won 330 seats, Labour 287, the Liberals 6, and the others 7. Heath became Prime Minister, while Alec Douglas-Home was Foreign Secretary for the second time, and Powell was excluded from the government. Victory united the party, and the disputes of the past few years ended. The government was initially intent on implementing its programme. At the Party Conference, in October, Heath said that the government would “embark on a change so radical, a revolution so quiet and so total that it will go far beyond the programme of a Parliament”. It was a sign of how far the Conservatives had been forced to compromise their beliefs that Heath was now proclaiming them as revolutionaries. The Conservative Party suppos­edly existed to block change, even change which fell far short of revolution.

The promised reduction of government intervention in industry was initially adhered to, while the Indus­trial Relations Act of 1971 attacked the position of the unions. Heath’s major aim was to achieve entry to the EEC, the negotiations for which led to the signing of a treaty of accession in January 1972, subject to the passing of legislation by Parliament. The Conservative Party was still not wholly in favour of EEC membership, and the European Communities Act was only carried passed as the result of the support of a minority of Labour MPs. Another major constitutional measure, the Local Government Act 1972, reorganised the structure in England and Wales. Many of the traditional counties were either rearranged or abolished, while new counties were created. March 1972 brought a resumption of direct rule of Northern Ireland, in response to the escalation of political violence there. The Ulster Volunteer Force, the Tory terrorists from the early twentieth century, had re-formed in 1966, to oppose the campaign for civil rights by Catholics. During 1972 the economy caused the government great problems, with unemployment reaching more than one million. With no sign of industry reviving as a result of the government’s policies, it adopted intervention.

Entry into the EEC occurred on January 1 1973. Heath saw entry into the EEC as a major economic benefit for Britain. In return for this he was prepared to accept the loss of Britain’s independence. The laws of Britain ceased to be the sole preserve of its Parliament, as they became subject to those of the EEC. The Conservative Party had provided further evidence that its claims to be a national Party are dishonest. Meanwhile the government’s economic strategy failed to produce successful results. November brought strikes by the miners and power workers. The miners’ strike lasted through the Winter, and led to a three day working week. Heath had to choose between calling an Election on the issue of who should govern the country, and the alternative of conced­ing to the miners. Heath decided to call an Election, which was set for February 28 1974, but the Conservatives intended to settle with the miners if they won the Election. Powell denounced the Election as fraudu­lent, refused to be a candidate, and announced that he would vote for the Labour Party, as it planned to hold a referendum on EEC membership. Labour won 301 seats, the Conservatives 297, the Liberals 14, the Ulster Unionists 11, and the others 12. The Ulster Unionists had broken with the Conservative Party following disagreement over the governance of Northern Ireland. With no majority for any party, Heath stayed in office, and attempted to form a coalition. The questionable decision to allow Heath to remain in office for several days, after Labour had won more seats than the Conservatives in the Election, was made by the queen, after her advisors had consulted Robert Blake, a supposed constitutional expert. Blake’s advice was not exactly neutral, as he was a member of the Conservative Party, author of The Conservative Party from Peel to Churchill, a history published in 1970, and had been given a place in the House of Lords by Heath in 1971. Heath’s negotiations with the Lib­erals broke down over their insistence on proportional representation. Heath resigned on March 4, and Harold Wilson formed a minority Labour government. A second Election was held on October 10, as Labour sought a majority. With the Conservatives still in a weak position, Heath was reduced to arguing in the campaign for a national and not necess­arily a Conservative government. Labour won 319 seats, the Conservatives 277, the Liberals 13, and the minor parties 26. The latter figure included 6 MPs for the Ulster Unionists, with Enoch Powell being re-elected to Parliament under this banner. Labour had a majority of 3.

Heath had now lost three Elections out of four. This led to pressure in the Conserva­tive Party for a Leadership election. The current rules did not lay down that the Leader had to present himself for re-election at any time. Nevertheless Heath realised that he would have to face an election if he was to retain his authority. He announced that he would face an election once the rules had been revised, as they were regarded as unsatisfactory.

Who Said, ‘Everyone has a book in them, but in most cases that’s where it should stay’?

Interesting Literature

Who first said this famous quip about everyone having a book or novel in them?

‘Everyone has a book in them, but in most cases that’s where it should stay.’ Or, as some sources have it, ‘Everyone has a novel in them.’ Still others: ‘Every journalist has a novel in him.’ Most of us have heard the line, or some variation on it, and understand what it’s saying: it’s challenging the age-old belief that everyone has a story to tell, by suggesting that a) not all stories are actually worth telling, and b) not everyone can tell their story very well. So much for the main thrust of the quotation; but its authorship is not such an easy thing to determine. Who actually came up with it?

