Florence on Oliver Letwin and Thatcherite Anti-Welfare Think Tanks

This morning I put up a piece about the report in Friday’s I newspaper that Margaret Thatcher had continued planning to dismantle the welfare state, including the NHS, even after her own cabinet had revolted against it. Thatcher was keen to follow the plans outlined by the CPRS, a right-wing think-tank, to whom she had given the task of formulating plans to transform Britain into a free market economy. Amongst their proposals was the abolition of free universal healthcare, meaning the NHS, and the introduction of compulsory school fees, quite apart from the destruction of the rest of the welfare state.

I said in the article that it would be good to know who the people responsible for the CPRS were, as they should take their share of the blame, rather than just the politicos who fronted the reforms. As it stands, unfortunately it seems to me that even when one politician espousing the views of one of these wretched groups goes down, the members of the think tank just slink away to another job advising someone else. Like the various right-wing groups that jumped from the Tories to New Labour under Blair.

Florence replied:

I would suggest Letwin is the thread running through the whole sorry tale. Elected to a safe seat in 1997, he finished his academic studies (PhD) in 1982, and almost immediately became part of the CPRS in 1982. That was coincidentally when the ideas initially proposed in 1978 became part of the assault on the individual budget holders began in earnest. He then moved on to working with the CPS think tank.

In fact Letwin was associated with some of the most controversial policies – such as using Scotland as a testing ground for the POl Tax, and other unpopular policies. He is associated with racist memos written for Thatcher. He was also the author with Redwood of the 1988 CPS pamphlet that is the blueprint for the 2012 Act, which had itself been under preparation since 2007 -8 (ish).

The CPS was founded in 1972 by the “Mad Monk” Keith Joseph, and Alfred Sherman and Thatcher, to champion “liberal thinking” (now called neo liberalism). “In her own words, its job was to ‘expose the follies and self-defeating consequences of government intervention….’to think the unthinkable’ ” (Margaret Thatcher The Path to Power (London 1995), p. 253). The proposals on the NHS certainly fulfilled that objective, and seem to have arisen from within this coterie and melting pot while the Tories were in opposition in the 1970s. Other notable members of the CPS who are still influential in the Tory party include John Redwood, Dave Willitts, and Michael Fallon. Letwin of course was the main back-room grandee for Cameron and Osborne. He has since left the Downing Street role but his policies continue to be implemented.

Friedman, Joseph and Sherman were the main right-wing influences on Thatcher, but through Friedman and the Chicago School there were links directly to Pinochet in Chile (the Chilean “Chicago Boys”) and into the economic ideologies of nations across the globe. In the Wiki entry for Chicago school for the UK it sparsely notes that Thatcher implemented the Chicago school neoliberal policies and these were left intact and some were completed by Blair including the entry of private medicine into the NHS.

Getting information in who the members of the CPRS and the CPS were during those years is surprisingly difficult.

From my own reading about the subject, Keith Joseph was certainly Thatcher’s mentor, and she was very definitely influenced by Milton Friedman and the Chicago Boys, who were also responsible for General Pinochet’s grotty economic policies. Friedman even went down to Chile to see how his ideas were being put into practice. As for Alfred Sherman, he’s another shadowy figure responsible for much of the neoliberal suffering around the world. I’ve got a feeling he’s the subject of a number of articles in the parapolitical magazine Lobster, as well as possibly being mentioned by Guy Debord’s Cat in his blog. The ‘Deep Politics’ angle – meaning covert manipulation by the secret state – probably explains why information on the CPRS is so difficult to obtain. They were a conspiratorial group within the heart of the establishment, and the establishment most definitely does not want their perfidy exposed.

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