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)

News
Jacqueline Bisset has claimed that young women today are obsessed with being 'hot', rather than 'charming', 'romantic' or 'beautiful'
people
Arts and Entertainment
Ben Affleck stars as prime suspect Nick Dunne in the film adaptation of Gone Girl
filmBen Affleck and Rosamund Pike excel in David Fincher's film, says Geoffrey Macnab
Arts and Entertainment
Lena Dunham
booksLena Dunham's memoirs - written at the age of 28 - are honest to the point of making you squirm
Sport
Frank Lampard and his non-celebration
premier leagueManchester City vs Chelsea match report from the Etihad Stadium
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Arts and Entertainment
A bit rich: Maggie Smith in Downton Abbey
tvSeries 5 opening episode attracts lowest ratings since drama began
News
people
News
i100
Life and Style
A new app has been launched that enables people to have a cuddle from a stranger
techNew app offers 'PG alternative' to dating services like Tinder
Sport
Greg Dyke insists he will not resign as Football Association chairman after receiving a watch worth more than £16,000 but has called for an end to the culture of gifts being given to football officials
football
Arts and Entertainment
Jake Quickenden sings his heart out in his second audition
tvX Factor: How did the Jakes - and Charlie Martinez - fare?
Sport
premier league
Arts and Entertainment
Rachel, Chandler and Ross try to get Ross's sofa up the stairs in the famous 'Pivot!' scene
tv
Arts and Entertainment
'New Tricks' star Dennis Waterman is departing from the show after he completes filming on two more episodes
tvOnly remaining original cast-member to leave crime series
Sport
Mario Balotelli celebrates his first Liverpool goal
premier leagueLiverpool striker expressed his opinion about the 5-3 thriller with Leicester - then this happened
Arts and Entertainment
Female fans want more explicit male sex in Game of Thrones, George R R Martin says
tvSpoiler warning: Star of George RR Martin's hit series says viewers have 'not seen the last' of him/her
News
i100
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

Data/ MI Analyst

£25000 - £30000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client are cur...

Project Manager with some Agile experience

£45000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client based in Chelmsf...

PPA Cover Teacher

£110 - £130 per day + Competitive rates of pay: Randstad Education Reading: Pr...

Behaviour Support Worker

£60 - £65 per day: Randstad Education Sheffield: SEN Education Support Worker ...

Day In a Page

A roller-coaster tale from the 'voice of a generation'

Not That Kind of Girl:

A roller-coaster tale from 'voice of a generation' Lena Dunham
London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice. In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence

London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice

In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence
Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with Malcolm McLaren

Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with McLaren

Designer 'felt pressured' into going out with Sex Pistols manager
Jourdan Dunn: Model mother

Model mother

Jordan Dunn became one of the best-paid models in the world
Apple still coolest brand – despite U2 PR disaster

Apple still the coolest brand

Despite PR disaster of free U2 album
Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments