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Keith Sinjohn Joseph, Baron Joseph, Bt, CH, PC (17 January 1918 – 10 December 1994) was a British barrister, politician, and Conservative Cabinet Minister under three different Ministries. He is widely regarded as the "power behind the throne" in the creation of what came to be known as "Thatcherism". He was known for most of his political life as Sir Keith Joseph, 2nd Baronet.

Early life

Joseph was the son of a wealthy and influential Jewish family. His father, Samuel Joseph, an active political kingmaker headed the vast family construction and development-finance company Bovis and was Lord Mayor of London in 1942-1943. At the end of his term he was created a baronet.

On the death of his father 4 October 1944, he inherited the baronetcy. He had attended Lockers Park Prep School, Harrow Schoolmarker and Magdalen College, Oxfordmarker where he studied Jurisprudence, obtaining first class honours. Shortly thereafter he was elected a Fellow of All Souls Collegemarker.

During World War II he served as a Captain in the Royal Artillery, and suffered a minor wound during German shelling of his company's headquarters in Italy, as well as being mentioned in despatches. After the end of the war, he was called to the Bar (Middle Templemarker). Following his father, he was elected as an Alderman of the City of London. He was a Director of Bovis, becoming chairman in 1958, and became an underwriter at Lloyd's of Londonmarker.

Member of Parliament

He failed to be elected to the marginal seat of Baron's Court in West London by 125 votes in the 1955 election.

He was elected to parliament in a by-election for Leeds North East in February 1956. He was swiftly appointed as a Parliamentary Private Secretary.

In government

After 1959 Joseph had several junior posts in the Macmillan government at the Ministry of Housing and the Department for Trade. In the 'Night of the Long Knives' reshuffle of 13 July 1962 he was made Minister for Housing and Local Government, a cabinet position. He introduced a massive programme to build council housing, which aimed at 400,000 new homes per year by 1965. He wished to increase the proportion of owner-occupied households, by offering help with mortgage deposits. Housing was an important issue at the 1964 election and Joseph was felt to have done well on television in the campaign.

In opposition, Joseph was spokesman on Social Services, and then on Labour under Edward Heath. Despite Joseph's reputation as a right-winger, Heath promoted him to Trade spokesman in 1967, where he had an important role in policy development. In the run-up to the 1970 election Joseph made a series of speeches under the title "civilised capitalism", in which he outlined his political philosophy and hinted of cuts in public spending. At the Selsdon Park Hotel meeting, the Conservative Party largely adopted this approach.

He was one of 12 founder member of the NCSWD, the National Council for Single Woman and Her Dependants on 15 December 1965. According to Tim Cook in his book The History of the Carers' Movement, he and Sally Oppenheim were critical in raising funds from the Carnegie Trust and other organisations, which enabled the carers movement to succeed and thrive through their formative years.

When the Conservatives won the election, Joseph was made Secretary of State for Social Services, which put him in charge of the largest bureaucracy of any government department but kept him out of control of economics. Despite his speeches against bureaucracy, Joseph found himself compelled to add to it as he increased and improved services in the National Health Service. However, he grew increasingly opposed to the Heath government's economic strategy, which had seen a 'U-turn' in favour of intervention in industry in 1972.

Following the 1974 election defeat, Joseph worked with Margaret Thatcher to set up the Centre for Policy Studies, a think-tank to develop policies for the new free-market Conservatism that they both favoured. Joseph became interested in the economic theory of monetarism as formulated by Milton Friedman, and persuaded Mrs Thatcher to support it. Despite still being a member of Heath's Shadow Cabinet, Joseph was openly critical of his government's record. Joseph delivered his famous Stockton lecture on the economy Monetarism Is Not Enough, where he contrasted wealth-producing sectors in an economy such as manufacturing with the service sector and government, which tend to be wealth consuming. He contended that an economy begins to decline as its wealth-producing sector shrinks.

