The Letwin Amendment


His political ideas are already as antiquated as Noah’s ark. I do not know a single one of the younger men in England who is influenced by them in the slightest degree, though one hears of one occasionally, just as one hears of a freak in a dime museum. (1)

I: The Letwin Amendments

During the May and Johnson administrations of 2019 an unlikely Tory rebel emerged. As MP for West Dorset, Sir Oliver Letwin had been a central figure in the modernisation of the Conservative Party after the election of David Cameron as party leader, but over the course of the year he confounded many Tory colleagues by joining opposition MPs in a determined effort to thwart the passage of Brexit. A series of specific parliamentary interventions confirmed his new role as an enemy of the European Research Group and the Tory Whips:

  • On 25th March, the First Letwin Amendment passed, securing a series of indicative votes on Parliament’s preferred Brexit options, although none achieved a majority;
  • On 3rd April, the Cooper-Letwin Bill obliged the government to seek parliamentary consent for any extension to the date of withdrawal from the EU (the final approval of this played a major part in May’s downfall);
  • On 3rd September, Letwin submitted a motion that secured an emergency debate on the Benn Bill which sought to rule out a No Deal Brexit (all the Tory MPs who voted for this motion lost the Conservative whip);
  • Finally, on 19th October, the Second Letwin Amendment forced Johnson to request a further Brexit delay, effectively cancelling the vote on his deal.

This rebellion against former colleagues was not really a rebellion at all but a series of tactical moves designed to represent and defend parliament against an aggressive executive. His break from the party was visceral — a government source, widely believed to be Dominic Cummings, leaked a story to the Mail on Sunday accusing Letwin of collaboration with “foreign agents” — and had a dynamic wrecking effect on the strategy of Boris Johnson. 

This outcome had not been obvious at the start of the Brexit process, or inevitable: in his 2017 memoir, Hearts and Minds: the Battle for the Conservative Party from Thatcher to the Present, Letwin described his inability to secure the support of Johnson and Michael Gove for the Remain camp as “one of the biggest failures of my political life” (2). Gove, in particular, had been a close ally during the ‘modernisation’ project of the Cameron years. Before the psychodrama of Brexit, they were all on the same political wing of the party, although there had been personal rivalries and fall outs (these became important). More pertinently, Letwin was an early Eurosceptic: he recounts his Alpine summer holiday in 1987, spent digesting an exhaustive pile of books on European law and EC institutions, from which emerged his pamphlet Drift to Union. This study presaged Margaret Thatcher’s Bruges speech, but neither of these nascent Eurosceptic texts actually argued for full withdrawal. Letwin had concluded that the interests of Britain lay in a pluralist system within the EU: “a Europe of concentric circles with an emerging federal state at the centre and a free trade single market around it” (3). This was an early argument for an alternative to the full federalist project associated with Jacques Delor. Letwin never actually advocated leaving altogether, but then neither did any of his Conservative colleagues at the time, including the boss (“Mrs T.” as he calls her). Indeed, Charles Moore argues that Thatcher’s own speech was 

careful to accept everything the EC had done to date, and genuine in calling for Europe to make a more active contribution to the advance of political and economic liberty. Mrs Thatcher never believed, while in office, that Britain would be ‘better off out’, as the saying went. The Bruges speech was delivered, in good faith, as her suggestions for a better Europe. (4)

The revolution that Letwin documents occurred later, outflanking his position on the Right while he stayed in roughly the same place: “[v]iews that once caused me to be classified as a dangerous Eurosceptic now cause me to be classified as an establishmentarian” (5). His account of the political evolution of Bill Cash, for years the most dedicated foe of European federalism, is illuminating. As Letwin points out, Cash remained an advocate of the Single Market until Maastricht and continued to support membership until Lisbon, only then calling for associate membership and, by the time of the Referendum, a clean break. Others took an even more extreme route, including “the arch-Machiavelli of our generation of Conservative politicians” (6) David Davis, who traveled from the whips office that ushered Maastricht through parliament to the post of Brexit Secretary under May. From A8 and Lisbon to the Referendum, the political landscape changed completely. Letwin argues that he stayed still, but as his memoir otherwise reveals there were more subtle shifts at work here, both in his own career and globally. 