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Wyatt’s rebellion

The Nightmare of Thatcherism – Why NOT trust the CONservatives?

A quarter of a century after the end of the Thatcher government, her legacy continues with David Cameron following Thatcherite policies. Here is another extract from my new book about the Conservative Party.

                          Thatcherism 1975-1990

The Conservative Party agreed new rules for its Leadership elections in January 1975, after Sir Alec Douglas-Home presided over a committee to consider the process. Elections would now be annual, and the party’s MPs remained as the electorate. The required margin for victory on the first ballot was increased to 15 per cent of those entitled to vote. If this was not met, there would be a second ballot, and victory would require a candidate to have a majority over the combined votes of the other candidates. New candidates could enter the contest on the second ballot, the aim being to allow a supporter of Heath to enter if he was defeated on the first ballot. If the second ballot did not produce a result, then a third ballot would be held between the three candi­dates who had secured the most votes on the second ballot. The third ballot would feature voting by the Single Transferable Vote, ensuring an absolute majority for the winner. The main threats to Heath seemed to be Edward du Cann and Keith Joseph, but they both withdrew. Margaret Thatcher entered the contest, which was a surprise, given the male dominance of the Conservative Party. Besides Heath and Thatcher, there was a third candidate, Hugh Fraser. On the first ballot, on February 4, Thatcher won 130 votes, Heath 119, and Fraser 16. Heath withdrew, and a second ballot was held on February 11, when Thatcher took 146 votes, William Whitelaw 79, Geoffrey Howe 19, James Prior 19, and John Peyton 11. Thatcher thus became the first woman to lead a British political party.

Thatcher left the Shadow Cabinet largely unchanged, but Heath declined an offer to remain a member. Thatcher was appointed an honorary member of the Carlton Club, as membership was restricted to male Con­servatives, but the Club did not wish to exclude the party Leader. The Carlton avoided the obvious step of opening membership to women. Thatcher immediately appointed Lord Thorneycroft as Party Chairman. Thorneycroft’s resignation in 1958 gave him a reputation for support of monetarism, which was the economic policy that Thatcher favoured. Thatcher now set out a new course for the party, which reflected the ideas of the right, and appeared in the policy document The Right Approach in 1976. Thatcher was deter­mined to break with consensus politics, which she saw as a betrayal of the principles of Conservatism.

Despite a small majority, the Labour government sur­vived, helped by a pact with the Liberals, which lasted from March 1977 to August 1978. It looked likely that an Election would be held in the Autumn of 1978, but in September James Callaghan, who had replaced Wilson as Prime Minister in 1976, announced that there would not be an Election that year. The delay pleased the Conservatives, who believed that they would be more likely to win an Election the following year. There followed “The Winter of Discontent”, during which union opposition to the government’s pay policy brought major disruption, which was aggravated by severe weather. The government was weakened by its failure to carry devolution for Scotland and Wales, and the Scottish Nationalists now wanted a General Election. Taking advantage of this, Thatcher moved a motion of no confi­dence on March 28 1979, and the government lost by one vote.

During the 1979 General Election campaign, the Conservative Party concentrated on Labour’s troubled time in office. The Conservative manifesto had an unlikely title, Time For a Change. Polling took place on May 3, and the Conservatives won 339 seats to Labour’s 269, while the Liberals took 11 seats, and the other parties 16. The Conservatives had a majority of 43, and Margaret Thatcher became Prime Minister. Thatcher’s government initially represented a balance between adherents of her approach and sceptics. She excluded Edward Heath, who was to be a constant critic in the following years. A month after the Westminster election, the Conservatives won the first British election to the European Parliament, taking 60 seats to Labour’s 17, while the other parties won 4 seats.

Thatcher proclaimed herself a “convic­tion politician”, opposed to consensus. Her major pre­occupation was an attempt to reverse Britain’s long-term economic decline through monetarism. This was developed by Milton Friedman, an economist from the USA. Monetarism was a theory that had only been properly tested by one of the world’s most barbaric regimes, the Fascist military dictatorship in Chile, and the result had been a spectacular failure. General Pinochet, the President of Chile, took power in a military coup in 1973, with backing from the USA, removing a democratically elected Socialist government, led by Salvador Allende. Pinochet promptly directed his army to carry out a massacre, in which it murdered countless thousands of people, just because they were Socialists, or trade unionists, or lived in working class districts. In 1973 the government of Edward Heath – in which Thatcher was a Cabinet Minister – had been one of the first in the world to recognise the Pinochet regime as supposedly legitimate. Thatcher’s government soon proved a calamity for Britain, with an economic strategy of reduced public expenditure, reduced taxation – especially for the ruling class – an attack on the trade unions, and the sale of public assets. When Thatcher took power, more than a million people were unemployed. The number of unemployed people increased to two million in August 1980, and three million in January 1982.