Many on the right-wing of the Conservative Party looked to Joseph to challenge Heath for the leadership, but Joseph's chances of this were damaged by a controversial speech at Edgbastonmarker on 19 October 1974. Covering a variety of social conservative topics, while drawing on an article written by Arthur Wynn and his wife which had been published by the Child Poverty Action Group, he warned about single parents "who were first pregnant in adolescence in social classes 4 and 5", the traditional taboos against which were easing at the time. However, some of the references he made to the quality of "human stock" raised the spectre of eugenics, and under fire for this, he accepted that he had no chance of winning and urged Thatcher to stand.

Joseph claimed he received 2,000 letters after this speech, with supporters outnumbering critics by 14 to one. The day after the speech Mary Whitehouse, whom he mentioned favourably during it, said that she was "tremendously grateful" to Joseph and that "the people of Britain have been like sheep without a shepherd. But now they have found one."

Thatcher later referred to Joseph as her closest political friend. In 1975 he claimed that:
"It was only in April 1974 that I was converted to Conservatism. (I had thought I was a Conservative but I now see that I was not really one at all.)"
a remark that expressed Joseph's feeling of failure during the Heath government. When Heath and his cabinet took office, they followed the post-war consensus and set up policies to stabilise the economy, retaining government control on industries and creating an intricate system to control wages and dividends. In the eyes of Thatcher and Joseph, this pragmatic approach was contrary to the "Conservative" ideology. As he had done a great deal to promote Mrs Thatcher, when she won the leadership in 1975 she determined to put him in a position to have a profound influence on Conservative Party thinking.

In Thatcher's Shadow Cabinet, Joseph was given overall responsibility for Policy and Research. He had a large impact on the Conservative manifesto for the 1979 election, although frequently a compromise had to be reached with Heath's more moderate supporters such as James Prior. In government, he was appointed Secretary of State for Industry. He began to prepare the many nationalised industries for privatisation by bringing in private sector managers such as Ian McGregor, but was still forced to give large subsidies to those industries making losses.

Secretary of State for Education and Science

As Secretary of State for Education and Science from 1981 he started the ball rolling for GCSE, and the establishment of a national curriculum in England and Wales. Mark Carlisle, his predecessor in the new conservative government of 1979 had cancelled the plans of Shirley Williams, his predecessor but one, to merge O Levels and CSEs, but this was achieved during his time. Although not normally the responsibility of central government, he insisted on personally approving the individual subject syllabuses before the GCSE system was introduced.

His attempts to reform teachers' pay and bring in new contracts were opposed by the trade unions, leading to a series of one-day strikes.

In 1984 his public spending negotiations with his Treasury colleagues resulted in a proposed plan for extra research funding for universities financed through the curtailment of financial support to students who were dependent children of more affluent parents. This plan provoked heated opposition from fellow members of the Cabinet (in particular Cecil Parkinson) and a compromise plan was found necessary to secure consensus. This involved the abandonment of Joseph's plan to levy tuition fees, while preserving his aspiration to abolish the minimum grant. The resulting loss to research funding was halved by a concession of further revenue by the Treasury team.

Joseph was one of the Tory ministers to survive the blast at the Grand Hotel while attending the Conservative Party Conference at Brighton in 1984.

In 1985 he published a White Paper on the university sector, The Development of Higher Education into the 1990s, which advocated an appraisal system to assess the relative quality of research, and foresaw a retrenchment in the size of the higher education sector. Both proposals were highly controversial.

Backbenches, retirement and peerage

Joseph stepped down from the Cabinet in 1986, and retired from Parliament at the 1987 election. He received a life peerage as Baron Joseph, of Portsoken in the City of London, in the dissolution honours list.


Joseph's political achievement was in pioneering the application of monetarist economics to British political economics, and in developing what would later become known as 'Thatcherism'. He knew his own limitations, remarking of the prospect of his becoming Leader of the Conservative Party that "it would have been a disaster for the party, country, and me", and he rated himself a failure in office. His political philosophy speeches, which led to him being nicknamed "The Mad Monk", were ridiculed at the time but they were profoundly influential within the Conservative Party and in practice set the tone for politics in the 1980s. However, he was a publicly divisive figure.


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