Born on this day

Henry J. Heinz – born 11th October

 11 October 1844

Born on 11 October 1844 – Henry J. Heinz, the brainz behind the beanz at Heinz. Born in Pennsylviania USA, at the age of 25 Heinz started a company making bottled horseradish. After this venture failed, he started again but this time focused on less spicy condiments – including tomato ketchup, or ‘catsup’ as it was known then. The famous ’57 varieties’ slogan demonstrates Henry’s understanding of showmanship, despite his conservative religiousness – in fact the company had well over 60 lines by this point, it’s just that 57 combined his and his wife’s lucky numbers, and it sounded good.

For most of their success in late 19th century USA, Heinz were possibly best known for their pickles. Meanwhile in 1886, Heinz Baked Beans were first sold at the Fortnum & Mason department store in London – and went on to be such a staple of British food that the WWII Ministry of Food classified Heinz Baked Beans as an “essential food” in the rationing system.

In the USA, baked beans are nowhere near so big an institution despite being their point of origin – possibly because Britain has a tradition – totally baffling to Americans – of the “on-toast meal”. As the 20th century progressed, Heinz tomato ketchup became more and more popular. (However in recent times sales have plunged, with strong 21st century competition from mayonnaise.)

Heinz died in 1919, and his legacy is continued in the family line, with Christopher Heinz a current heir.

PS Heinz’s father hailed from Kallstadt in Bavaria, and his mother was called Charlotte Louisa Trump. Yes, he was a second cousin (twice removed) of Donald Trump.

Born on this day

Allen Lane – born 21st September

21st September 1908

Born on this day, 21st September 1908 – Allen Lane, co-founder of Penguin Books and populariser of the paperback book.

After working for his uncle’s publishing house Bodley Head for a number of years, the legend goes that Lane was returning from a visit to Agatha Christie and waiting at Exeter station where, frustrated by the lack of books on sale (or perhaps just realising a market opportunity), he hit upon the idea of cheap paperback books ‘the price of a pack of cigarettes’ and just as easy to get hold of. We now have to imagine a world dominated by expensive hardbacks with no good-quality writing available in paperback form. Lane’s Penguin Books (plus his often-overlooked co-founding brothers) created the world we live in, where paperback editions of high-quality literature are the norm rather than the exception.

Lane was also behind the distinctive and clever design of the early Penguin books, that both stood out on the shelves and helped readers see at a glance whether something was – for example – general fiction (orange), or crime fiction (green).

He was a risk-taker. In 1936 while at Bodley Head, Lane was behind the controversial decision to publish Ulysses by James Joyce. Another supposedly ‘obscene’ work, Lady Chatterley’s Lover, was published in full by Penguin in 1960 – they were charged under the Obscene Publications Act as a result.

And when Lane launched Penguin, many people thought that the venture would fail due to the cheap units not generating enough profit – instead Penguin sold three million paperbacks in its first year.

He also gave his secretary Eunice Frost a large amount of editorial responsibility, and she would eventually become a director of the company.

In later years he fought off an attempt to oust him, but soon retired, and then died shortly afterwards of bowel cancer aged 67.

Born on this day

Penny Singleton – born 9th September

September 15th 1908

Born September 15th 1908: Penny Singleton – actor and activist who risked her life as an anti-gangster union official.

Singleton was best known to 1940s movie-goers from a hugely popular series of 28 (!) ‘Blondie’ films, as the titular Blondie Bumstead. Then, in the 60s, she became the voice of Jane Jetson in the animated Hanna-Barbera tv show ‘The Jetsons’. However, Singleton’s talents and bravery went far beyond performance.

Irked the limits of her Blondie stereotyping, she created the concept of ‘residuals’ – aka repeat fees – transforming the working lives of actors forever after. Yet her work for actors’ rights even further than that – she risked her life for them.

In the 1960s she stood to be elected as vice president of the American Guild of Variety Artists (AGVA), standing up to the organised crime gang who ran the New York division. In those days it was “a garbage union” according to performer Jack Carter – “it was on the take.” AGVA was in the pocket of the mob – men who “if you crossed them you’d wind up with your feet in cement”.

Penny Singleton directly attacked the union’s mob connections in her campaign. “Penny Singleton is Racket-Free! […] Penny Singleton has no ‘STRINGS’ attached to her and therefore isn’t afraid to speak the truth!”.

