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banner Sunday, 1 October, 2000, 17:44 GMT 18:44 UK
Tebbit: Time has not softened him

By BBC News Online's Nyta Mann

Norman Tebbit, at the height of the Thatcher years aka the Chingford Skinhead and Maggie's favourite bootboy, famously remarked last year that he felt "happier in this party than I have for a long time".

For the Tory peer and former cabinet minister, the all-inclusive, touchy-feely and short-lived "compassionate Conservatism" phase of William Hague's leadership was nothing more than the disorientation any political party suffers after being heavily defeated.


Trying to convince a rap-singing, drug-taking young man that he's really a Conservative is, it seems to me, a rather fruitless task

Lord Tebbit on Tory efforts to win the black vote
Having come out the other side of it, the task at hand is to consolidate the Conservative vote that had drifted away in 1997.

"The Tory Party's identity crisis was an extremely serious one because they'd been losing the 1997 election ever since 1990," he says, pinpointing the start of the decline to the year John Major took over from Margaret Thatcher.

"The impressive thing about Hague is he's managed to turn that around."

No longer estranged

These days Tebbit no longer feels "estranged from the Conservative Party - not just over Europe, although that was certainly a large part of it".

On Europe and the economy, he is confident that Hague is sufficiently sceptical and Thatcherite. The area he remains unsure of is social affairs, on which Tebbit is fiercely conservative with a small "c".

During Hague's good run over the spring, the Tory leader successfully kept political step with populist opinion on asylum seekers, opposing the repeal of Clause 28 and the jailing of Tony Martin.

From the Tebbitite point of view, the evidence is conflicting as to whether this was down to political expediency or genuine belief on Hague's part.

Traditional values

Take traditional family values. Tebbit has "been concerned for a very long time about the impact of children who grow up on welfare, many not certain of who their father is, perhaps to a mother who has children by several different fathers".

"Lack of any framework of discipline and example is part of the problem which we face these days. The social liberals, the permissive group, have no answers to those problems at all," he argues.

On one hand, Hague opposed the government's attempt to scrap Clause 28, which restricted local authorities from "promoting" homosexuality.

On the other, he has recently made Steve Norris - in favour of gay marriages and ditching Clause 28 - vice-chairman of the Conservative Party.

At the time, Tory sources spun Norris's role as an attempt to widen the party's appeal from the traditional shire values associated with it.

Tebbit professes himself baffled by the appointment. "I find it very curious," he says, "I don't know what the objective or the thinking process was."

Doesn't he see any benefit at all in having Norris on board? "I would very much hope my judgment is wrong," Tebbit laughs, refusing to be drawn any further.

'Perverse'

Then there's the matter of the special Cultural Unit set up at Conservative Central Office by William Hague, with a brief to target ethnic minority communities and prove the party values diversity.


I don't know what the tactics are but I think that it is dangerous

Lord Tebbit on the Tories' Cultural Unit
"I think that some of the efforts of that group are quite perverse," Tebbit believes of the unit.

"There is a very, very great confusion there, which spreads quite a lot by lumping together all ethnic minorities," he says. "The difference between the views of the various communities is enormous. In some ways they are alarming because they are tending to diverge rather than converge."

We have entered classic Tebbit territory. In his prime under Thatcher he was a true hate figure for Labour, sparking controversy with declarations such as the Tebbit "cricket test" which held that Asian immigrants exposed their lack of real British loyalty by cheering cricket teams from their original homelands rather than England.

Time has not softened him. "I still take the view that if you look around the world, multi-cultural societies are societies which are inherently unstable and dangerous," he says.

'Balkanisation' of the UK

"That doesn't mean we can't accommodate Christians, Jews, Muslims and others. But there has to be a dominant culture to which we can all adhere.

"If not, we Balkanise the UK. And that, as we've seen from the Balkans, is highly dangerous. Perfectly sane and rational people will be at each other's throats."

So what does Tebbit think Hague is up to setting up the Cultural Unit; is it a political gesture or a misjudgment?

"I don't know what the tactics are but I think that it is dangerous," says Tebbit.

Seeking common ground - with some

"I believe that first of all a Conservative Party should seek to attract the votes of Conservatives, should seek as we did in the late 70s and early 80s to show people who hadn't thought of themselves as Conservatives that their values were indeed Conservative values and that they were able to march with us."

He cites in example "a huge number in the Asian community with whom we would march in terms of their devotion to work, to the market, to industry".

The black community, too, he believes open to Tory values. Or rather, part of that community. "When we look at the black communities we find particularly among the women great social responsibility."

As the Church of England "is wandering its way aimlessly to decline, so the black evangelical churches are upholding the holy bible. Surely we can find some common ground with these people?"

"But trying to convince a rap-singing, drug-taking young man that he's really a Conservative is, it seems to me, a rather fruitless task, in the short term at any rate."

Unsuitable job for a woman

Tebbit's views on women in politics are not much less controversial. The reason for their under-representation is that it is, quite simply, an unsuitable job for most women.

"This is not just a matter of the conflict between women's role as a mother or potential mother and the demands of the job," he says, "It's also about the inherent nature of politics in particular.

"Lots of things which have to be done in politics women find are really offensive to their very inner feelings, and so it is much more difficult and far fewer of them want to do it. It's as simple as that.

"It's not social conditioning. It is, as the computer people would say, hard wiring.

"We can't alter the nature of men and women. They are fundamentally different. Can we alter the nature of politics? I rather doubt it."

Should we try? "Probably not."

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See also:

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