Sir Keith Joseph Keith was one of England's greatest men. He changed the course of history not only for us but for those in other countries who followed his life and work.
Keith lived up to the family tradition of social service. His early years, like so many of his generation, were spent in the service of this country. He saw action in the Italian campaign, was wounded in Monte Cassino, and mentioned in despatches.
From the beginning of his time in politics, his intellectual powers, his concentration, his consideration for others, and his chivalry marked him out for a career at the top.
I met him when, during my first year as an MP, I was promoting a Private Members Bill about the freedom of the press in local authority meetings. He was the Minister within whose area of responsibility it fell. He was most helpful with his time and advice and with immense charm, persuaded his department to support the measure which had not really been their intention.
We lost office in 1964 and the next six years saw the beginning of Keith 's efforts to get together people from industry, universities, and politics to discuss the great problems of our time. Keith always started any endeavour by finding the facts, establishing the principles, and defining the options. He vigorously tested his own beliefs and conclusions against the views of others, especially experts and those in the academic world. He knew we had to win the intellectual case.
Then we were back in power in Edward Heath 's government, ironically, both of us in spending departments. Keith, as Secretary of State for Social Security, and I as Secretary of State for Education.
After a time, and increasingly, we became troubled that as a government we had departed from our true political principles. Mistakes are inevitable. Learning from them is not. But we had to, for in 1974 we were back in Opposition again.
Under Keith 's leadership and inspiration, the Centre for Policy Studies was formed to redefine the principles and policies which would restore the richness of life by liberating the genius of the people and limiting the powers and role of government. Keith and all who took part in the work of the Centre thus played a leading part in the great ideological battles which swept this century and have shaped our times. Battles between, on the one hand, the inalienable liberties of man, ordered by a rule of law, and served by government and, on the other, central planning and control enforced by governments which denied the essential sanctity of the individual. Eventually, the end of the Cold War showed the infinite superiority of our own way of life.
After 1979, it was by implementing the policies worked out by Keith and the Centre that we gradually restored the confidence and reputation of our country once again. Keith never treated politics as the art of the possible but as the art of making the impossible happen.
Keith should have become Prime Minister. So many of us felt that was his destiny. All those who believed in him were ready to serve him with loyalty and devotion. In 1975 we wanted him to become Leader of the Opposition. But one speech, including a phrase that was not his, led to banner headlines. The press camped outside his home and Keith decided not to stand for the leadership. If only in the course of one day fate had flowed through different channels, if only. Keith was never resentful. He continued to work with the same passionate intensity in the Conservative government that took office in 1979. As Secretary of State for Trade and Industry, he changed the philosophy of the whole department and then at his own request, went to serve at Education.
He was a man of contrasts. He had a towering intellect but great humility. He took tough decisions but was of a gentle disposition. He talked about economics but he felt about people. He spoke out boldly but was self-effacing. He was so very fortunate to have been looked after and treasured by Lady Joseph Yolanda.
Just two weeks before he died I saw him for nearly two hours. We spoke about the future—he had some ideas to help us solve the problems of the family and the culture of dependency. As I rose to leave, a little smile playing over his face, “Shall I write you a memo” Keith asked.
To have known him was to have one's life changed by him.
Now, as the sorrow passes, we are left with memories and with pride.
We give thanks for his life.
The Rt. Hon. The Baroness Thatcher, LG, OM, FRS