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
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
News
peopleMathematician John Nash inspired the film Beautiful Mind
News
Richard Blair is concerned the trenches are falling into disrepair
newsGeorge Orwell's son wants to save war site that inspired book
Life and Style
Audrey Hepburn with Hubert De Givenchy, whose well-cut black tuxedo is a 'timeless look'
fashionIt may be a paradox, but the industry loves it
Arts and Entertainment
The pair in their heyday in 1967
music
Life and Style
fashionFrom bathing dresses in the twenties to modern bikinis
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

Guru Careers: Software Developer / C# Developer

£40-50K: Guru Careers: We are seeking an experienced Software / C# Developer w...

Guru Careers: Software Developer

£35 - 40k + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Software Developer (JavaS...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant / Resourcer

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Commission: SThree: As a Trainee Recruitment Consu...

Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, HTML, CSS, JavaScript, AngularJS)

£25000 - £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, JavaScript, HTML...

Day In a Page

Abuse - and the hell that came afterwards

Abuse - and the hell that follows

James Rhodes on the extraordinary legal battle to publish his memoir
Why we need a 'tranquility map' of England, according to campaigners

It's oh so quiet!

The case for a 'tranquility map' of England
'Timeless fashion': It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it

'Timeless fashion'

It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it
If the West needs a bridge to the 'moderates' inside Isis, maybe we could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive after all

Could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive?

Robert Fisk on the Fountainheads of World Evil in 2011 - and 2015
New exhibition celebrates the evolution of swimwear

Evolution of swimwear

From bathing dresses in the twenties to modern bikinis
Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

Sun, sex and an anthropological study

One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf
From Shakespeare to Rising Damp... to Vicious

Frances de la Tour's 50-year triumph

'Rising Damp' brought De la Tour such recognition that she could be forgiven if she'd never been able to move on. But at 70, she continues to flourish - and to beguile
'That Whitsun, I was late getting away...'

Ian McMillan on the Whitsun Weddings

This weekend is Whitsun, and while the festival may no longer resonate, Larkin's best-loved poem, lives on - along with the train journey at the heart of it
Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath in a new light

Songs from the bell jar

Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
How one man's day in high heels showed him that Cannes must change its 'no flats' policy

One man's day in high heels

...showed him that Cannes must change its 'flats' policy
Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

End of the Aussie brain drain

More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

Can meditation be bad for you?

Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine