Thatcher guru aims a parting shot at Fowler

MAURICE COWLING, one of the leading academic influences behind the Thatcherite revolution of the Eighties, is not a great fan of John Major's top team. He thinks that the wettish Kenneth Clarke is not the right man to get the proper message across, and Sir Norman Fowler should be sacked. With Mr Cowling's former pupil, Michael Portillo, regarded by most as too young for greater prominence, and Norman Tebbit now out of the running, Mr Cowling concludes that the Government 'is not blessed with many golden tongues'.

Even from that bastion of Toryism, Peterhouse, Cambridge, where Mr Cowling was a Fellow until his retirement last week, things look pretty bleak for the Conservatives as they assemble in Blackpool for their annual conference.

Mr Cowling, 67, probably did more than anybody to make Thatcherism intellectually respectable and to give confidence to right-wing thinkers in academia. He was a founder of the 'revisionist' school of historians - John Vincent, Jonathan Clark, Norman Stone and others - which attacked the English liberal tradition right back to John Stuart Mill. A former journalist, he encouraged academics of like mind to express their views robustly and publicly, and to think the unthinkable.

Yet he is notoriously diffident about his own links with the Conservative Party, describing himself as a 'symptom rather than a cause' of Thatcherism. His tutorship of and friendship with Mr Portillo, the ultra-dry Chief Secretary to the Treasury, is well documented, and he admits to other high- level contacts including Nigel Lawson, Geoffrey Howe, John Biffen, Norman Lamont and John Gummer.

He says he met, rather than knew, Margaret Thatcher. But photographers plan to stake out a party to mark his retirement in the expectation of an appearance by the former prime minister.

Finding Mr Cowling in his last week at Peterhouse was not easy. The historian's rooms were not in the elegant first court but in a glass-and-concrete staircase from which his name had already been removed. Inside, books, papers, furniture and other possessions stood in piles on the floor while a squall blew in through open balcony doors. When two college servants arrived in the middle of this chaos bearing trays of lunch, it felt like room service in the Beirut Hilton.

Mr Cowling proved younger in appearance and more genial than I imagined, but his dress sense shouted donnish eccentricity: a smart blue-and- white striped shirt and silk tie topped, curiously, by a green towelling dressing gown. (According to former students, the dressing gown was usual wear for supervisions.)

While he did not call for Mr Major's resignation, he said: 'Obviously the Conservative Party is in bad shape. The relationship between leading persons in it and public perceptions is not good.' What the party needed was someone 'with the dignity and ability to utter what the Conservative Party needs to stand for at the end of the next decade'. If Mr Major could not do this, he needed someone by his side who could.

This, it appeared, would not be Sir Norman Fowler, the party chairman, who Mr Cowling believes 'looks like a virtuous apprentice' and 'scores minus 350 on the dignity-rating'. He added: 'The PM will remove him if he has any sense.' Mr Clarke, the Chancellor, was a bit too much of a 'Max Miller, cheeky- chappie sort of figure'.

As a believer in the importance of individual actions and high politics in shaping history, Mr Cowling is reluctant to see the current crisis as one provoked by the forces of left and right battling for primacy. Rather, he sees it in terms of 'ins' versus 'outs'. He views Thatcherism as a collision of circumstances, personalities and a strand of traditional Tory thinking. 'It was a force for good. Historically, there was a public sentiment to respond to and she and others had a bag of tricks and a set of policies to respond.

'They were fortunate in their timing, but Keith Joseph, Nigel Lawson, Geoffrey Howe and she had something resembling a programme. If it was not at the beginning, she came to believe it at the end, and that is fair enough.'

Lady Thatcher, he thinks, 'has found it very difficult to reconstruct a political career after the deluge', but adds: 'She deserves the honour due to someone who did something for which the Conservative Party should be deeply grateful.' Nor would he attack the present Prime Minister, although his defence was less convincing. Pressed for a judgement on Mr Major (whom he has met), he said - after lengthy deliberation - that he was 'amiable'. It was rather like observing that Graham Taylor has good table manners.

Amiable or not, it is clear that Mr Major has not provided the leadership that the right expected. 'The policies,' Mr Cowling concluded, 'are perfectly all right but it is not clear to the public what the Conservative Party stands for, what it is meaning to say, and in what tone it is meaning to say it.'

(Photograph omitted)

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Sport
Super BowlAfter Katy Perry madness it's back to The Independent's live coverage of Super Bowl 49!
News
See what Twitter had to say about the first half of the Super Bowl
News
people
News
people
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Tradewind Recruitment: PMLD Teacher

Negotiable: Tradewind Recruitment: PMLD Teacher A specialist primary school i...

Recruitment Genius: Online Media Sales Trainee

£15000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Now our rapidly expanding and A...

Recruitment Genius: Public House Manager / Management Couples

£15000 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you passionate about great ...

Recruitment Genius: Production Planner

£20000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This fast growing reinforcing s...

Day In a Page

The super-rich now live in their own Elysium - they breathe better air, and eat better food, when they're not making beans on toast for their kids

The super-rich now live in their own Elysium

They breathe better air, eat better food, take better medicine
A generation of dropouts failed by colleges

Dropout generation failed by colleges

£800m a year wasted on students who quit courses before they graduate
Entering civilian life 'can be like going into the jungle' for returning soldiers

Homeless Veterans appeal

Entering civilian life can be like going into the jungle
Sam Taylor-Johnson: Woman on top

Sam Taylor-Johnson: Woman on top

Fifty Shades of Grey director on bringing the hit to the screen
As in 1942, Germany must show restraint over Greece

As in 1942, Germany must show restraint over Greece

Mussolini tried to warn his ally of the danger of bringing the country to its knees. So should we, says Patrick Cockburn
Britain's widening poverty gap should be causing outrage at the start of the election campaign

The short stroll that should be our walk of shame

Courting the global elite has failed to benefit Britain, as the vast disparity in wealth on display in the capital shows
Homeless Veterans appeal: The rise of the working poor: when having a job cannot prevent poverty

Homeless Veterans appeal

The rise of the working poor: when having a job cannot prevent poverty
Prince Charles the saviour of the nation? A new book highlights concerns about how political he will be when he eventually becomes king

Prince Charles the saviour of the nation?

A new book highlights concerns about how political he will be when he eventually becomes king
How books can defeat Isis: Patrick Cockburn was able to update his agenda-setting 'The Rise of Islamic State' while under attack in Baghdad

How books can defeat Isis

Patrick Cockburn was able to update his agenda-setting 'The Rise of Islamic State' while under attack in Baghdad
Judith Hackitt: The myths of elf 'n' safety

Judith Hackitt: The myths of elf 'n' safety

She may be in charge of minimising our risks of injury, but the chair of the Health and Safety Executive still wants children to be able to hurt themselves
The open loathing between Barack Obama and Benjamin Netanyahu just got worse

The open loathing between Obama and Netanyahu just got worse

The Israeli PM's relationship with the Obama has always been chilly, but going over the President's head on Iran will do him no favours, says Rupert Cornwell
French chefs get 'le huff' as nation slips down global cuisine rankings

French chefs get 'le huff' as nation slips down global cuisine rankings

Fury at British best restaurants survey sees French magazine produce a rival list
Star choreographer Matthew Bourne gives young carers a chance to perform at Sadler's Wells

Young carers to make dance debut

What happened when superstar choreographer Matthew Bourne encouraged 27 teenage carers to think about themselves for once?
Design Council's 70th anniversary: Four of the most intriguing prototypes from Ones to Watch

Design Council's 70th anniversary

Four of the most intriguing prototypes from Ones to Watch