II: Shirley and Bill

You don’t understand. Keynes is dead. Dead.
Alfred Sherman

There is a sense in which Europe snuck up on the Conservatives while they were engaged in a different battle. This is borne out in Hearts and Minds, which briskly recounts this battle from inception to conclusion. In the third chapter of the book (‘The Intellectual Origins of Thatcherism’) Letwin describes the practical application of Thatcher’s ideology as a fight over the size of the state: 

[t]he question was not how far the state could intervene to rescue the least advantaged from the conditions that destroyed their life chances. The question was, instead, how far the state should intervene to support (or, those on our side of the argument insisted, to fail to support and to succeed only in constraining) the majority of the population.” (7)

If this reduction of the economic and political debates of the 1970s and 1980s seems glib in isolation, it rests on an elegant foundation of economists and philosophers that included among its number Letwin’s own parents. As his old school friend Charles Moore described it, the Letwin household in Regents Park was a salon for a generation of conservative intellectuals and writers:

Kingsley Amis, A.J. Ayer, Keith Joseph, Friedrich von Hayek, Sybille Bedford, Peregrine Worsthone, Elie Kedourie, John Gross, V.S Pritchett, Frank Johnson, Irving Kristol, Maurice Cowling, Ferdinand Mount, Michael Oakeshott, Colin Welch and Daniel Bell were all people I met for the first time at 3, Kent Terrace…[w]ith little money, excellent cooking (Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking was the Bible), Shirley and Bill, two American academics in London, created something tremendous. (8) 

The Letwins met at the University of Chicago in the late 1930s while studying under Milton Friedman, before migrating to London after the war to continue their doctoral studies at the London School of Economics (LSE) alongside Hayek, Karl Popper and Oakeshott, who would all become personal friends. Bill was eventually appointed Professor of Political Science at LSE, while Shirley taught political philosophy at LSE and Cambridge. This was the milieu in which Oliver grew up and took part, as he recalls: “[f]rom a ridiculously early age, I was allowed (perhaps even encouraged) to participate in the lively discussions that characterised their dinner table. It was a sort of university of free market thought, right there on your plate” (9). His parents held a central position in an intellectual and social circle drawn from Chicago, LSE and the Institute of Economic Affairs (IEA, “[f]ounded in 1952…to promulgate the kind of free market economics being propounded by Hayek and Friedman…[i]t had the great good luck to be led in this by three friends of my parents…”, 10). These three institutions formed the intellectual pillars of Thatcherism, market leaders in a ferment of political thought and academic activity with only one real precedent in modern British politics: the Fabian Society and its offspring, the Labour think tanks of the 1930s.

By the middle of the 1970s, all of the political energy and innovation was on the Right, as David Collard had foreseen in Fabian tract 387, The New Right: A Critique. Writing in 1968, Collard argued that the ideas coming out of the IEA provided a coherent and powerful critique of the postwar consensus and a programme for radical change, and prophetically warned that the Left would be “successfully outflanked” (11) if it did not take this challenge seriously. The Fabian Society was not only the historic enemy of the IEA and its politically operational progeny the Centre for Policy Studies (CPS), it was also their model. The intellectual enterprise at IEA and CPS and their orbit reflected the industry and influence of the Fabians, although their real precedent was more precisely the Left think tanks of the 1930s, in particular the XYZ Group and the New Fabian Research Group. Under the coordinating influence of Hugh Dalton (as chairman of the Labour Party Finance and Trade Committee) their impact during the first Attlee administration reset political and economic reality. As Kenneth O. Morgan put it, “they set the parameters of postwar Britain…[t]he experience of war made theirs the conventional orthodoxy after 1945 and for two generations to come” (12). Founder Antony Fisher explicitly modeled the IEA on the Fabians and took careful note of the method and impact of Harold Laski and Hugh Dalton at LSE. His original intention, as he told Hayek during their first conversation in 1947, was to found an “anti-Fabian society” (13). Fisher would use the Fabian blueprint to reverse the political and economic reality they had created: “Socialism was spread in this way and it is time we started to reverse the process,” he declared (14). When Hayek had convened the first Mont Pelerin Society conferences in the 1930s, economic liberalism was relegated to the political margins, effectively sidelined by Keynes and the socialists as he noted in a 1933 LSE lecture:

the people who call for a further extension of government controls of economic life have certainly ceased to be in any way intellectual path-breakers – they are most definitely the spirit of the age, the ultimate product of the revolutionary thinking of an earlier generation – the Fabian Generation. (15)

