Commentary (The Times)

Conservativsm: “Lord Vaizey’s change of party” (announces conversion from Labour to Conservative)

Document type: Press
Venue: House of Lords
Source: The Times , 3 December 1980
Editorial comments:
Importance ranking: Key
Word count: 842
Themes: Conservatism, Education, Labour Party & socialism, Trade unions

Lord Vaizey’s change of party


From Lord Vaizey

Sir, I left the Labour Party in 1975 after 33 years’ membership. I had served the party in several humble capacities, and when Sir Harold Wilson recommended me for a peerage I took the Labour whip. I resigned it in 1978 and a year later, in May 1979, I took the Conservative whip.

Hitherto I have made no public statement about this. It is painful to break the habits of a lifetime. One’s friends feel betrayed. Several whom I regularly see cut me dead. The feelings are as hard as those aroused by the Anglican defectors who becam'e Catholics when Dr Newman did. They are friends whom. I value and whom any country might be proud to have in its political life - the late Tony Crosland and Richard Titmuss, Shirley Williams, Donald Northfield, Barbara Wootton, Olive Gibbs, Harold Lever, Bill Rodgers. Michael Barnes, Frank Field. Some are still my friends but clearly they feel betrayed. And for months I felt a traitor too. A decent silence seemed best.

I left for two reasons and I am prompted to break my silence by the remarkable letter from Councillor Prears of Leicestershire (December 1). More of us should speak up.

By 1978 there was scarcely a Labour policy that I could support and many seemed actively harmful. Scottish and Welsh devolution were unworkable, naked vote-catching based on no logical or constitutionaI principle. The slavish subservience to the trades union leadership handed the country’s government over to a crew of self-satisfied bosses who could neither lead their membership nor agree on an incomes policy. The Chancellor’s economic policy was half-hearted monerarism that led uniquely to rising unemployment and a collapsing currency. The vaunted redistribution of income and wealth had made the poor poorer and the rich richer. The comprehensive reform had been so badly handled that in Inner London well over a quarter of the fifth formers were officially truanting every day and the pupils I received from them at the university were- often barely literate. The gaols were full. The hospitals seemed to be run for. the benefit of the Trotskyite porters. This was sodialism at work.

Increasingly the Labour membership was swamped by bombastic polytechnic lecturers regurgitating inaccurately the half'baked ideas of sentimental Marxists that Tawney would not have let in to his lecture room. As serious analysis of social and economic affairs it was pathetic.

And this wsas socialism. Some Cabinet Ministers I knew just loved their cars, their drivers, office, and were openly cynical about what they were supposed to have been elected to support. To suppose that the average decent Labour party member could change this state of affairs was daft. In so far as the country was being governed at all it was being run by an ever-more powerful Civil Service and second-rate businessmen in the state monopolies, monopolies for the most part chaired by Labour party hacks. The Prime Minister shamelessly appointed his son-in-law [Peter Jay] to the Washington Embassy.

So, like lots of others, I left the Labour Party.

I knew and liked Margaret Thatcher. She is what the papers say she is. But she is much more- honest, a patriot and ready to listen. Increasingly I came to think she would restore honest government, reduce the overblown bureaucracy, strip the state industries of their bloated payrolls, save the currency and give us a foreign policy that decent people could respect. When she and Peter Carrington asked me for their support I gave it.

Of course it’s tough, No government gets everything right. But by God she’s trying. There is no longer a set of social democrat ideas that will work. Keynesianism is intellectually dead. With our trade unions no incomes policy can ever work. With our state industries productivity will always be abvsmal. Nobody, not even Shirley Williams, has the faintest idea how to redistribute income: the tax and benefit system is far too complex and arbitrary to yield a simple progressive result free from major anomalies, Social democratic theory is just plain wrong. Torsten Husen, the great Swedish educator, apostle of the comorehensive reform, has just announced its failure as an egalitarian tool in Sweden. Is Shirley Williams going to nail her colours to that fallen mast ? The only workable set of political orinciples in free Eurone today is Tory pragmatism. And that’s why I support the Government, apart from the fact that they seem to be a fairly honest lot.

Yours sincerely,
House of Lords.
December 1.