The Thatcher government was authoritarian, inflexible, and uncaring. It attacked the democratic rights of the British people, notably with restrictions on local authorities. Thatcher followed an aggressive foreign policy, involving hostility to the Soviet Union, and was involved in constant disputes with the European Economic Community. Thatcher’s rigid defence of what she perceived to be British interests within the European Community, an organisation founded by the Treaty of Rome, resulted in her frequently being referred to as a modern-day equivalent of Boadicea. Thatcher notably failed to improve the position of women, and her role as the first woman to lead the Conservatives was anomalous, as the party has perpetuated male dominance of British society. Strong belief in ideology placed Thatcher outside the mainstream of Conservatism. Thatcherism was proclaimed by supporters as radical, but it was a reactionary attack on progressive institutions. Thatcher’s policies provoked opposition within the Conservative Party, but she called her opponents “wets”, gradually removing sceptics from the government. Thatcher’s annual speeches at the rally following the Party Conference prompted the pathetic spectacle of marathon standing ovations.

The government became increasingly unpopular, until its fortunes were revived by victory in the Falklands War. The Argentinian invasion of the Falklands, in April 1982, represented a crisis. Thereafter the military operation to recover the islands reflected well on Thatcher. She dishonestly presented the war as a fight against Fascism, having previously allowed the sale of armaments to the military dictatorship of Argentina. It was only when these armaments were being used against Britain that Thatcher saw a problem. Nevertheless this surprise did not provoke Thatcher into opposition to Fas­cism, as during the war against Argentina she worked in alliance with the regime in Chile, led by General Pinochet.

The Conservatives were helped by changes in the Labour Party, which moved to the left, with Michael Foot replacing James Callaghan as Leader in 1980, while Tony Benn became a major influence. A group of MPs on the right of the Labour Party formed the Social Democratic Party, at the start of 1981. The SDP subsequently worked with the Liberal Party, in the Alliance, and this took a huge number of votes off Labour at the next Election, held on June 9 1983. The Conservatives won 397 seats, Labour 209, the Alliance 23, and the others 21. The Conservative majority of 144 was deceptive, with the party’s 42 per cent share of the vote being little higher than the 40 per cent obtained in their massive defeat, by Labour, in 1945.

Thatcher’s second term was as unsuccessful as the first. Cecil Parkin­son, who had recently relinquished the post of Party Chairman, resigned from the government in October 1983, with the revelation that his former secretary, Sara Keays, was expecting his child. The Conservative government limited local authorities’ powers to set their own rates, and abolished the Greater London Coun­cil plus the Metropolitan County Councils – each of which were Labour-controlled. The miners went on strike during March 1984, in opposition to the government’s programme of running down the coal industry. For a whole year the government was to preside over this damaging dispute, without attempting to settle it. British Telecom was privatised, the Tory word for the sale of public assets, in 1984. It was subsequently revealed that Keith Best, a Conservative MP, made multiple applications to buy shares in British Telecom, using minor variations on his name, and he was imprisoned for fraud in September 1987. Best was soon released from prison, having argued that this sentence was too harsh, but a disproportionately low fine was increased. In June 1984 the Conservatives lost ground in the European Parliament election, but still emerged as the largest party, with 45 seats, while Labour won 32 seats, and the other parties 4. The Irish Republican Army bombed the Grand Hotel in Brighton, at the time of the 1984 Conservative Party Conference, and several members of the party were killed or injured.

The government discarded mone­tarism during the Autumn of 1985, realising it had failed, but maintained its general plan. Although there had been some economic improvement, mass unemployment was only gradually reduced. At the beginning of 1986, two Cabinet Ministers, Michael Heseltine and Leon Brittan, resigned amidst a dispute over the ownership of the Westland helicop­ter company. Thatcher’s position appeared threatened by revelations about her disregard for Cabinet government, but she survived the crisis. Later in the year the Conservatives were damaged by another scandal. This featured Jeffrey Archer, who had previously been a Conservative MP and successful businessman, only to lose a fortune, and abandon his political career. Archer had retrieved his fortune with large sales of a series of mediocre novels, and been appointed Deputy Chairman of the Party. Having rehabilitated himself, Archer’s dealings with Monica Coghlan, a prostitute, were publicised, and the outcome was Archer’s resignation. The following year, Archer dishonestly won £500,000 damages from the Daily Star, in a libel case about the scandal.