The battle that ensued between the economic liberals at LSE and the Keynesians at Cambridge led, ultimately, to the victories of Thatcher and the destruction of the Soviet system. As Richard Cockett described it: 

the academic debate between the ‘Keynesians’ and the economic liberals during the 1930s…was, it could be said, the crucial intellectual debate of the century in the Democratic West. It clearly divided economists – and ultimately politicians – into two distinct camps; the borders set down between these two camps were to run through British politics, across Party boundaries, and out into the wider democratic world, as the century unravelled…(16)

By the 1970s, the political stagnation of the Labour party and the moral bankruptcy of the trade unions, in combination with the intellectual activity at LSE, IEA and CPS, inspired a steady stream of conversions and defections from the Left, among them former New Statesman editor Paul Johnson, historian Hugh Thomas and the Labour MPs Reg Prentice and Brian Walden. For this expanding circle of conservative intellectuals, politicians and journalists, the Letwins’ Kent Terrace dinners provided an informal space to link economic liberals with social conservatives and socialist converts. This connection could not be taken for granted, as many of the key thinkers at IEA identified their ideas with the Liberal Party rather than a Conservative Party still largely associated with paternalistic One Nation Toryism and the Butskellite consensus. There had been early Tory champions of Monetarism, but these were isolated figures, and, in the case of Enoch Powell, politically toxic. In this context, therefore, the adoption of IEA texts and personnel by Keith Joseph and Margaret Thatcher represented the beginning of a fundamental change of course for the Tories: a turn towards ideology that led, in Letwin’s recollection, to a “mood of revolutionary zeal (the fear of not appearing to be ‘one of us’)” (17).

Labour was left without any effective defence to this determined assault on its historic assumptions and scelortic structures. From the very beginning, the economic liberals had taken their opponents seriously: Ludwig von Mises, for example, attacked Marx on his own terms by attempting to undermine the logic of Marxist economics. The tragedy of the Labour movement is that it did not respond in kind, or in time: the definitions and dismissals of ‘neoliberalism’ it chose to adopt were distorted and conspiratorial and largely remain so (recent examples of this include David Harvey’s A Brief History of Neoliberalism and Naomi Klein’s The Shock Doctrine). In 1932, von Mises described a dominant rhetorical tendency inherited from Marx: “instead of refuting he tends to abuse…[H]is disciples…have faithfully imitated the master’s example, reviling their opponents but never attempting to refute their arguments” (18). This legacy was not only theoretical, but tactical and stylistic; in this vein, the Left counterattack on Thatcher was purely tactical and stylistic. As Collard warned in 1968, any response that did not address the economic critique of socialism and the ideas of the IEA would not be credible, and would therefore fail. It did, and the Left was exposed intellectually, morally and strategically, which allowed Thatcher to dismantle the collectivist state and legally impair the trade unions almost unopposed. There was no conspiracy: this was a credible and ambitious use of power that proved popular, as the 1945 Labour programme had been.

It was a victory the Left could not credit because it did not understand it, or even try to. Even Thatcher’s supporters struggled to fully grasp the scope of her success. Economic theory was only one, important but limited, aspect of it. Perhaps the most interesting and effective attempt to define the appeal of Thatcherism was made by Letwin’s mother Shirley, in her 1991 study The Anatomy of Thatcherism. In her analysis, the key to Thatcherism was its emphasis on a particular set of attributes that she called “the vigorous virtues”: “self-sufficiency, independence, energy and adventurousness in individuals” (19).  Linked to this was a defence of the family as the centre of social cohesion, rather than the state: a self-organising, independent unit transmitting moral qualities and individual virtues from generation to generation. This, in turn, established the basis for the Thatcherite ideal of the nation, which Letwin described as a vision of post-imperial modernity: “a country in which the interplay of vigorous individuality is supposed to form the basis of a self-sufficient and respected island power” (20). In order to realise this vision, Thatcherism created, even necessitated, a “paradigm shift”, both in “the relationship between government and economy” (21) and in the relationship between government and the different pillars of the establishment, from the old City networks to the trade unions. In this analysis, then, Thatcherism was “not a political theory, but a historically specific and ruthlessly practical project” (22) that still had, at its core, a philosophical conception of the individual, the family and the nation. 

