Baroness Thatcher’s verdict on ‘boring’ David Cameron
The Sunday People carried this article yesterday. Some have criticised ‘the Conservative blogs’ for not even mentioning it.
Cranmer is not servile, and is delighted both to carry the story and to respond with a good fisking.
Baroness Thatcher has delivered a damning verdict on "boring" David Cameron's campaign to take the Tories to power.Perhaps Baroness Thatcher has forgotten that the overwhelming majority of the population finds politics boring and hold politicians beneath contempt. Since it is intrinsic to politics in a liberal democracy that politicians must at least appear to be concerned with the endless trivia of people’s tedious day-to-day concerns, ‘boring’ is what politicians do; it is what they must specialise is; it is what they must be seen to incarnate. It is why few politicians are ‘interesting’, and those who are tend to be dismissed as ‘eccentrics’.
The former Conservative PM confided that she has serious doubts about the party leader's ability to deliver victory on Thursday.People had a very genuine doubt as to whether Margaret Thatcher could deliver the Conservative Party victory in 1979. A woman with a shrill voice, who had snatched the milk from the mouths of babes; who had resigned from the Conservative List of Approved Candidates in frustration over misogynist associations; who was innately divisive and had divided her party from the very outset. But hindsight is a wonderful thing.
In frank conversations with her close confidant and former Tory grandee Lord Tim Bell, Lady Thatcher dubbed Cameron "boring" and "still out of touch with the British public".Still out of touch with the British public? Still? Whom would she prefer? Was William Hague more ‘in touch’? Or Iain Duncan Smith? Or Michael Howard? Was she not ‘out of touch with the British public’ over the Poll Tax? Why did she lose so many chancellors? What is this ‘in touch-ness’ which has so eluded every Conservative leader since 1997?
She was just as dismissive about Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg and Labour PM Gordon Brown. "I'd eat all three leaders for breakfast," said Maggie, 84.This is telling: the suggestion is that the politics of the 21st century is ‘boring’ and its party leaders are all lightweight. There is undoubtedly something in this. But one cannot help but wonder if Gladstone, Disraeli, Macmillan or Churchill might not have thought that they could eat the Margaret Thatcher of 1979 for breakfast.
But she feels particularly alienated by Cameron's adoption of the "big society" concept. In a scathing analysis of Cameron's attempt to modernise Tory Party thinking, she said: "Conservatism used to be about pushing back the boundaries of the State."And so it remains. But the Conservatism of Disraeli was not that of Churchill; and that of Churchill was not that of Baldwin; and that of Baldwin not that of Macmillan; and that of Macmillan not that of Thatcher. Yet each of these was the incarnation of the conservatism of their age. Doubtless each would have been ‘alienated’ by some of the policy themes of their sucessors. This only establishes that conservatism is organic and the Conservative Party a movement, in contrast to the immutable dogma of Socialism. The ‘big society’ is not antithetical to the ‘small state’: indeed, it might be observed that as society gets bigger, the state must necessarily diminish.
Bell - the adviser who helped propel her into Downing Street in 1979 - revealed Thatcher's judgments immediately after last Thursday's final televised leaders' debate in Birmingham. It was widely rated as Cameron's best performance yet - but Bell revealed that the Tory leader failed to gain Thatcher's endorsement.That’s nice of him.
The peer, who now heads PR firm Bell Pottinger, told The People: "Maggie says she just can't connect with Cameron.”One wonders to what extend Ted Heath connected with ‘Maggie’… and how much she cared.
“She still says she doesn't really get him. If the Tory Party was not in her blood, Cameron as a leader would not get her vote. She thinks he is young, too young. Maggie did things her way, she is an absolute legend but says she simply can't understand him.”Again, the same might be said for every former Conservative leader. The Tory Party was in Ted Heath’s blood, and he loathed Margaret Thatcher. Yet he remained Conservative at the ballot box. And the jibe about being ‘too young’ is rather patronising: he is 43 years old – the precise age at which Tony Blair was when he became prime minister. And he is significantly older than other Tory ‘legends’ like William Pitt the Younger who became prime minister at the tender age of 24.
"She would never wish the Conservative Party not to win a General Election, but she by no means thinks they will this time round. She says to me, 'I find Cameron boring'.”Cranmer refers the honourable lady to the response he gave some moments ago. And for the Party to win this General Election, they would need to achieve a seismic swing. To reach the magic figure of 326 MPs, the Conservative Party must make 116 net gains and record a swing of either 6.9 per cent directly from Labour or 6 per cent from the party currently holding each seat they are targeting. To obtain a working majority of 20+, they need a swing of as much as 8 per cent from Labour.
The last occasion on which a party with a clear lead in the Commons was directly replaced by another with a similar cushion was in 1970, when Ted Heath triumphed after a swing of nearly 5 per cent from Harold Wilson’s Labour government. Since the Second World War, only Tony Blair in 1997 has recorded a larger swing than the one the Conservative Party now needs: Margaret Thatcher had a much easier task.