Thatcher visited the Soviet Union, early in 1987, with relations having thawed. A trip to the Soviet Union was an unlikely way for a Leader of the Conservative Party to improve their electoral prospects, but that was one of its aims. Thatcher called a General Election for June 11, and issued a Conservative manifesto entitled The Next Moves Forward. In the Foreword, Thatcher made the curious claim that her government was fulfilling the “One Nation” ideal. Thatcher led a poor campaign but, with the opposition weak, the Conservatives won 375 seats, Labour 229, the Alliance 22, and the others 24. The Conservatives retained power with a majority of 100 seats. Reconstruction of the government included the sacking of John Biffen, who had been Leader of the House of Commons. Biffen responded by saying that Thatcher’s government was Stalinist. As Thatcher entered her third term in office, the thinking of the Conservative Party was characteristically incoherent.

After re-election in 1987, Thatcher’s government continued the ideological sale of state assets to the private sector, including British Steel, British Leyland, and the water supply. This remained part of the wider, free market, economic policy, led by Nigel Lawson, Chancellor of the Exchequer since 1983. Lawson oversaw some reduction of unemployment, but inflation and interest rates both increased. Thatcher became increasingly agitated about developments in the European Community, and was opposed to Britain joining the European Exchange Rate Mechanism. Thatcher made a high-profile speech in Bruges, during September 1988, setting out her Eurosceptic approach. In June 1989 the Conservatives were defeated in the European election, being reduced to 32 seats while Labour won 45 – the other parties returned 4 MEPs between them. This was the Conservatives’ first defeat in a General Election or European Election since 1974. Lawson, who favoured membership of the ERM, resigned as Chancellor in October 1989, feeling that Thatcher was undermining him. In November, Sir Anthony Meyer, a veteran backbench MP, challenged Thatcher for the Conservative Leadership. Meyer, who was pro-European, saw himself as a “stalking horse”, hoping that his action would prompt a more high-profile MP to stand against Thatcher, but nobody else had the courage to do so. Thatcher won the contest by 314 votes to 33, but one sixth of the Conservative MPs either voted against her or abstained.

In the Spring of 1990 the Community Charge, trialed in Scotland a year earlier, was extended to England and Wales. This flat-rate charge on local government electors immediately became known as the Poll Tax. There was widespread public protest, and an anti-Poll Tax riot in London. Thatcher had undermined the NHS during her premiership, making clear her preference for private health. The National Health Service and Community Care Act of 1990 introduced an internal market to the NHS, this being a clear attack on the public service principles of the organisation. In June 1990 the Carlton Club was bombed by the IRA, and Lord Kaberry, a former Conservative MP, suffered severe injuries, which led to his death in March of the following year.

Britain joined the ERM in October 1990, on the initiative of John Major, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, although Thatcher remained a sceptic. The following month, Geoffrey Howe, the Deputy Prime Minister, resigned from the government, and made a speech in the House of Commons attacking Thatcher’s style of leadership. This prompted Michael Heseltine to challenge Thatcher for the Party Leadership. In the first ballot, on November 20, Thatcher beat Heseltine by 204 votes to 152, but fell four votes short of the 15 per cent majority needed for outright victory. Thatcher initially announced her intention of proceeding to the second ballot, but was persuaded by Cabinet colleagues that she had lost the confidence of the Parliamentary party.

Thatcher withdrew from the contest on November 22. John Major and Douglas Hurd, the Foreign Secretary, entered for the second ballot, held on November 27. Major took 185 votes, Heseltine 131, and Hurd 56, a result that left Major two votes short of a 15 per cent majority, but the other two contestants quickly withdrew. Major was therefore declared Leader of the Conservative Party and, on the following day, appointed as Prime Minister by the queen. Major included Heseltine in his government, as Secretary of State for the Environment, tasked with finding a replacement for the Poll Tax, while Hurd remained as Foreign Secretary. Thatcher returned to the backbenches, with her 11 years in power having ended in humiliation, but the awful policies of Thatcherism and Conservatism would continue to damage Britain for a lot longer.

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