He Made Things Happen; Arch Thatcherite or Closet Socialist? Mike Kelly Meets Lord Nigel Vinson, Inventor, Entrepreneur, Philanthropist and Farmer Who Helped Forge the Iron Lady's Political Philosophy

The Journal (Newcastle, England), March 28, 2015 | Go to article overview

He Made Things Happen; Arch Thatcherite or Closet Socialist? Mike Kelly Meets Lord Nigel Vinson, Inventor, Entrepreneur, Philanthropist and Farmer Who Helped Forge the Iron Lady's Political Philosophy


Byline: Mike kelly

Tim McGuinness T has to be said that to me Nigel Vinson is a bit of a contradiction.

IThough he would argue otherwise, and persuasively, his political philosophy, which bore fruit in two right-wing think tanks from which Margaret Thatcher got a number of her ideas, appears, well, a touch socialist.

The think tanks were the Institute for Economic Affairs and the Centre for Policy Studies, co-founded by Sir Keith Joseph, Alfred Sherman and Margaret Thatcher.

The latter, established in 1974 and inspired by the thinking of the IEA, produced the Thatcherite blueprint for monetarism and free market economics.

Its philosophy was outlined in the CPS's first publication which Vinson co-authored called Why Britain Needs a Social Market Economy whose message was economic and political freedom were intrinsically linked. That the problems of the 1970s weren't a crisis of capitalism as socialists said, but a crisis of government intervention in the market. It will come as no surprise to many that Thatcher, granted after advice, chose to drop the word "social" from the title when referring to it.

Its success divides the country into two - those who thought it freed business from government shackles to the benefit of the UK. And those who saw its deregulation of the banks and businesses as bringing to life the "greed is good" ethic of Gordon Gekko in Wall Street which had such a devastating effect on regions like the North East.

To me, its end result does not seem to square fully with what Vinson wanted of it.

He said at that time in the early 1970s the term entrepreneur was seen as a bit of an ugly word - amusingly from the French, the literal translation of it is "undertaker", something lamented by Joseph, a good friend of Vinson for who he was best man while staging his wedding reception at his Northumberland estate. It was in 1972 that Vinson became a trustee of the IEA which he saved from potential collapse with a PS100,000 loan.

He believed it mirrored his beliefs that the state didn't have the necessary skills to intervene directly in the economy and prop up failing companies and provide full employment. But while his fundamental principles of fostering an entrepreneurial spirit, freeing the restrictions of the state on business to allow it to flourish are what some might call Thatcherite he believed everybody should benefit. While the Iron Lady's supporters might argue that was her intention too, that's not what has happened "Quaker Capitalism" is another phrase Vinson uses to describe his philosophy. "Do unto others as you would have them do to you".

In a surprisingly short book about Turn to Page 44 From Page 43 his long and varied life called Making It Happen, a quote to a journalist captures Vinson's viewpoint perfectly.

"Human nature is naturally helpful. I have always believed in two things: first that most people are intrinsically nice and they want to be so; and that if you treat others as you would wish to be treated yourself, then it makes the world go round. A philosophy as old as time."

As a result he distances himself from the "them and us" standpoint that drove a wedge in society which Mrs Thatcher, wittingly or otherwise, managed to do.

He also believes the duty of the state is to provide the wherewithal for all who live there to own their own and share in its wealth, not just a select few.

In an article he wrote for the Daily Telegraph in December 1977, he advocated handing over the ownership of the coal mines to the miners and the creation of self supporting workers' cooperatives.

This at a time when Nicholas Ridley, who lived not far from him in Northumberland, was drawing up his notorious plan to destroy the NUM.

Interestingly, his thinking was influenced from childhood by reading The Life of Robert Owen. a hero of his beloved mother.

Owen was a Welsh social reformer who died in 1854. …

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