Right idea, wrong time?

Historian Vernon Bogdanor was talking about Keith Joseph on the radio at the weekend, on his series on people who have changed the political weather. Joseph introduced many of the ideas that later became known as Thatcherism. Indeed, if he hadn’t made an ill-advised speech about feckless single mothers, he might have become leader of the Tory party, and we might refer to Josephism not Thatcherism.

When Joseph came up with these ideas he said he realised that he had never been a true Conservative before, because he had wanted government to do too much and interfere too much – from which he now recanted. One of his early roles had been as housing minister, and they played a clip of him saying that, to provide more housing, we needed more industrialised systems, with bigger and bigger components being made in factories. At that time of course it all went wrong, with large housing schemes that became dumping grounds for the poor, and poorly built projects leading to the tragedy of the collapse of Ronan Point.

It was interesting to hear a politician sounding so confident, and with such faith in technology. Now they are all far more backward looking. Yet the construction industry is looking very seriously this time at offsite construction – this time as a way of guaranteeing quality and safety as well as bringing down cost. So in a way the old-style Keith Joseph was right when he thought he was wrong and when he seemed so wrong. He was just half a century too early. Which is a pretty good metaphor for a lot of politics. 


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