Oliver contributed to this project at a junior level working for Keith Joseph at the Department of Education, and at the Number 10 Policy Unit under the directorship of John Redwood. At the Policy Unit he took on the brief of local government, an issue defined at this time by the budgetary abuses of Liverpool and the GLC. Following his time at the Policy Unit, and at the height of the Thatcher revolution, Letwin was employed at NM Rothschild, where he advised governments of every type, from every continent, on the methods and benefits of privatization. From this perch he wrote a book called Privatising the World which, as Charles Moore remarked, “sounds absurdly hyperbolic, but it is notable that Letwin’s expectations in his book of the spread of the creed were considerably more modest than what actually happened” (23). This journey would have an ambiguous end: his work in local government fed into the Poll Tax debacle that undermined Thatcher’s political position; “the creed” would be damaged by the global financial crash of 2008, a direct consequence of deregulated financial institutions operating unchecked. This stoked the illiberal, populist politics that would find its British expression in UKIP, Brexit and the Johnson administration, all of which Letwin would try, in his own way, to contain and curtail. 

III. The Anguish of Keith Joseph 

He told the anecdote at the age of seventy: about the beggar who was in the street every day; how the small boy decided to feed the beggar; how, day after day, he surreptitiously purloined food from the breakfast-table to do so. “End of anecdote,” he concluded. (24)

In Ken Loach’s panegyric Spirit of ‘45 the real hero of his narrative is not Clement Attlee, but Nye Bevan; as the film progresses, it becomes clear that it is not simply a tribute to the 1945 Labour administration, but a sectarian statement on behalf of the Bennite Labour Left. In Letwin’s memoir, Keith Joseph occupies a similar position. The book is not about Joseph, nor does he dominate the narrative or even take up much space, but he is Letwin’s occluded hero. His core argument rests on the sensibility and insights of Joseph, belatedly incorporated into his own amended political persuasion.

Letwin’s first government job after Cambridge and Princeton was at the Department of Education under Joseph, hired to help design a school voucher scheme proposed by Milton Friedman in his television series Free to Choose, which was subsequently added to the Thatcher wish list. Although “intellectually attracted” to the idea, in practice Joseph found every reason to avoid actually implementing it, encouraged by skeptical and ingenious civil servants. From this position Letwin watched Joseph struggle temperamentally to implement ideas he espoused. This is often portrayed as an internal conflict — an inability to face the real world implications of his own prescriptions. But Joseph was also a victim of his emotional and intellectual disposition: a tendency to concede both sides of the argument and defer to expertise. As his first biographer Morris Halcrow noted, “a word constantly applied to Joseph was anguish; and, indeed, he devoted immense quantities of nervous energy to decision-making and squaring his conscience” (25). In 1974, after Joseph wrecked his own campaign to be Tory leader, Barbara Castle observed: “He certainly seems a tortured personality…I believe he is consumed with ambition as well as self-doubt” (26). This was also Letwin’s impression at Education, but in Hearts and Minds he amends this with retrospective appreciation of Joseph’s nuanced position:

I came progressively to understand the profundity of Keith’s point and to see that the free market economy is not sufficient, sustainable or defensible unless it also becomes a social market economy in which the prosperity engendered by free enterprise is harnessed in the service of promoting the life chances of the least advantaged. (27)