She won, somehow avoiding recriminations from the mob, and went on to lead successful actions, including the first-ever strike against Disneyland.

Born on this day

Daniel Inouye – born 7th September

7 September 1924

Born on this day, 7 September 1924: Daniel Inouye, a war hero with an incredible story – also the first Japanese American to serve in Congress, the second Asian American senator ever, third in the presidential line of succession from 2010 until his death, and (until the inauguration of Kamala Harris as vice president) the highest-ranking Asian-American politician in U.S. history. 

Inouye was born in Hawaii, and served as a medical volunteer during the attack on Pearl Harbor. In 1943, he was training to be a doctor when the US Army dropped their ban on enlisting Japanese Americans. So Inouye joined up, and was soon promoted to second lieutenant.

While serving in Italy, a shot near his heart bounced harmlessly off two silver dollars in his pocket. And yet, this wasn’t the most miraculous thing to happen to him during his military service.

Leading an assault on three German positions towards the end of the war, Inouye was shot in the stomach. He carried on anyway, to destroy both the first and second positions. As his squad moved on the third gunner, Inouye prepared to throw his last hand grenade. A rifle grenade-wielding German soldier spotted this – and simply shot right his arm off.

Inouye’s hand grenade “clenched in a fist that suddenly didn’t belong to me anymore” dropped at his feet. Due to nerve trauma, the lifeless hand still squeezed the grenade and stopped it going off, sparing his life. Inouye then prised the live grenade out with his remaining hand, threw it as originally intended – and destroyed the German position the second before they had a chance to finish him off.

With one arm and a stomach injury, Inouye still continued to fight, killing at least one more German soldier before suffering a yet another wound – in his leg, this time – and finally passing out.

Due to the loss of his arm he gave up ambitions to become a surgeon after the war and went into Democratic Party politics instead. President Lyndon B. Johnson wanted Inouye to be a Vice Presidential candidate in 1968, but Presidential nominee Hubert Humphrey ignored this advice, and lost the election. 

Inouye died on December 17, 2012 and was posthumously awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Barack Obama. There are too many other awards and achievements to list here – read his obituary here.

Random Date History

Sunday 7th November 1802

The first in a series – Random Date History. I love history, and (up to a point) the more detailed the better. I also love the feeling of discovering things randomly and accidentally. Therefore, I’m going to start posting here about random dates in history. To achieve this, I’m using the date generator, and – for the sake of having enough documentary evidence to use, while also not being too tediously current, I’m using a window of 1800-2000. I’m also going to focus on British history, but will bring in events from around the world when I feel like it. (After setting out on this course, I’ve only just realised that the format could have been influenced by the fact that I’m a bit of a Doctor Who fan, and this series could easily be called something like ‘travels in a temperamental TARDIS’.)

I’ve done my random date – proof here! – and we’ve landed. It’s Sunday 7th November 1802. What’s happening?


  • William Pitt the Younger is not Prime Minister (as First Lord of the Treasury). Saying someone is not Prime Minister seems a bit of a non-event, but in this case it’s significant, because here in late 1802, Pitt resigned last March, having been PM since December 1783. Far from being a ‘mince pie administration‘ that would barely see out Christmas, he was in power for nearly 17 years. He was also only 24 when he took office, which is always quite amazing to think about. He could easily be characterised as the Mozart of British politics – a prodigy taught by his father, the Earl of Chatham, at home (the Earl himself had gone to Eton, and utterly detested it).
William Pitt by Gainsborough Dupont
  • But in November 1802, Pitt is out, having had a disagreement with the (famously ‘mad’) King George III about letting Catholics sit in Parliament – with the King vehemently opposed to even engaging with the idea. Pitt’s quite ill too – and having nearly died from some mysterious gastric complaint, he’s having a rest in this house in Bath. It seems that Pitt was an alcoholic, having been advised many years ago by a doctor to drink huge amounts of port. Here’s George Rose writing to the Bishop of Lincoln in November 1802 about Pitt in Bath:

“Mr Pitt’s Health mends every Day; it is really better than it has been ever since I knew him: I am quite sure this Place agrees with him entirely; he eats a small Duck & a half for Breakfast, & more at Dinner than I ever saw him at 1/2 past 4, no Luncheon; two very small Glasses of Madeira at Dinner, & less than a Pint of Port after Dinner; at Night nothing but a Bason of Arrow Root; he is positively in the best possible Train of Management for his Health: But in his way here, at Wilderness, he drank very nearly three Bottles of Port to his own Share at Dinner & Supper; so Lord Camden told me.” (my emphasis)

