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The Bruges Group spearheaded the intellectual battle to win a vote to leave the European Union and, above all, against the emergence of a centralised EU state.
The Bruges Group spearheaded the intellectual battle to win a vote to leave the European Union and, above all, against the emergence of a centralised EU state.

Bruges Group Blog

Spearheading the intellectual battle against the EU. And for new thinking in international affairs.

Sir Keith Joseph: The Architect of Thatcherism


During these awful and bleak times, I felt it would be the perfect opportunity to take a closer look to the careers of some political giants who don't get the recognition or remembrance they deserve. One of my greatest interests is political history and every Friday I shall publish an article outlining the career and some interesting facts about some political heroes who are unfortunately no longer with us. Last week I documented the remarkable life and career of Ian Paisley, the founder of the DUP and one of the most prominent and landscape changing politicians in Northern Ireland, as the voice of Unionism, a link to which can be found below. 

This week I'm taking a look at the life of the architect of Thatcherism, Sir Keith Joseph, the man whose ideas and principles would form the policies of Britain's greatest post-War Prime Minister. He served in the governments of four Prime Ministers and would be one of the greatest critics of Edward Heath, eventually urging Margaret Thatcher to challenge Mr Heath after realising, admitting that he was seen as 'too right wing' to lead the Party.

Joseph was born in Westminster on 17th January 1918 into a very well-off family, his mother Edna was the daughter of Sir Samuel Gluckstein, the founder of the Salmon and Gluckstein Tobacconists who were one of the largest tobacco firms in the 19th century. Keith's father was Sir Samuel Joseph, whose distance relatives were the founders of J. Lyons and Co, the firm Margaret Roberts would start her career at when graduating from Oxford before entering politics, not only that, Samuel was a successful lawyer and politician would later serve at the Sheriff of London for 1933 and later Lord Mayor of London between 1942 and 1943. Samuel also served in the Royal Irish Regiment as a Captain during the Great War and on his return would personally oversee the construction of a building for the then Minister for Munitions, Winston Churchill in Sussex Square, whilst working for the property development company, Bovis. Before Sir Samuel Joseph passed away in 1944, he would also serve as Alderman for the City of London, Keith followed in his father's footsteps and would use his life and achievements as an inspiration for his own career. Following his father's passing, Joseph would inherit the family baronetcy, the least high-ranking hereditary title.

Joseph was born into a Jewish family and would be educated at Lockers Park School in Hemel Hempstead, before attending Harrow boarding school and then graduating as a lawyer from Magdalen College, Oxford with a first class honours. In his younger years, he would also serve in the military, like his father, as a Captain in the Royal Artillery during World War 2 – he would be injured in a German attack in Italy, he would be mentioned in despatches, the official report from a senior officer to the high commander. He was eventually called to the bar in 1945 and would be a practicing barrister for the remainder of the 1940s and early years of the 1950s, again he, like his father, would be elected Alderman of the City of London, for the Portsoken ward, during the early part of the decade. Joseph became director of the planning and building firm Bovis, he would eventually rise to Chairman in 1958, whilst serving as a Member of Parliament; furthermore, he would also be employed as an underwriter for the high street bank and insurance firm, Lloyd's of London. Furthermore, Joseph was made a Fellow of All Souls College, Oxford one of the most prestigious colleges where there are no undergraduates but recent graduates and post-graduates can apply each year through an exam, once being nicknamed 'the hardest exam in the world'.

Joseph's political career started at the halfway through the 1950s, at the 1955 general election, the first where the Conservative Party would be led by Anthony Eden, however he would fall short by just 125 votes in the London seat of Barons Court. The new constituency was formed of the old constituencies of Hammersmith South and parts of Fulham East and Fulham West, it was won by the Labour and Co-op MP for the old Hammersmith South, Sir Thomas Williams, Bill Carr would defeat Labour in 1959, only to be defeated in the London marginal in 1964 by Ivor Richard, who would serve as a member of the European Commission. Although unsuccessful at first, he would soon stand in the 1956 Leeds North East by-election caused by the sitting member, Osbert Peake was awarded a Viscountcy in the New Years' Honours, becoming Viscount Ingleby, the majority would increase in percentage terms to nearly a 30% point lead, although he wouldn't receive as many votes as his predecessor, although the turnout was lower. He would continue to keep the massive majority, never falling below 20,000 votes although his percentage lead would fall over time to below 50%, at one point. Not long after serving as an MP, in 1957 he was made a PPS to junior government Ministers in Anthony Eden's government and then his successor Harold Macmillan.