Although Joseph understood this connection in theory, in the arena of practical politics he was being pulled in different directions, which contributed to his tortured and contradictory ministerial style. In a 1971 speech to the Playgroups Association he introduced the concept of the “cycle of deprivation” which would become one of his principal themes in subsequent years. Joseph had taken the idea from Frank Field’s Child Poverty Action Group (CPAG), a major influence on his own thinking; as an acknowledgment of this, he “was to become the first and probably the last social security minister to win a standing ovation from a CPAG conference” (28). Joseph saw their work “as a challenge to the Welfare State, a challenge not only to break the cycle but also to arouse the public conscience” (29) and brought this into his own texts and speeches on the subject. His attitude to welfare had two primary roots: early social work in the East End of London and later conversion to economic liberalism. His actual record as Secretary of State for Social Services under Ted Heath was mixed: the Family Income Scheme was abortive and he considered his own reform of the NHS bureaucracy to be disastrous, but he was also responsible for introducing a series of new benefits to support the disabled, long term sick and elderly (Attendance Allowance, for example, dates from his tenure). The full implications of Joseph’s subtle proposition would find more serious application under New Labour with Frank Field at DSS, but at the time he occupied an anomalous position which would become even sharper in opposition after 1974.

Joseph considered his interests in economic liberalism and social policy to be complementary, but others saw them as conflicting and dismissed his preoccupation with welfare as a charming eccentricity. It was certainly not what Sherman had in mind when he had mentored Joseph as the primary vessel for the IEA in government. As Halcrow put it, “what he did was not to destroy the Attlee welfare provisions but to try to bring them up to date,” (30) but as far as Sherman was concerned Joseph had been eaten alive by his civil servants, writing him off as “a lion in opposition, a lamb in government” (31). However, it was not over: Joseph’s conversion to economic liberalism was faltering, but eventually decisive. It was Joseph, more than anybody else, who connected the academic economists of the IEA to the Conservative Party and was instrumental in setting up the CPS with Sherman at the helm. The speeches that Sherman wrote for Joseph, in particular the 1974 Preston speech with its ruthless critique of the economic policy of Heath and the case for Monetarism, effectively prepared the ground for Thatcherism. For Joseph, his liberal social policy was strengthened by his economic views: enterprise, wealth and job creation an essential prerequisite to the provision of effective social services, housing and health care. In a speech delivered at LSE in 1975, echoing Hayek’s own concept of “competitive order” (32), he dismissed the accusation of laissez faire:

I am not defending a free-for-all. The State must act to make and enforce rules to ensure the security of human life, protection against force and fraud and protection of those values and standards – social, economic, ecological – which represent the accumulated and current aspirations of our community. (33) 

The two phrases that became closely associated with Joseph were ‘wealth creation’ and the ‘cycle of deprivation’. The link that he made between the two was not then considered obvious, and remains contested. It was, in fact, seen as a contradiction in Joseph himself, and the inability to balance or connect them a personal failure. Concluding his biography in 1989, Morris Halcrow picked up on this theme: “It might be fair to say that Lord Joseph, given his prestige, could have been doing more to turn the eyes of the new Conservative Party to the challenge of how some of the wealth created by the Thatcherite enterprise culture ought to find its way to the underprivileged” (34). Letwin, one target of the sting in this statement, is retrospectively more generous to his old boss:

Keith…was making the arguments that needed to be made, back then in the 1980s – and by doing so, he was helping to shape the future course of British politics, not only in the Conservative Party itself but also in what emerged out of the Labour Party in the 1990s. (35)

IV: Drift to the Centre

Letwin finally became an MP in 1997. By now, the new reality created by Thatcher had been accepted by Labour under Blair and Brown, who hollowed out the Conservatives at the election, leaving them largely without motivation or purpose. Looking back on his roles during the Thatcher administrations, having spent the Major years at Rothschilds, Letwin strikes a rueful note:

We were locked not only in a battle for freedom and free markets in Britain but in a global battle of ideas. And this, too, I feel sure on reflection, was part of what made us so keen to keep focused on that battle, in a way that had the destructive side effect of making us far less interested in life chances and social justice than we should have been, or than Keith Joseph would have liked us to be. (36)

At its core, Letwin’s book is a subtle critique of Thatcherism, which sets a platform to defend the record of the Conservative Party programme of David Cameron. For Letwin, the mix of social and economic liberalism developed by the Cameroons was the logical response to the “Blair-induced existential crisis” (37) the Tories suffered in 1997 (he describes sitting listlessly in front of his computer screen after the election, staring at an empty word document titled: ‘What is the present purpose of the Conservative Party?’). This is given an added dimension by the recognition that this answer had been close at hand all along. It had been provided by Keith Joseph, who had been disregarded on this very point throughout the Thatcher decade:

