Margaret Thatcher, together with her great intellectual ally, Keith Joseph, founded the Centre for Policy Studies (CPS) in 1974 to promote the principles of a free society and free-market economics.
The rather dry and unassuming name of the organisation is at odds with the enduring influence it has had – and continues to have – on British political thought. The latest ComRes study of Westminster think-tanks recognises the CPS as the most influential policy shop among Tory MPs – considerably ahead of the Institute for Fiscal Studies.
Tonight, the CPS hosts the former editor of this newspaper, Allister Heath, who will deliver their annual Keith Joseph memorial lecture on “the future of capitalism and individual liberty.” Readers familiar with Heath's daily Editor's Letter (to which this City View column is the successor) will appreciate that this evening's audience can look forward to a forthright and robust proposition.
Like almost all policy output these days, Brexit is likely to feature heavily in tonight's discussion. But the topic of Heath's talk – like the principles that still guide the work of the CPS – is bigger than our current diplomatic and political battles. Speaking after her first election victory in 1979, Thatcher said the think tank she and Joseph founded “accomplished the revival of the philosophy and principles of a free society, and the acceptance of it.” She said the CPS “propagated those ideas, and they have been accepted.” She was right – and the consensus that they forged then endured for the next four decades. Indeed, the Iron Lady is said to have replied “New Labour” when asked what she regarded as her greatest achievement.
Now the newest version of Labour stands on the brink of dismantling and destroying that achievement – driven by a dangerous team of ageing socialists who never accepted her ideological victory and youthful ideologues determined to rerun the experiment.
There is a chance that the Tory party steps up to this fight once it settles on a new leader and engages with an agenda beyond Brexit, but in the meantime it's organisations like the CPS and other free-market think tanks and campaign groups that are doing the heavy lifting. It is a fight of tremendous importance and the likes of the CPS constitute the ideological artillery.