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)

More than 90 years of car history are coming to an end with the abolition of the paper car-tax disc
newsThis and other facts you never knew about the paper circle - completely obsolete today
people'I’d rather have Fred and Rose West quote my characters on childcare'
Life and Style
The new Windows 10 Start Menu
Arts and Entertainment
There has been a boom in ticket sales for female comics, according to an industry survey
comedyFirst national survey reveals Britain’s comedic tastes
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Bruce Chatwin's novel 'On the Black Hill' was set at The Vision Farm
travelOne of the finest one-day walks you could hope for - in Britain
footballManchester City 1 Roma 1: Result leaves Premier League champions in danger of not progressing
Arts and Entertainment
Gay and OK: a scene from 'Pride'
filmsUS film censors have ruled 'Pride' unfit for under-16s, though it contains no sex or violence
Life and Style
Magic roundabouts: the gyratory system that has excited enthusiasts in Swindon
motoringJust who are the Roundabout Appreciation Society?
Arts and Entertainment
Hilary North's 'How My Life Has Changed', 2001
booksWell it was good enough for Ancient Egyptians and Picasso...
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

SEN Teacher - Hull

Negotiable: Randstad Education Hull: Randstad Education are recruiting for spe...

Foundation Teacher Cornwall

£23500 - £40000 per annum: Randstad Education Plymouth: Early Years and Founda...

General Cover Teacher - Grimsby

Negotiable: Randstad Education Hull: Qualified Teachers needed for Supply in t...

KS2 Teacher required from October

£90 - £120 per annum: Randstad Education Hull: Key Stage 2 Supply Teacher requ...

Day In a Page

Ebola outbreak: The children orphaned by the virus – then rejected by surviving relatives over fear of infection

The children orphaned by Ebola...

... then rejected by surviving relatives over fear of infection
Pride: Are censors pandering to homophobia?

Are censors pandering to homophobia?

US film censors have ruled 'Pride' unfit for under-16s, though it contains no sex or violence
The magic of roundabouts

Lords of the rings

Just who are the Roundabout Appreciation Society?
Why do we like making lists?

Notes to self: Why do we like making lists?

Well it was good enough for Ancient Egyptians and Picasso...
Hong Kong protests: A good time to open a new restaurant?

A good time to open a new restaurant in Hong Kong?

As pro-democracy demonstrators hold firm, chef Rowley Leigh, who's in the city to open a new restaurant, says you couldn't hope to meet a nicer bunch
Paris Fashion Week: Karl Lagerfeld leads a feminist riot on 'Boulevard Chanel'

Paris Fashion Week

Lagerfeld leads a feminist riot on 'Boulevard Chanel'
Bruce Chatwin's Wales: One of the finest one-day walks in Britain

Simon Calder discovers Bruce Chatwin's Wales

One of the finest one-day walks you could hope for - in Britain
10 best children's nightwear

10 best children's nightwear

Make sure the kids stay cosy on cooler autumn nights in this selection of pjs, onesies and nighties
Manchester City vs Roma: Five things we learnt from City’s draw at the Etihad

Manchester City vs Roma

Five things we learnt from City’s Champions League draw at the Etihad
Martin Hardy: Mike Ashley must act now and end the Alan Pardew reign

Trouble on the Tyne

Ashley must act now and end Pardew's reign at Newcastle, says Martin Hardy
Isis is an hour from Baghdad, the Iraq army has little chance against it, and air strikes won't help

Isis an hour away from Baghdad -

and with no sign of Iraq army being able to make a successful counter-attack
Turner Prize 2014 is frustratingly timid

Turner Prize 2014 is frustratingly timid

The exhibition nods to rich and potentially brilliant ideas, but steps back
Last chance to see: Half the world’s animals have disappeared over the last 40 years

Last chance to see...

The Earth’s animal wildlife population has halved in 40 years
So here's why teenagers are always grumpy - and it's not what you think

Truth behind teens' grumpiness

Early school hours mess with their biological clocks
Why can no one stop hackers putting celebrities' private photos online?

Hacked photos: the third wave

Why can no one stop hackers putting celebrities' private photos online?