Blair had spotted the defect in the purist version of Thatcherism that the Conservative Party had mistakenly believed itself to have inherited. Like Keith Joseph and the ‘wets,’ he had sensed that, to make free market economics attractive and acceptable, they had to be balanced by a real focus on social justice. In Blair’s hands, the free market of 1997 was to be a social market of the kind envisaged by Keith. (38)

There are many strands of historical truth and irony in this observation. For example: Joseph’s early social policy speeches had been influenced by Frank Field and CPAG; Field, during his own run at the DSS under Blair, heavily influenced the ideas of Iain Duncan Smith, whose directorship of the Centre for Social Justice laid the intellectual groundwork for the 2012 Welfare Reform Act, itself built on the foundational concept of the cycle of deprivation. IDS was, like Joseph, a more nuanced proposition: “a thorough-going Eurosceptic and unabashed free marketeer,” as Letwin observes:

He felt he had the moral authority to lead the party into social reform and the capacity to take the right of the party with him. In addition, he was able to carry social liberals like David Willetts and me – because he saw that his programme would at last enable the party to slay the dragon of social justice that we had so clearly failed to slay since the days when David and I had been in Mrs. Thatcher’s Policy Unit. (39)

Letwin’s argument in Hearts and Minds is that the political contract offered by New Labour, the Orange Book Liberal Democrats and his faction of the Tories provided an electorally attractive and politically effective synthesis that had the potential to resolve the needs of modern British society. However, as his account of the Tory civil war of the 1990s suggests and the subsequent history of both Labour and the Conservatives proves, this contract was less secure and final than it seemed at the time. 

The struggle between the social liberals (led by Michael Portillo and Francis Maude) and social conservatives (led by Ann Widdecombe) squandered the leaderships of Hague, IDS and Howard. The rise of Cameron was therefore, for Letwin, the Conservative version of the End of History, and he still cannot countenance the failure of this project as anything other than a temporary aberration. In Letwin’s account, liberal Conservatism, like ‘Blairism’ or the Third Way and like the Coalition compact with the Orange Book Liberals, had a dialectical solidity and conviction. It amended the historical errors of Thatcherism and made peace with the mores of contemporary Britain: the answer to everything turned out to be “the free market and the focus on social justice that was its necessary counterpart” (40). Keith Joseph was right all along, Blair was right too, and once they realised it, he was right and so were his allies, Cameron, Gove and Osborne. Letwin candidly admits that “I certainly had more in common with some of my closest Liberal Democrat coalition colleagues than I did with some of my most ideologically distant fellow Conservatives” (41) and pays admiring tribute to Blair throughout the book (but not to tribal Brown). 

In fact, in all of these political coalitions, the unresolved tensions remained dangerously close to the surface. The new creed was surprisingly shallow and stubbornly cosmetic: this was revealed over and over again, in the exposure of the Third Way as an empty slogan or the abject failure of the Big Society to win the Tories an election. As Edmund Dell pointedly observed towards the end of the first Blair administration, big political ideas are very rare and impossible to manufacture. During the early 1990s, as Labour policy thinking began to move and open up, a new generation of centre-left think tanks appeared, explicitly modelled on IEA and CPS. Taking a lead from the New Democrats and the election of Clinton, the Institute for Public Policy Research, Demos and the Social Market Foundation were all in the market for new and iconoclastic ideas to reset the democratic Left proposition in Britain. They all failed to offer anything other than a synthesis built on smooth words and chimerical concepts, as Dell predicted:

The probability must be that when the third-way travellers set out on their journey they did not know where they would arrive and that it has been a surprise to them as well as to others that, having circled the world of political thought, they have arrived back at social democracy…the Third Way may turn out to be what a New Labour government is prepared to do, anything that it is prepared to do. (42)

New Labour consummated the marketing of policy and ritual abuse of the word ‘radical’ to foster an impression of dynamism, a tendency fully absorbed by the Cameron and Orange Book teams. But this was also self-defeating, because once the structures of the liberal order began to fall apart, the rhetorical techniques and media strategies became more transparent, and therefore ineffective. As Letwin admits towards the end of his book, “the happy continuity of social market liberalism in Britain is now under threat from many quarters” — principly, the new strains of “illiberal demagoguery” and “state socialism tinged with expansive theories of human rights” (43). Letwin’s analysis of this onslaught is both precise and complacent, ascribing it to “latent feelings…given real force” by the 2008 Crash, demographics and globalisation. Therefore, he suggests, the current “illiberal politics of right and left” is “historically contingent – a temporary reaction to a set of economic events” (44). 

