Margaret thatcher

There’s much to be said for nostalgia

Michel Barnier, the chief negotiator for the EU Commission, called Brexit an expression of ‘hope for a return to a powerful global Britain, nostalgia for the past’ – a mood that ‘serves no purpose in politics’. Popular historians have echoed his view of nostalgia as a syndrome which affects declining societies such as Great Britain. The yearning for a happier past got Donald Trump elected and may re-elect him; it breeds xenophobia and locks societies into a doom loop of reruns, remakes and Facebook feeds of photographs from olden times. Or does it? Two new histories of nostalgia are sceptical about how pervasive or dangerous it really is. Agnes Arnold-Forster’s

Why the fuss over The Spectator’s sale?

This diary is late. Two months late. The columnists who missed my Evening Standard deadlines often had elaborate excuses. Mine is that I’ve been involved in working out who is going to own this magazine. We’ve seen some oddities in this particular drama. Those vehemently opposed to government interference in a free press suddenly calling for government laws to regulate press ownership. Columns from advocates of free trade and open investment in every industry except, it turns out, their own. I don’t doubt some are motivated solely by high principles; but it’s worth asking the question of others: do their high principles happen to accord with their view of who

How much does Britain still ‘love’ the NHS?

‘Of course I support the NHS. Everybody supports the NHS, or says they do,’ poked the comedian Frankie Boyle in one of the many campaigns promoting the health service. To admit you don’t believe in this national institution is as taboo as not caring about Britishness, about goodness, about people. The public is keen to find evidence for this collective belief. Nigel Lawson famously said that ‘the NHS is the closest thing the English have to a national religion’ – words which tend to be heard as praise. But his comment was laced with criticism. He continued, ‘with those who practise in it regarding themselves as a priesthood. This made

Is Gary Neville following in the footsteps of Thatcher – or Trump?

A video loop on the homepage of Gary Neville’s new website shows the ex-Man Utd captain turned businessman, broadcaster and now BBC Dragon’s Den star in various action poses. The clip changes at such speed it’s hard to keep up without becoming nauseous. And that’s the problem with Gary the dynamic middle-aged wannabe politician-tycoon: he makes everyone feel a bit sick. Neville is in the football stand cheering on his team, decked out in an expensive suit fielding questions from an adoring audience and zooming around Manchester in his car. He’s like a luxury watch model but the looks aren’t quite there.  ‘Relentless’ is Neville’s slogan and the name of his

Is Margaret Thatcher ultimately to blame for the current social housing crisis?

By the time she was 25, the journalist and broadcaster Kieran Yates had lived in almost as many houses. Having rented for more than a decade, I feel her pain. I’ve lived in flats that made me physically unwell (mould has a lot to answer for) and survived housemates whose approach to kitchen hygiene made every day a salmonella minefield. I would visit a former boyfriend whose bedroom was, essentially, a glorified crawl space in a cold artists’ warehouse. He was 6ft 6in and couldn’t even kneel up in it, but, aged 24, I thought it was cool. Now I see it for what it was: an indictment of London’s

What do we think of when we think of Essex?

Apparently much of the notoriety – or perhaps by now it has become allure – of Essex is my fault. In 1990, weeks before Mrs Thatcher was defenestrated, I wrote an article in the Sunday Telegraph called ‘Essex Man’, in circumstances that Tim Burrows describes entirely accurately in this exceptionally well-written and intelligent book. Although the Iron Lady was about to be history, the part of England that had come to exemplify her achievement and her legacy was throbbing with capitalist energy more than ever – which motivated the profile of Essex Man and his hard work and ability to seize opportunities in a society where native ability counted for

Thatcherism is a cult the Tories should not follow

Friedrich Nietzsche may not be the most fashionable member of the conservative canon, but doubtless he wouldn’t care much. He knew that one of the main symptoms of a civilisation in decline is ‘herd thinking’. Regardless of the victor, this summer’s Conservative leadership contest has been a case in point for Freud’s narcissism of small differences. None of the candidates have dared deviate from the dogma of Thatcherism. Grant Shapps said it loudest: like Thatcher, he would confront union ‘Luddites’ to save an ailing economy. Liz Truss wants to to ‘crack down’ on trade union ‘militants’ by making it harder for them to call strikes. Truss didn’t even need to name Thatcher

