Magazine article The Spectator

Welcome Back to the Forum Where Thatcher and Powell Argued

Magazine article The Spectator

Welcome Back to the Forum Where Thatcher and Powell Argued

Article excerpt

I hear that the Conservative Philosophy Group is about to be revived after a hibernation of about 15 years. The group, in so far as it has been heard of at all, has the reputation of being a collection of Thatcherite ideologues, exercising an arcane influence over policy. In fact it had no discernible influence over Tory policy, and was never meant to. One or two members (it must be admitted) wanted to give the impression that we were a thinktank with the usual ambitions. However, along with Roger Scruton, I had helped organise it from the beginning (c. 1975) and I always had the secret determination that it should be just like an Oxbridge college essay-reading society. That eccentric character may even explain its success. A surprising number of dons, journalists and MPs wanted to come along, and some now remember it with a definite nostalgia. We vaguely observed Chatham House rules -- but I think these yield to a lapse of time.

The early Thatcher years marked a very odd moment in the history of the Tory party when it decided to lie back and enjoy ideas. Hugh Fraser -- high Tory MP, Scottish aristocrat and Romantic had a gift for friendship, and thought it would be fun to mix some of his young intellectual friends with the better class of journalist and Tory MP. So the Tory philosophy group was born.

There was an eclectic variety of speakers. A clutch of political philosophers and economists from the LSE were members, as well as philosophers and historians from Oxbridge. Over the years, papers were given by Friedrich Hayek, Milton Friedman, Michael Oakeshott, Elie Kedourie, the Archbishop of York (Habgood), Shirley Letwin, Peter Bauer, Hugh Trevor-Roper, Robert Blake, Edward Norman. Hugh Thomas, Maurice Cowling, Tony Quinton, T.E. Utley, Peregrine Worsthorne, Paul Johnson, Frank Johnson, Geoffrey Wheatcroft, Norman Stone, Charles Moore, Oliver Letwin, Noel Malcolm were members. So were very many of those who went on to serve in the Thatcher Cabinets, and some on the present Tory front-bench. Enoch Powell never missed a meeting.

Mrs Thatcher came only twice, once as prime minister. That was the occasion for a notable non-meeting of minds. Edward Norman (then Dean of Peterhouse) had attempted to mount a Christian argument for nuclear weapons. The discussion moved on to 'Western values'. Mrs Thatcher said (in effect) that Norman had shown that the Bomb was necessary for the defence of our values. …

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