Joseph would be appointed as a junior Minister when Harold Macmillan succeeded Eden as Prime Minister, serving in several junior roles from the 1959 general election; the first of which was a junior minister responsible for housing. As convention has it, junior Ministers work alongside backbenchers when proposing a private members' bill, these bills very rarely make it into the statute book without government support so it is essential that Ministers are involved with the fine details of the bill, in order to steer it through Parliament when presented to the House. It was in 1960 that a backbench MP would propose the Public Bodies (Admission to Meetings) Act, Keith Joseph, the junior Minister at the Ministry of Housing, was tasked with helping to steer through the bill – the member proposing it was the recently elected MP for Finchley, Margaret Thatcher. This would be the first of many times that the two would work together and it was here that they struck up a fantastic working relationship and realised they were very much politically in tune, it would be a political relationship that would produce Britain's first female leader and, in my opinion, the best peacetime Prime Minister.

Joseph would soon move on from the Ministry of Housing, being promoted by Macmillan to the Board of Trade; in the infamous 'Night of the Long Knives' in 1962, where seven Ministers were disposed of from the Cabinet, including Chancellor of the Exchequer, Selwyn Lloyd and Minister for Housing and Local Government, Charles Hill. Whilst Lloyd would be replaced by the experienced Reginald Maudling, the position of Cabinet Secretary responsible for Housing and Local Government would be filled by one Sir Keith Joseph. He'd set out an ambitious plan to build 400,000 new council houses, per year by 1965, his long term plan would be to increase home ownership by increasing the stock of council houses which could be later sold off to long serving tenants. As well as this he planned to continuously replenishing the supply as the population grew, it is important to remember the 1960s saw a huge boom in population growth so having a high stock of council houses was necessary, with a long term vision of majority home ownership. By 1964 when the general election came around, Joseph was one of the most popular Cabinet Ministers, he was seen as having a vision to create a property owning democracy, he was often seen as being more popular than the now Prime Minister, Sir Alec Douglas-Home, especially as he had set out a plan to help homeowners with mortgage payments and deposits on properties. The Conservatives would be annihilated by Harold Wilson's Labour, bringing 13 years of Conservative government to an end and stopping Joseph's home ownership programme in its tracks.

Following the general election loss, Joseph was reshuffled by Douglas-Home to be the opposition spokesman on Social Services and then when he was succeeded as leader by Edward Heath, he was appointed as the opposition spokesman on Labour, following the 1966 general election. He would have a significant impact when serving as the Shadow Minister for Social Services as he would be a founding member of the National Council for Single Women and Her Dependants with the Reverend Mary Webster and Conservative MP Sally Oppenheim in 1965. The Council would be significant in fighting for legislative change with the 1967 Dependant Relative Tax Allowance which was the first piece of legislation that would recognise tax allowances and financial benefits for caring responsibilities other than children.

By 1967, Joseph was becoming a popular figure in both the internal Party among grassroots members and to some extent within the general public, Mr Heath couldn't ignore this and promoted Sir Keith to the spokesman for Trade, shadowing the President of the Board of Trade Anthony Crosland and then later Roy Mason. Joseph would have a crucial role in forming Conservative Party policy on trade and would be one of the first advocates, in Office, for privatisation of the unproductive and inefficient nationalised industries. During the eventually successful 1970 general election, Joseph was a key figure and talked of a programme of "civilised capitalism" and hinted at cuts in public spending, this was largely due to the massive and increasing deficit, all whilst Britain was falling behind, at an unprecedented rate, in gross domestic output, this was largely due to the powerful trade unions calling regular industrial action. The Party adopted most of Keith Joseph's proposals at the Selsdon Park Hotel meeting in South Croydon on 31st January 1970, these proposals were worked into the successful manifesto for the upcoming general election.