It’s time for Tory socialism

The Conservative leadership contest has descended into a low-tax auction, which is not a good thing. The implication is that the Conservatives think government should be minuscule at the very moment when private enterprise is letting us down – the energy companies are raking in cash and spending it on stock buybacks – and the state seems to be on its knees. We live in a country where it’s become widely accepted that if you call an ambulance, it won’t show up for several hours; the borders are wide open; social care is under-funded; and the police have ceased investigating certain crimes. If anything, this is a moment to rediscover

Yours for £45,000, the car that drove Margaret Thatcher into history

‘A new girl drops in at the palace,’ announced the London Evening News on the front page of its ‘election special’ of 4 May 1979. The accompanying image showed a beaming Margaret Thatcher (pre-implant teeth in evidence) waving from the rear seat of a ministerial car, on her way to meet the Queen and receive her official invitation to form a new administration. Another ‘new girl’ (or boy?) might be dropping in at the palace soon – but if he or she wants to do it in the same car, it will cost them. The P5B Rover saloon that drove the Iron Lady into the history books as the first

Solving the mystery of mass almost ruined Peter Higgs’s life

In 1993 William Waldegrave, the science minister, was looking into a project being planned on the continent. Cern, the European research body, was upgrading its particle collider to create what it called the Large Hadron Collider. This underground apparatus ran beneath the French-Swiss border and it was so vast that its diameter equalled that of the Circle Line. Two beams of subatomic particles called protons would be fired around this subterranean loop in opposing directions and smashed together at 99.99 per cent of the speed of light. The scientists’ aim was to prove the existence of a fundamental particle called the Higgs Boson, which they hoped would appear momentarily from

Liz Truss is no Margaret Thatcher

The late Senator Lloyd Bentsen was 26 years older than the young Senator Dan Quayle when in 1988 they crossed swords in a debate in Omaha, Nebraska. Their exchange became famous. Quayle had been comparing himself with the late John F. Kennedy. Old Bentsen hit back: ‘Senator, I served with Jack Kennedy. I knew Jack Kennedy. Jack Kennedy was a friend of mine. Senator, you’re no Jack Kennedy.’ As it happens, I’m 26 years older than Liz Truss. So it’s a temptation to which I yield to quote that exchange, now that Ms Truss, explicitly, both in her wardrobe and the photo opportunities she contrives, is inviting comparison with the

Inflation is a social evil, so why don’t our leaders care?

It was a ‘destroyer of society’, a ‘tax on ordinary people’s savings’ and a threat to social order. You don’t have to spend very long browsing the history books to find thumping quotes from Ronald Reagan or Margaret Thatcher denouncing rising prices as an evil that had to be defeated. And today? Even with prices in the UK now rising at 9.1 per cent, the fastest for 40 years, there are just a few mumbled apologies, coupled with some evasive excuses. That is not good enough. If we are going to defeat inflation all over again, it will take some leadership. We learned today that inflation has nudged up again,

Has liberalism destroyed itself?

According to Vladimir Putin, liberalism is an ‘obsolete’ doctrine, a worn-out political philosophy no longer fit for purpose. In this well-timed, rather urgent book, Francis Fukuyama attacks that view and puts a vigorous case for the defence. Despite its faults, liberalism is a force for good, he says, and it remains the only political philosophy capable of taking on the authoritarians of Moscow and Beijing. But the despots are not the central focus of his argument. The biggest threats to the liberal society, he writes, come from within. In Fukuyama’s crisp retelling, the liberal ideal emerged in the aftermath of Europe’s wars of religion. The notion that people could only

