Margaret Thatcher’s world view was shaped and guided by the lessons of piety, thrift and the Protestant work ethic learnt in Finkin Street Methodist Church, Grantham, from Alf Roberts, her lay-preacher, as well as shop-keeper, father.
Steeped in these Nonconformist teachings of her childhood, Mrs Thatcher entered Downing Street determined to reinvigorate the nation with these religious values.
But instead of creating a country in the image of her father, the Wesleyan Methodist preacher Alf Roberts, she ended up creating one in the image of her son – consumerist, cosmopolitan and secular (and, by implication, nefarious).
No, I am not saying this. This is the thesis of Dr Eliza Filby, author of the recently published God and Mrs Thatcher, subtitled ‘The battle for Britain’s soul’, lost, thanks to Mrs T, entirely.
Mrs Thatcher’s belief and her conviction politics, according to Eliza, are what signalled the end of Christian Britain. This was the unintended consequence of her policies.
I am just reporting what she said.
The end of Christian Britain was not signalled by the much earlier ‘progressive’ reforms of the Labour government’s secular Home Secretary Roy Jenkins. No. And in case you were about to ask, nor did the sexual revolution of the 1960s, the Pill, catalysed by advances in science and technology, have anything to do with it either.
Never more have I wanted Mail on Sunday columnist Peter Hitchens, the expert on the abolition of Britain, in a room with me as I did last week at Dr Filby’s lecture on her great thesis at the Centre for Policy Studies.
Sadly, the former Thatcher advisers in the audience refrained from challenging her. Perhaps they thought it was beneath their dignity to comment on this latest caricature of a woman who, single handed, took on a sick and stultified statist economy left behind by Wilson, Heath and Callaghan, kick started the private sector, and reasserted trust in the private citizen.
Peter Hitchens, however, would have backed me up. He would not have let Dr Filby get away with dismissing Roy Jenkins’s attack on Britain’s “archaic” censorship, homosexuality, divorce and abortion laws as no more than a new consensus between the private individual and the law.
No more would he have let the Church of England, ‘trusted to legitimise these reforms’, off the hook, as she did.
He would not have allowed her to disregard the secular ‘me’ cultural tsunami that swept through the UK – aided and abetted by the judicial and media establishments -the defining features of which were feminism and the complaints and grievance cultures. This began in 1960s well before Mrs T came to power and was fundamental to the loss of Britain’s soul and the decline of Christian belief and values.
Though Jenkins’s 1960s “progressive” views on social reform were in the minority in a Labour Party then dominated by a socially conservative, working-class ethos, it did not stop the group of Oxbridge middle-class modernisers, led by Jenkins and his Oxford friend Tony Crosland, pushing for the social transformation of Britain. Old values and principles were swept aside. They succeeded.
Mrs Thatcher’s advisers in the audience might also have pointed out that her clear and pragmatic aim on entering office was Britain’s economic transformation, tackling inflation, (over) taxation and (over) regulation. Her ideological commitment was to radical conservatism. It was not value free of course but it was not moral rearmament.
Labour wasn’t working, as 1.5 million unemployed testified. But that is something that our educational establishment has failed to explain to ‘Thatcher’s children’ such as Dr Filby.
But let’s come to the second part of Dr Filby’s selective and incoherent version of history. The ‘capitalist’, ‘secular’ and by definition ‘bad’ Britain we live in today is down to Mrs Thatcher. Her deregulating, ‘individualistic’ economic policies led to the expansion of credit facilities and a massive growth in consumer debt.
Yes, it was these, not the mammoth social changes driven by feminism and technological change – like the rise of female work, independent taxation of women, family breakdown along with the inevitable decline of heavy industry – that proved so value changing. The age of consumption and affluence (bad per se in Dr Filby’s eyes) is blamed on her. She destroyed all that was familiar, Dr Filby concludes. The future was not to be conservative, but consumerist, not English but cosmopolitan, not Christian but secular. We cannot only be thankful she did not gloat “the witch is dead”. She was more subtle than that.
The logic of her argument must be that Labour’s failing command and control economy and its endorsement of secular liberalism would have left us, if not more pious, moral and thrifty, less corrupted and greedy – and – an awful lot poorer.
Neither Margaret Thatcher’s thrice Sunday attendances at her father’s church, nor the Biblical or moral allusions in her speeches, is proof that she entered Downing Street determined to reinvigorate the nation with religious values. Nor is the fact that she extolled the virtue of thrift.
These religious and moral factors may have shaped her character, defined her courage and conviction and her leadership. That is quite a different thing from shaping her policy. They explain why, when she took on ‘the State’, the miners, and the Argentinians, she won.
Attributing the worst aspects of British behavioural change to Thatcher’s laissez faire economics rather than to the massive cultural revolution that has swept through Britain over the last 40 years however is simply incredible. To use this theory to blacken social conservatism as a movement is worse.
But this is how Dr Filby has used her spurious analysis. Bringing God into politics is risky, she claimed recently in The Guardian: “To those like the ‘Good Right’ seeking a new moral vision for Britain, the false idols and unintended consequences of Thatcherism offer a cautionary tale.”
Her eye-catching book should be seen for what it is – a transparent attempt to discredit the socially conservative right by blaming Mrs Thatcher’s economic policies for the permissive society in all its forms.