Heath was initially supportive of Sir Keith's plans and policies but soon become sceptical of his intentions and doubted his free market economic principles, however the Prime Minister did reward Joseph with a Cabinet role as Secretary of State for Social Services. This was a tactical move by Mr Heath as it kept Joseph firmly away from the economics of the government, seeing him as too much of a radical and wanting to take Heath's reforms way beyond the point which the PM was comfortable with. The DSS was the largest government bureaucracy of the day and Joseph was tasked with reforming the department, with Heath seeing Joseph as the reformer who was capable of carrying out the necessary measures to democratise the civil service. Although he was vocal on demolishing the bureaucracy existing in the department, he would in fact be compelled to do the opposite, providing more funds and improving services within the NHS which had been neglected, to some extent, by the previous Labour government. Joseph was maintaining his high regard within the Party and with the public, unlike his leader Edward Heath who was now seen as out of touch and economically unstable. By 1972, Sir Keith Joseph had become a leading sceptic within the Cabinet of Heath's economic policy, seeing the Prime Minister as a peddler for interventionism; the government was now known as the 'government of U-turns' by press and Heath was losing support by the day, as well as the Party's reputation for sound economics was fast diminishing.

When the February election in 1974 resulted in a hung Parliament, the PM, Edward Heath called another election to break the deadlock in October, this resulted in a defeat for the Conservatives subsequently forming a minority Labour government led by Harold Wilson. It was in 1974, with the now Shadow Secretary of State for Education and Science, Margaret Thatcher and political author and analyst Sir Alfred Sherman, that he would cofound and set up the Centre for Policy Studies; a right wing, free market think tank which promoted monetarism, a theory supported by Nobel Prize winning economist Dr Milton Friedman which emphasises the role of governments controlling the money supply. Thatcher was impressed by the economic theory and policies which Joseph and the CPS promoted and was one of the first senior Conservatives who supported the radical new policies such as mass privatisation, deregulation of the markets, unprecedented trade union reform and a huge drive for private home ownership.

#Even though he was still a member of Heath's Shadow Cabinet, he would be one of his biggest critics, including being openly against the record of Heath's government of 1970 to 1974 of which he had served in, his biggest concerns were of the direction Mr Heath had taken the Party economically – an area Joseph was deliberately kept away from. It was becoming increasingly likely that Heath would be at least challenged for the leadership of the Party, if he didn't resign, and the favourite among the right wing of the Party was Sir Keith Joseph, however his prospects would be damaged by one of his greatest speech, the Edgbaston Speech on 19th October 1974, just days after the election defeat, at the Grand Hotel in Birmingham. In his address, Joseph spoke of how "we have to get economics back into proportion, as one aspect of politics, important but never really the main thing. This may be unfashionable, indeed anti-fashionable, because it is the current intellectual fashions which have wrought so much havoc in this country." He would go on to criticise Edward Heath in his lack of action to successfully combat Socialism, saying how "the opposite of Socialism is neither Conservatism nor capitalism but a mixture of the two, the Conservative Party, the Party which is older than the very concept of all three"; he'd also talk on how the Party should oppose the nationalised monopolies and embrace the private sector, or "at least I hope this Party will". The speech continued with reference to how "we do not take this stand out of concern for the interests of a class of owners - and ownership is increasingly widespread - but because excessive state control and ownership limits the liberties of all citizens as well as leading to impoverishment", this speech was seen to be one of the most radical lines of thinking in British politics at the time, this was a new school of thought entering mainstream politics for the first time in over a generation. The ultimate point was his final sentence, "this could be a watershed in our national existence. Are we to move towards moral decline reflected and intensified by economic decline, by the corrosive effects of inflation? Or can we remoralise our national life, of which the economy is an integral part? It is up to us, to people like you and me."

This speech, but more so his Preston speech in the autumn of 1974, would ultimately damage Joseph's chances of leading the Conservative Party, although the majority of its contents would be reciprocated by Mrs Thatcher, as it portrayed him as a radical, on the fringes of the Party – despite this, he would gain the support of around 60 Conservative MPs before the leadership challenge had begun. He knew that he couldn't himself topple Edward Heath, primarily due to remarks he had made dissuading poor people to have less children, at a speech in Preston that September, leading to the misconception that Joseph was a supporter of selective breeding and eugenics. But, he and his friend and supporter, Airey Neave, would convince Margaret Thatcher to run for the leadership. The MPs who supported Sir Keith initially would provide an invaluable base for Thatcher's leadership bid as these supporters were genuine, rather than tactical, his base included several vocal backbench Conservative MPs such as Nigel Lawson and Norman Tebbit (who had served as PPS to Robin Chichester-Clark, the Minister of State for Employment), who would join her campaign team. Joseph's support base was largely among grassroots members also who were seen as more demanding of change and somewhat radical than the current Party leadership and Mr Heath's Shadow Cabinet. When he officially announced that he wouldn't run for the leadership, there looked to be no alternative and Shadow Ministers such as Jim Prior, Lord Carrington and Shadow Chancellor Robert Carr pledged their loyalty to Heath. It was in the early months of 1975 that Joseph's support base would get behind a 49 year old Margaret Thatcher, who'd eventually launch her leadership bid when Edward Heath called the election to establish his authority, not expecting anyone to have enough support to topple him, on 13th January 1975 for the following month. On reflection, after his retirement from politics he said, "if I had been leader of the Party, it would have been a disaster for the Party, country and me".

