Head of Tory think-tank ousted in 'palace coup'

Thatcher legacy: Right-wing group keen to reinstate radical influence
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The Independent Online

Political Editor

Controversy surfaced among Tory ideologues yesterday over a palace coup at the head of the think-tank credited with giving Margaret Thatcher the big ideas that underpinned her 1979 election victory.

Tessa Keswick, former special adviser to Kenneth Clarke, the Chancellor, sent tremors through some sections of the party by being named as the successor to Gerald Frost as director of the Centre for Policy Studies (CPS), formed by Baroness Thatcher and Lord Joseph in 1974 as an intellectual powerhouse for the New Right.

Mr Frost, a former journalist and expert on defence and the former Soviet Union, yesterday stuck to an agreement with the centre's board not to speak about his resignation which takes effect from next week. But his departure is understood to have followed a power struggle on the board in which the death last December of Lord Joseph, one of Mr Frost's principal defenders, may have helped swing the balance.

But although anonymous self-styled Thatcherites were reported as sniping at Ms Keswick for her alleged lack of both Thatcherite credentials and intellectual weight in a report which appeared in early editions of the London Evening Standard yesterday, the ousting of Mr Frost is more complex than a simple conflict between Tory right and left.

One prominent Thatcher associate yesterday took issue with the idea that Ms Keswick was politically a Kenneth Clarke clone. He recalled Ms Keswick accompanying the Chancellor to a dinner of the right-of-centre Denbigh Society and being struck that she did not appear to share Mr Clarke's famously Europhile views.

Another member of the Thatcher circle also cast doubts on the suggestion that the former prime minister had been expressing active displeasure at the appointment - saying that she had not been closely involved with the CPS for several years.

Among his critics - which according to one source included Stanley Kalms, the chairman of Dixons and the most prominent businessman on the CPS board - one complaint against Mr Frost is that despite his undoubted rigour and competence he was partly to blame for a relative decline in the CPS's profile compared to other think-tanks like the Adam Smith Institute, the Social Market Foundation and Demos.

Certainly the roots of the CPS could not be more Thatcherite, and its chairman Lord (Brian) Griffiths is a former head of Lady Thatcher's Downing Street policy unit who has sought also to maintain relations with the present regime.

But the dilemma for the CPS is that while it was right wing it was also closely connected, as a candid friend, with government. It became an independent friendly intellectual ginger group for government both when Lady Thatcher was in office and during the first two years of John Major's administration - and it looks as though that is that kind of role which the board now hopes Ms Keswick will restore.