Sir Keith Joseph has long been recognised as the guiding intellectual philosophical creator of what has become known as Thatcherism. I first met him only three weeks after he was appointed Minister of Education when I was incensed by some of his opening statements about education. I wrote to him directly and said why I was incensed. To my complete surprise, I received a phone call from his office only three days later saying that Sir Keith would like to come and meet me to discuss my views. The thought that the Secretary of State would actually take time out and travel 50 miles away from his office for such a discussion was intriguing. We had two hours together and I was immensely impressed with the questions that he asked, and the questions that he then asked of my explanation.
In the weeks that followed I received a string of letters from him questioning me on all kinds of issues. Fascinated as I was by that, it turned out to be a poisoned chalice because the Hertfordshire Education Officials were unnerved by the direct line of communication that I had established was of a quality that they did not have.
Shortly after that, Joseph was diagnosed with a cancer from which he died some two years later, but not before he had apparently told Margaret Thatcher that his successor as Minister, namely Kenneth Baker, was trying to go far too far in reforming the practises of local education to create a centralised system… which Joseph deemed as being antipathetic to what his vision (and Thatcher’s vision) was all about. What was needed was intelligent local leadership, not subservient leadership to a central person.
Joseph had been fully supportive of my Confederation of British Industry speech while Baker had seen that I was a persuasive speaker who he wanted to convince to advance his ideas. That I refused to do that, and was backed up by significant industrialists, led to a three year tension with Baker but as Minister, he eventually got his own way.