Thatcher defeated Heath on the first ballot by 11 votes which came as a massive shock to the Leader of the Opposition, who had expected a strong challenge from Thatcher but not expected to have been beaten by her on the first ballot, he subsequently resigned and Shadow Chancellor Robert Carr temporarily took over whilst the leadership election took place. Joseph's position of social conservatism mixed with classical economic theory, creating what we essentially know as neoliberalism, was an immensely popular standpoint for many Conservative MPs and members, Margaret Thatcher would later say "it was only in April 1974 when I converted to Conservatism, I had thought I was a Conservative, but I was not really one at all", owing many of her beliefs and policies to Joseph's theories. He and Thatcher created what would be known then as the 'true Conservative ideology' which put an end to the post-War consensus of powerful trade unions and an ever increasing welfare state, including the growth of nationalised industries. The policies which they thought up would look to stabilise the economy and substantially curtail the power of the unions which had essentially brought down the last Conservative government by forcing a series of U-turns.

When forming her Shadow Cabinet, Thatcher wanted to give Sir Keith Joseph a senior role but his Preston speech had proved too much for some members of the Party, especially senior politicians, many of whom fundamentally opposed Thatcher's leadership, these were to be forever known as the wets. Joseph himself wanted the role of Shadow Chancellor of the Exchequer but like mentioned previously, public opinion of Joseph wasn't as favourable as it once was in the late 1960s and senior Party officials were also significantly opposed to his appointment to high Office, some even opposing him staying in the Shadow Cabinet. Joseph was instead put in charge of Thatcher's policy and research unit, a Cabinet role created by her, and Sir Geoffrey Howe, an opposition in the leadership race, made Shadow Chancellor, although he would soon become one of her staunchest and loyalist supporters. Joseph was responsible for the 1979 Conservative election manifesto following the vote of no confidence in Jim Callaghan's government in March of that year; although he and Thatcher supported radical change and significant advances towards free market economics, the manifesto was somewhat of a compromise to retain the support of the wets such as Jim Prior, Sir Ian Gilmour, Francis Pym and Peter Carrington, nevertheless it produced a 43 seat majority, the greatest since 1959. This success would pave the way for a more 'Thatcherite' manifesto in 1983 which saw the early steps towards trade union reform, privatisation and other flagship policies being taken to the next level.

During his time as the chief of Thatcher's policy and research unit, he would make his most famous speech on 4th April 1976, a speech which is often referred to as one that changed the way a generation looked upon politics and economics. This speech is of course the Stockton Lecture to the Centre for Policy Studies, it would later become known as 'Monetarism is Not Enough'. The most prominent line in his speech, Joseph said "it is now widely realised that many of our present economic ills stem from a cardinal error, the belief that inflation and unemployment presented a choice of evils. We have learned to our cost that inflationary measures designed in good faith to abate unemployment have eventually intensified it, leaving us with the worst of both worlds." He again set out how a government needs to be responsible and control the money supply and ensure that inflation doesn't get out of hand; Joseph was conscious to improve the national output in the short term whilst having a focus on the price level in the long term, an approach that can be seen in Thatcher's supply side policies introduced primarily in the middle of her premiership. He made clear that to be successful and an efficient economy, Britain needed to completely change the course of its economic direction from the widely accepted Keynesian model of economics to a more free market, monetarist approach, advocated by economists such as Dr Friedman and Karl Brunner, a highly regarded Swiss economist; another great supporter of monetarist policies was one a hero of both Joseph and Thatcher, that being the renowned economist and author, Friedrich von Hayek. The Stockton speech is well worth a read in full and I urge you to do so, I have linked it below rather than copy and paste more sections of what is truly a fantastic speech, summing up Thatcherism. One of the first economists to work directly with Joseph was one Alan Walters, the man whose advice to Margaret Thatcher over the ERM in 1989 would cause the resignation of Chancellor of the Exchequer, Nigel Lawson. Walters would remain a great influence on both Joseph and Thatcher's thoughts and policies, especially regarding privatisation and preparing nationalised industries for privatisation.

