Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Refreshing Honesty of an Arch Thatcherite Who Changed Tack

Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Refreshing Honesty of an Arch Thatcherite Who Changed Tack

Article excerpt


HEARTS AND MINDS: THE BATTLE FOR THE CONSERVATIVE PARTY FROM THATCHER TO THE PRESENT by Oliver Letwin (Biteback, PS20) ED VAIZEY OLIVER Letwin was the fixer-inchief for both the coalition and Cameron governments. From his rooms in the Cabinet Office he was free to range far and wide, supervising everything from energy policy to the Leveson Inquiry, transport to welfare.

A meeting with Oliver was like an Oxbridge tutorial, involving intense discussion on the detail of policy with someone who, disconcertingly, knew as much about the area as you did, if not more. Disconcerting, not least, because that was probably true for the dozens of other ministers he also dealt with. I can't say I miss those sessions but I never left without a feeling of awe for the man who presided over them.

Like this memoir, Letwin is elegant, serious, mildly mischievous and completely without guile. His early political career began in Mrs Thatcher's policy unit before moving, as an MP, into various shadow cabinet positions during the bleak years of Tory opposition during the Blair ascendancy. He was one of the architects of the all-toobrief flowering of modern conservatism, and was the stonemason of the coalition.

Letwin's memoir adds another fine layer to the already voluminous history of Thatcherism. But it comes into its own in other ways. His narrative account of the battles that Mrs Thatcher and her colleagues fought to return Britain to prosperity is tempered by the conclusion that not enough was done to help those who could not take full advantage. The focus on the political war, he says, "had the destructive side effect of making us far less interested in life chances and social justice".

His subsequent commitment to the social market, and the role he played, while in opposition, in modernising Conservatism, was clearly atonement for that error, fully and honestly acknowledged here.

In government, there is welcome honesty about the Liberal Democrats he worked with in coalition, all too rare from their former Conservative allies. …

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