Extract from The Late Lord website
  • Today, the Prime Minister is Henry Addington – far less well remembered than Pitt, and who Pitt thought was terrible at managing the nation’s finances. Addington, for his part, ends up trying to get Pitt back into office because there is trouble brewing in France that he just hasn’t got the skills or experience to cope with…
  • Napoleon is in his ascendancy. He’s just been made First Consul for Life – a sort of Republican dictatorship – but in a few years will prefer the title Emperor, which will piss Beethoven off, as we shall see. Earlier this year, back in March, Britain and France signed the Treaty of Amiens. Britain had been at war with France for 10 years and Addington, being less hard-line than Pitt on Napoleon, went ahead with a rather doomed attempt at peace. (To me there are some parallels with the famous ‘Peace for our time‘ speech of Neville Chamberlain.)
  • The peace of Amiens was followed by mass celebrations, and a programme of cultural exchange between Britain and France with “as many as 12,000 British subjects in Paris in September 1802” (link). One of them was Pitt’s great rival, Charles James Fox – and in November 1802, cartoonist Gillray characterised the meeting of Fox and Napoleon as ‘Introduction of Citizen Volpone & His Suite, at Paris‘, with Fox and his wife the large figures in the centre of the image below. In modern terms, Fox as the leading Whig is mocked as a sort of ‘woke’ Champagne socialist suck-up to the forces of revolution and democracy, as opposed to the monarchist, conservative Tories and Pitt (who called himself an ‘independent Whig’).
Introduction of Citizen Volpone & His Suite, at Paris by Gillray
  • This peace is doomed to be just an interlude between the Revolutionary Wars and the Napoleonic Wars – and it seems there were preparations for war immediately after the so-called peace, followed by Britain declaring war on France in about six months from now – May 1803.
  • Pitt does eventually return to power, in May 1804 – but dies in 1806 aged just 46. And if you’re not squeamish about death masks, here he is.


“Beethoven’s Second Symphony was mostly written during Beethoven’s stay at Heiligenstadt in 1802, at a time when his deafness was becoming more pronounced and he began to realize that it might be incurable”.

  • However, despite this oncoming gloom, the Second Symphony is quite un-Beethoveny to most ears. A lot of the time it’s got a Mozart-like perky quality, with moments that remind me of the overture to the Marriage of Figaro. It’s good, but rather polite, not terrifically memorable – a Beethoven restrained by conventions and audibly struggling with them. However, Beethoven’s unleashed rage-gloom-defiance-joy is properly represented in the Third Symphony, which he started writing straight after the Second. The Third is a majestic rip-roaring piece of music and sounds almost like a different composer. And it was inspired, initially, by Napoleon – clearly in 1802 old Boney is in everyone’s minds. Beethoven originally titled the piece ‘Bonaparte’ in respectful tribute, but when Napoleon declared himself emperor in 1804, it was changed to ‘Eroica’. In November 1802 then, Beethoven is – presumably – still looking at Napoleon with admiration, and mentally brewing the amazing musical ideas that would create the genre of Romantic music. Check out the dissonant chord at 8:55 in the video below! I plan to turn this into my ringtone at some point.
  • Romantic poetry is exestuating alongside the music. It’s now just over a month since the Romantic poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge has his poem ‘Dejection: An Ode’ published – on 4 October 1802 in the Morning Post, which also happens to be his wedding anniversary, and his friend William Wordsworth‘s wedding day. Coleridge is married, but infatuated with another woman – Sara Hutchinson.

A grief without a pang, void, dark, and drear,

       A stifled, drowsy, unimpassioned grief,

       Which finds no natural outlet, no relief,

              In word, or sigh, or tear […]

From Dejection: An Ode
  • Coleridge is feeling ill as well as lovesick – he’s a highly emotional and sensitive character. (I’m a big Coleridge fan, in his over-the-top and irrepressible way he could be terribly self-indulgent, but in the next poem an absolute genius – exemplified by Kubla Khan, completed in 1797 and published in 1816). In two weeks from today, he will send this letter to his wife, from St Clears:

“I now write these few Lines in a hurry which yet, I trust, will be worth postage, because they will inform you that my Health continues to improve / & if I remain tranquil, I may return to you, a new Creation […] give my Love to Mary — & be sure to tell her & Mrs Wilson not to let Derwent & Hartley have any Tea. Milk & water equally hot — & they won’t know the difference. A weak Ginger Tea would certainly be useful to Hartley’s Bowels.”

