Why Maggie still towers over the Tories

If the Conservative party wishes to hold sway in the future the way it did in Margaret Thatcher's day, it needs to recover an inner compass of conviction

by Douglas Carswell MP on 12 April 2013 12:12

She has been out of office for almost a quarter of a century. And she held office for a little over ten years. Yet still Mrs Thatcher towers over the Conservative party and conservatism. Why?

Partly, it is because she was so electorally successful. Mrs T won three elections with comfortable majorities. Since ousting her, the Tory party managed one slender victory in 1992, three record defeats in 1997, 2001 and 2005, and a missed chance before an open goal in 2010.

Mostly, however, I think Mrs Thatcher looms large because she had ideas. She did things because she believed in abstractions.

So many of those in politics today wear ideas the way that a fashionista wears clothes. They put them on not so that they might act in accordance with them, but in order to catch the eye of those they seek to impress - before discarding them.

Remember Tony Blair's intellectual debt to an obscure Scottish philosopher called John MacMurray? Me neither. Or, what about the profound philosophical truths behind the idea of gauging GWB (General Wellbeing) rather than GDP? Somehow that didn't seem to survive first contact with economic reality.

Today's "big beasts" in Westminster are often contemptuous of what they call ideology. Instead, they see themselves as pragmatic men and women of action. Poised to do whatever works – or, more often, what senior mandarins tells them will work.

But what is more conceited? To hold that the abstract ideas of Hayek or Smith are true, or to presume that you know what works?

If those in government do not have a philosophy, they don't avoid making mistakes. Instead, as they drift along with all of Whitehall's tried and failed assumptions, they endlessly replicate them.

If the Conservative party wishes to hold sway in the future the way it did in Margaret Thatcher's day, it needs to recover an inner compass of conviction.

This blog originally appeared on talkcarswell.com

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