In the 1970s and 1980s, one of Britain’s principal political parties was afflicted with a highly organised campaign of entryism by elements entirely alien it.
No, not the Militant Tendency. That was far smaller even than other Trotskyist organisations at the time, it barely existed outside the Liverpool area, it never stood the slightest realistic chance of actually taking over the Labour Party, and its members did at least go to the trouble of joining that party.
I’m talking about Ralph Harris, who sat as a Crossbencher even after Margaret Thatcher gave him a peerage. I’m talking about Arthur Seldon, a lifelong Liberal. I’m talking about Oliver Smedley, Vice-President of the Liberal Party and five times a Liberal parliamentary candidate in the 1950s and 1960s. And so forth.
Lurking behind all of this is the figure of Alderman Alfred Roberts, Thatcher’s father and the defining influence on her political thought. Amid the debris of the Liberal Party after the First World War, he sat for decades as an Independent, and never joined the Tories to his dying day. For the very good reason that he wasn’t a Tory. And nor was his daughter.
Of course, there really is a unifying tradition, which has come down from the ultraconservative Colbert through the Liberal Keynes via FDR, which has come down from the ultraconservative Bismarck through the Liberal Beveridge, which was epitomised by Lloyd George in his heyday, and which flowered must fully in government under Attlee.
But that tradition could not be further from the views, activities or legacy of Harris, Seldon, Smethwick, and their entryist Institute of Economic Affairs. Or of the Centre for Policy Studies, a sort of in house Tory equivalent of the Socialist League to the IEA’s Communist Party. Never mind of the Freedom Association, which was funded by the government of a Boer Republic set up as an explicit act of anti-British revenge in a former Dominion of the Crown by people who had been interred for pro-Nazi activities during the War, which Republic was at the same time propping up a regime treasonable against the Queen, a regime which in fact had purported to depose Her Majesty a mere five years into its life.
Yet such were the originators and guiding lights of Thatcherism, and thus also of New Labour.