This assumption is an optimistic one, and is maybe a result of Letwin’s own political evolution: he is not a convert from the free market economics of his youth, but through painful experience has amended his ideas, finding answers and solace in the wisdom of his old boss, Keith Joseph. A careful and compassionate thinker, raised in a world of sophisticated ideas and civilized debate, the atmosphere of the political salon and an Anglo-American and Judeo-Christian intellectual tradition, he eventually learnt the political art of compromise rather than purism and zealotry. It is as if he found peace in dialectical resolution and is therefore unable to countenance the scale of the damage done to the postwar economic and political settlement. Hearts and Minds was written before his showdown with the Johnson administration, but it is useful to place Letwin’s 2019 amendments in the context of his broader political story. He was fighting to safeguard not only the position of Parliament and the national interest, but also the bipartisan, socially liberal, free market political order that he helped to establish but failed to protect. 

  1. Fabian activist William Clarke on the libertarian political philosopher Herbet Spencer in 1894, quoted in Richard Cockett, Thinking the Unthinkable – Think-Tanks and the Economic Counter-Revolution, 1931-1983 (Fontana Press, 1995), p.15
  2. Oliver Letwin, Hearts and Minds – The Battle for the Conservative Party from Thatcher to the Present (Biteback Publishing, 2017), p.24
  3. Ibid., p.7
  4. Charles Moore, Margaret Thatcher – The Authorized Biography, Volume Three: Herself Alone (Allen Lane, 2019), p.149
  5. Oliver Letwin, p.27
  6. Ibid., p.13
  7. Ibid., p.84
  8. Charles Moore, ‘At home with the Letwins’ salon’, Standpoint, May 2013, p.55
  9. Oliver Letwin, p.72
  10. Ibid., p.72
  11. Collard quoted in Cockett, p. 157
  12. Kenneth O. Morgan, Labour People – Hardie to Kinnock (Oxford University Press, 1992), ‘The Planners’, p.113-7. After those generations came Thatcherism. 
  13. Fisher quoted in Cockett, p.134
  14. Ibid., p.131
  15. Hayek quoted in Cockett, p.32
  16. Cockett, p.34
  17. Oliver Letwin, p.90. Interestingly, this was not the opinion of his mother, who considered Thatcherism to be a non-ideological phenomenon.
  18. Ludwig von Mises, Socialism – An Economic and Sociological Analysis (Liberty Fund, 1981), p.416 
  19. Shirley Letwin, The Anatomy of Thatcherism (Fontana, 1992), p.112
  20. Ibid., p.37
  21. Ibid., p.126
  22. Ibid., pp.44-5
  23. Charles Moore, Margaret Thatcher – The Authorized Biography, Volume Two: Everything She Wants (Allen Lane, 2015), p.219
  24. Morrison Halcrow, Keith Joseph – A Single Mind (Macmillan, 1989), p.3
  25. Ibid., p.37
  26. Castle quoted in Halcrow, p.94
  27. Oliver Letwin, pp.41-2
  28. Nicholas Timmins, The Five Giants – A Biography of the Welfare State (Harpercollins, 2001), p.289
  29. Halcrow, p.51
  30. Ibid., p.47
  31. Sherman quoted in Halcrow, p.157
  32. Hayek quoted in Cockett, p.113
  33. Joseph quoted in Halcrow, p.105
  34. Halcrow, p.193
  35. Oliver Letwin, p.40 
  36. Ibid., p.89
  37. Ibid., p.101
  38. Ibid., p.95
  39. Ibid., p.122
  40. Ibid., p.96
  41. Ibid., p.213
  42. Edmund Dell, A Strange Eventful History – Democratic Socialism in Britain (Harpercollins, 1999), pp. 568-9
  43. Oliver Letwin, pp. 273-74
  44. Ibid., p.279

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