She is also at odds with some of his policies. "Maggie has always believed in a smaller state and is very passionate about it. But Cameron says he believes in a big society. Times change, but Maggie believes that on this issue among others Cameron is still out of touch with the British public. In fact she believes he is plainly quite wrong."As already stated, ‘society’ is not synonymous with ‘state’. If the Baroness is not careful, she is in danger of perpetuating the impression that she believes there is no such thing as the state. She herself insists that she was quoted out of context on this. She actually said (and presumably still believes): "I think we've been through a period where too many people have been given to understand that if they have a problem, it's the government's job to cope with it. 'I have a problem, I'll get a grant.' 'I'm homeless, the government must house me.' They're casting their problem on society. And, you know, there is no such thing as society. There are individual men and women, and there are families. And no government can do anything except through people, and people must look to themselves first. It's our duty to look after ourselves and then, also to look after our neighbour. People have got the entitlements too much in mind, without the obligations. There's no such thing as entitlement, unless someone has first met an obligation."
This accords perfectly with David Cameron’s ‘Big Society’. It isn’t the greatest of phrases or the most eye-catching of policies, but it coheres perfectly with compassionate and ‘one-nation’ Conservatism.
Thatcher has complained to Lord Bell that Cameron is "too inclusive" with his attempt to appeal to a wider electoral base.This is a curious criticism from the Conservative leader who reached out to Middle England with her vision for universal home ownership and the democratisation of share-holding. One wins elections by being ‘inclusive’: Tony Blair only won in 1997 by appealing to the erstwhile Thatcher loyalists, and it didn’t do him any harm. The history of the Conservative Party establishes that it is at its best when it is a ‘broad church’ coalition, holding its competing wings in tension. Only then does it have wide appeal, and only then does it govern in concert with the British psyche.
Bell, 68, who also helped engineer the Iron Lady's second and third election victories, still enjoys weekly lunches with her.That’s nice for him.
He insists that, despite her age, Maggie is in fine physical health, is still very politically aware and retains her wit and sense of humour.Perhaps she might remind him of the importance of loyalty and confidence.
But she has barely watched any of the leaders debating live on TV. Bell said: "Maggie hasn't watched much, apart from an early party of the first debate. Look at the three of them, she was like the queen and they are the three pygmies. She said to me recently, 'I'd eat them for breakfast'. She knows it. Nobody messed with her. She was, and still is, great.”Lord Bell risks absurd hagiography in his fawning admiration: Margaret Thatcher was not born great, and she was most certainly not great when she became prime minister in 1979. And neither did she have greatness thrust upon her: she achieved greatness in exactly the same fashion as Disraeli and Churchill, and a very great deal of it was what you might call ‘luck’ or ‘events, my dear boy, events’.
"Remember, Maggie assumed power at a time when the country was on the brink economically. She sees a remarkable similarity with today's economic climate. But she fears that Cameron and the other two leaders will fall short of what is required to steer the country back on the right path. Maggie admits she doesn't think any of the leaders are up to running a country. She told me, 'None of them is capable of achieving what I did'.”Actually, today’s economic chaos is far worse than Margaret Thatcher inherited in 1979. It may be true that none of today’s party leaders is up to achieving what she did, but they don’t have to. We are not in the 1980s, and yesterday’s medicine may not be the most effective remedy for today’s ills. The political ‘right path’ is narrow and chronically limited: there is only one path which is not bound by time or place, and it remains to be seen whether or not David Cameron can mould his ‘fairly classic Church of England faith’ to the social and spiritual needs of the time.
"After trying to watch the first debate Maggie said, 'they irritate me'. She is particularly angered by the way all three do their utmost not to answer questions."‘Twas ever thus: she has apparently forgotten what it is to be a politician. And yet everything seemed simpler in her day. Perhaps no prime minister since Gladstone could have risked telling a journalist that (s)he was ‘in politics because of the conflict between good and evil’, in the conviction ‘that in the end good will triumph’. She had a tendency to reduce an issue to a black-and-white choice: she is right and the Socialists are wrong. She was never happier than when giving simple moral lectures.
Bell added: "Maggie gets very frustrated because she thinks she brought the country back from the brink with a lot of hard work and now it's been allowed to get into a worse state. To her, it is very sad to see the country in this decline. She thinks it is very sad state of affairs."Well, for that one must blame 13 years of New Labour – Tony Blair and Gordon Brown. Bringing the country back from the present precipice and rate of decline requires conviction, determination and a commitment to ‘change’. Frankly, David Cameron is the only leader who is offering this: the others will simply deliver more of the same.
Thank you, Lord Bell, for divulging your private conversations with Baroness Thatcher to the press. His Grace doesn't actually believe that Baroness Thatcher spends her lunches in such egocentric conversation, and he hopes you won’t choke on the next vol au vent you consume in her gracious company.