How Britain was misled over Europe for 60 years

Just as one is inclined to believe Carlyle’s point that the history of the world is but the biography of great men, so Christopher Tugendhat, in this level-headed account, is right to conclude that the history of the Conservative party in the past 60 or 70 years has been deeply affected by the biography of the movement for the European Union. And it would have shocked Carlyle that a great woman – Margaret Thatcher – played a central part and, according to Tugendhat, altered the course of the party’s relationship with Europe. She was certainly central to the debate, not least because rather too many Conservatives felt she had died

Spies shouldn’t be political

Now that events in Ukraine are restoring a sense of proportion about the difference between aggressive autocracies and free countries, it seems almost incredible that, only last year, sporting teams etc were all but compelled to ‘take the knee’ in deference to Black Lives Matter. One official prominent in this obeisance (metaphorical not literal in his case) was Sir Stephen Lovegrove. As Permanent Secretary at the Ministry of Defence, he emailed staff in the wake of George Floyd’s murder in May 2020, using the BLM hashtag, and castigating the racism of his own department. When challenged about creating this official link with a hard-left organisation with borderline racist views against

Thatcher wanted to privatise Channel 4

It is always amusing to hear the left selectively invoking Margaret Thatcher. This week, they are doing so to prevent the privatisation of Channel 4, citing the fact that she brought the channel into being. She did, in 1982; but in her memoirs, she explains that by 1988, when she was striving for the phasing out of the BBC television licence fee, she decided that Channel 4 would be better off privatised. On both subjects, she was defeated by what she calls ‘the monopolistic grip of the broadcasting establishment’. That grip is scarcely looser today.

What would have happened in the Falklands if Thatcher had been a man?

Argentina invaded the Falkland Islands 40 years ago. I had joined the Daily Telegraph as a reporter in 1979 and was by then a leader writer. The Falklands was the first really seismic story I had encountered. What made it so exciting was that it was both genuinely absurd and genuinely important. The absurdity lay in Argentina’s vainglory. It violently claimed a right to the islands which not one single Falklands resident accepted. Its caudillo, General Galtieri, was from the comic-opera school of Latin American dictators, covered with gold braid and frequently drunk. In his invasion broadcast, he invoked the Virgin Mary. But Our Lady wisely ducked the contest, leaving

What would Thatcher have said about Putin?

When Sir Tony Brenton writes a letter to the Times, as he frequently does, it always says at the bottom that he was British ambassador to Moscow. The uninformed reader could be forgiven for thinking the sub-editors have got it back to front and he was actually the Russian ambassador to London. Sir Tony’s message in every letter is ‘It’s all Britain’s fault’. In his latest, his particular target was the Foreign Secretary, Liz Truss, after her visit to Moscow. He said she ‘might usefully recall Margaret Thatcher’s wise message to Mikhail Gorbachev sent in 1985 as perestroika began to take off: “We know that you have as much right to

What I really said to Gordon Brown: Field Marshal Lord Guthrie sets the record straight

A headline in the Mail on Sunday, taken up eagerly by the BBC’s Today programme, claimed recently: ‘The SAS is getting worried that not enough posh officers are applying for jobs.’ Having hooked those shocked by the thought that the SAS should draw such distinctions, as well as those appalled that oiks are applying at all, the piece actually went on to explain that one officer failed the selection because he ‘lacked the sophistication’ to be able to brief cabinet ministers on operations. No lack of sophistication ever attached to Charles Guthrie. When, as head of school at Harrow, you’ve had tea with Winston Churchill in the headmaster’s study, planned

Wrapped up in satire, a serious lesson about the fine line between success and scandal

Have you heard of champing? Neither had I. Turns out it’s camping in a field beside a deserted church. When it rains, you abandon your flimsy tent and instead bed down in the hushed aisles. At the beginning of Ferdinand Mount’s new novel, Making Nice, Dickie Pentecost and his wife Jane, together with their daughters Flo and Lucy, are doing just that. In the morning they meet fellow champer Ethel, short for Ethelbert, a bewitching man with stony eyes and sticking-up hair. ‘Ethel,’ says Dickie. ‘I suppose they could have shortened it to Bert instead.’ After losing his job as the diplomatic editor of a national newspaper (‘Who needs diplomatic