One nation, divided

Lady Thatcher has got her Tory and Liberal traditions in a bit of a muddle, says Vernon Bogdanor

Share
Related Topics
"Say what you will," Disraeli's hero Egremont declares in 'Sybil' (1845), "our Queen reigns over the greatest nation that ever existed." "Which nation?" asks Morley, the Chartist, "for she reigns over two." "You speak of ... " said Egremont hesitatingly. "THE RICH AND THE POOR."

Disraeli in the 1840s begged the Tories to combat the market policies of the Liberals which were sundering all social ties. In the 20th century, by contrast, One Nation Conservatism has seen state socialism, not liberalism, as the enemy. Anthony Eden prefigured Margaret Thatcher in championing a property-owning democracy to combat doctrines of class conflict. For it, there was no war to fight; nobody need be afraid of losing. In the Fifties, a One Nation Group was formed by Iain Macleod, Angus Maude, Reginald Maudling and Enoch Powell to press for equality of opportunity as the alternative to socialist bureaucracy and controls. More recently, however, the term "One Nation" has come to indicate coded hostility to Thatcherism and sympathy for the gentler Conservatism of the Macmillan/Heath era.

In her Keith Joseph Memorial Lecture on Thursday, Margaret Thatcher attacked One Nation Toryism as a betrayal of the nation. That is, perhaps, curious. Leaders such as Disraeli and Eden were hardly noted for their cosmopolitanism, while Harold Macmillan sought to enter the European Community after a hard-headed calculation of Britain's interests and only after other diplomatic possibilities were exhausted. His conception of Europe was akin to that of Thatcher rather than that of Jacques Delors.

Besides, it was Margaret Thatcher herself who, as Prime Minister, turned the European Community irrevocably away from a "Europe des patries" when she signed the Single European Act, greatly extending majority voting - something with more radical effects that anything in the Maastricht treaty.

Domestically, Margaret Thatcher identified "One Nation" with state interventionism. The origins of Thatcherism, the former Prime Minister declared, are to be found not in the ideas of Disraeli but in 19th-century liberalism of the kind championed by Gladstone.

Yet Gladstone would be a very awkward recruit to the Thatcherite cause. If the Grand Old Man held to any fundamental belief, it was faith in "The Concert of Europe". Like the Liberal Democrats today, he would have been a strong supporter of European Union as the best means of overcoming national rivalries.

Gladstone was a strong supporter also of devolution, declaring that societies were held together through "recognition of the distinctive qualities of the separate parts of great countries". He even favoured the creation of what he called "intermediate bodies" - regional parliaments, which John Major has called "barmy". Here at least, Margaret Thatcher and the Prime Minister can agree. But it is difficult to regard their position as being at all Gladstonian.

Historians will probably see the Eighties as an era of Thatcherite dominance. Yet, in her two landslide elections - 1983 and 1987 - the Conservatives were unable to secure more than 42 per cent of the vote. Nearly three- fifths of the population were hostile to Margaret Thatcher even at the height of her power.

And Thatcherism appealed more to the south of England than to Scotland, Wales or the industrial conurbations. By 1987, the Conservatives, despite their Commons majority of 102, were able to secure only 10 of the 72 seats in Scotland, and eight of 38 in Wales. In the great conurbations - Bradford, Glasgow, Hull, Leeds, Liverpool, Manchester, Newcastle and Sheffield - the Conservatives won just three of the 43 seats.

Thatcherism was perhaps as much a consequence as a cause of socioeconomic and cultural changes that long prefigured the Eighties, as Britain came to be polarised along geographical lines. Margaret Thatcher found herself presiding over two nations divided as much by geography as by class. The upwardly mobile and ambitious nation living in the South-east provided her landslide majorities. For the other nation, she never seemed to care very much.

The writer is reader in government, Oxford University. His 'Essay on Politics and the Constitution' is being published by Dartmouth shortly.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Nursery Assistant Plymouth

£10000 - £20000 per annum: Randstad Education Plymouth: Randstad Education Ltd...

Volunteer your expertise as Trustee for The Society of Experimental Biology

Unpaid Voluntary Position : Reach Volunteering: Promising volunteer Trustee op...

Email Designer

£30000 - £35000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client is curr...

Psychology Teacher

£110 - £130 per hour: Randstad Education Reading: Psychology Teacher needed fo...

Day In a Page

Read Next
No supporters react to results in the Scottish independence referendum at The Marriott Hotel in Glasgow as ballet papers are counted through the night.  

Scottish referendum results: Thank you, thank you, thank you to the No voters – the Union is saved

Andy McSmith
Prime Minister David Cameron speaks during a visit to Scottish Widows offices in Edinburgh, where he made an impassioned plea to keep Scotland part of the union, saying he would be  

Scottish referendum results: David Cameron did the right thing, so why does Scotland’s vote feel like a defeat?

John Rentoul
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
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam
'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

Exclusive extract from Janis Winehouse's poignant new memoir
Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

The Imitation Game, film review
England and Roy Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption in Basel

England and Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption

Welbeck double puts England on the road to Euro 2016
Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Pictures removed from public view as courts decide ownership
‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

Donatella Versace at New York Fashion Week