In 1979, Joseph was promoted from the policy and research unit to a full time Cabinet position as Secretary of State for Industry, a crucial role at the time as most industries were in government ownership and costing the taxpayer millions of pounds per day. One of the most inefficient industries at the time was British Steel, costing the taxpayer over £4m per day in 1980, Joseph's solution was to bring in the notorious and anti-trade union private sector boss, Ian MacGregor to turn the fortunes of the industry around, in preparation for privatisation. MacGregor was an astounding success and subsequently chaired the National Coal Board, he was also the subject of my history piece a fortnight ago, a link to which can be found below.

In Thatcher's 1981 Cabinet reshuffle when she disposed of some of the wets who went out of their way to undermine her, Sir Keith was promoted to Secretary of State for Education and Science, the role she had served in under Heath. Joseph was succeeded as by Patrick Jenkin as Industry Secretary; the Departments of Trade and Industry would be merged in 1983 following the general election and headed by Cecil Parkinson and shortly after by Norman Tebbit. Joseph's predecessor at the Department for Education and Science was Mark Carlisle, a wet who hadn't been a great supporter of Thatcher and her Laissez-Faire economic policy, Carlisle had been supportive of a maintenance grant to local education institutions but had also cut free school meals on advice they weren't being taken up by students. In her memoirs, Thatcher said that Carlisle was a "good man" but had proved "a rather ineffective Education Secretary" and that is why he was dismissed in September 1981 in the reshuffle. Joseph was supportive of selective grammar schools, like the one Thatcher had attended herself, and pushed to save grammar schools which Labour had made a flagship policy of closing them or converting to comprehensive schools. The last Labour Education Secretary, Shirley Williams had attempted to merge O Levels with CSEs but her successor, Mark Carlisle had scrapped these plans, only for Joseph to successfully go through with Williams' proposals, consequently creating GCSEs. Joseph also went ahead with the policy of creating a national curriculum for England and Wales, although it wasn't usually the practice of central government at the time, Joseph personally insisted on approving the syllabus for each subject before the GCSE system was introduced.

At the time, Joseph could see the need to invest in innovation and research, subsequently he proposed plans and entered discussions with the Treasury to increase funding for research at universities in Britain to create a generation of innovators and making Britain the research and development capital of western Europe. At the time, there was a policy of a minimum grant which meant all students were entitled to a minimum grant to study at university, including those from wealthy families – Joseph saw this policy as unnecessary and a burden on the taxpayer, especially when the grants weren't needed by many who attended university at that time. This caused an absolute uproar in the Cabinet, most notably with Cecil Parkinson, another staunch ally of Thatcher, Joseph did in the end compromise by abandoning his policy to levy tuition fees although he wouldn't budge on the abolition of the minimum grant. His reforms in education made the system fairer and more long term focussed, and his legacy remains today.

He stepped down from the Cabinet in 1986, to the disappointment of Margaret Thatcher, and would step down as an MP in 1987 where he would be given a life peerage in the Dissolution Honours; his Leeds North East seat would be taken over by the lawyer and former Northumberland County Councillor and Chairman of Newcastle Airport, Timothy Kirkhope. Kirkhope would be defeated in Tony Blair's landslide victory in 1997 by Fabian Hamilton who has held the seat since, making it a Labour stronghold, although boundary changes have helped this status.

Although the legacy of his would be no where near as great as Lady Thatcher's, she would give him full credit, Joseph had in fact seen himself as a failure in Office, although Mrs Thatcher vehemently disagreed saying how he was one of the "best Ministers a Prime Minister could wish to have in their Cabinet". In her memoirs 'Path to Power', the Iron Lady would say "I could not have become Leader of the Opposition, or achieved what I did as Prime Minister, without Keith." Perhaps the greatest testament she could've given Sir Keith Joseph was saying he was "my closest political friend" and with that, he really was the architect of Thatcherism. Not only would he have a shining legacy in politics, he would also be remembered as a social reformer and fighter for social justices, helping set up countless organisations and working with many charities, including the Mulberry Housing Trust and Jewish support groups.

Rest in peace, The Rt. Hon. Sir Keith Sinjohn Joseph Bt. CH PC QC, Lord Joseph (2nd Baronet) 

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