Everyday life

  • How would you, this cold Sunday, be feeling about the prospect of war? In November 1802 you might be blissfully unaware of the looming war, having thought that the peace of Amiens would hold and looking forward to your first war-free Christmas for a decade. Or you might be aware that trouble was around the corner and be thinking that we’d have to get Pitt back for some reliable leadership, health problems notwithstanding. These feelings would possibly depend on whether or not you read the newspapers. For instance, if you’d picked up the Morning Post yesterday, Saturday 6th November, you might be reading these words as part of a piece that focuses on a visit to Britain of Antoine-François Andréossy:
  • … All very uncertain. The Treaty of Amiens is in fact a ‘preliminary peace’. We are definitely psyching ourselves up for the possibility of war. Perhaps we’ve thought about this, or even prayed about it, at church this morning.
  • You might have tried to distract yourself from these concerns. If you were a Londoner, you could have seen actor-manager Stephen Kemble, ‘famous for playing Falstaff’, in The Merry Wives of Windsor at the Theatre Royal in Drury Lane – “positively his last performance” in London (another newspaper reveals that he was asked to extend his run, but he had to dash off to Bristol).
Morning Post – Saturday 06 November 1802
  • You might also have scoured the back pages of court news to see this story about a ‘very stout’ man who tried to steal a tablecloth, but was apprehended by the ‘very slender’ servant girl, Mary Dyer.
Morning Post – Saturday 06 November 1802
  • You might have forgotten where Prince’s Street is, and dug out your Wallis’ Plan. Ah yes, here it is:
  • (…and here it is now.) We could perhaps go for a walk there – fortunately it shouldn’t be too wet …yes I checked the historical weather records for November 1802, and it was a below average November in terms of rainfall.
  • On the other hand perhaps, like Pitt, you’re feeling a bit afflicted with gout and would rather not risk it – and wondering if some remedy advertised in the paper might alleviate your health problems, like W. Cole who had ‘wished those around me would put an end to my existence’ until he was sorted right out by ESSENCE OF MUSTARD. A lesson for us all, there.
Weekly Dispatch (London) – Sunday 07 November 1802

At the end of the day

Sunday 7th November 1802 – it feels like a suspended, grey sort of day – waiting for winter to kick in, waiting for war to start, waiting for Pitt to return to government, waiting for Beethoven to break free of the classical tradition and create a new genre of Romantic orchestral music. And, of course, it’s Sunday. I bet that, even if it’s not raining, it’s drizzly.

Time to open another bottle of port.

Digital Marketing Miscellaneous

Drupal vs WordPress

Need to get your head around the arguments between these two popular Content Management Systems? This face-off is not intended for techies or developers. But if you’re not a digital expert, this article will help you get to grips with key differences quickly and without jargon.

I’ve administered many content management systems (CMSs), but my career so far has been dominated by just two – Drupal and WordPress. Here I’m going to pit Drupal and WordPress against each other on the basis of three fundamental themes:

1 – Security
2 – Ease-of-use
3 – Value for money

* I also address speed and stability at the end, but there’s a reason why it’s not one of the fight themes.

Yes, this is a personal view on how the two compare. I’ve aimed for maximum objectivity across these three key criteria but fully admit that, over time, I have developed a bias towards one of the systems – based on both evidence and my own hands-on experience.

P.S. This article assumes that you understand some basics, like what a CMS is and does.

Anyway, which one is best? There’s only one way to find out…


Round 1: Security
Which CMS is most resistant to outside attacks?



  • WordPress themes (appearance) and plugins (functionality extensions) are released without checks, and can contain unsound code. This makes it important for them to be assessed properly before deployment.
  • WordPress huge popularity means it’s targeted more by hackers.
  • WordPress can update itself automatically to the latest version.

Result: Even Round. By default, Drupal is less vulnerable to attacks. However, WordPress powers 34% of all websites compared to Drupal’s 2.3%, so some of this is simply the downside of immense popularity. Professionally-built WordPress sites on good hosting platforms, managed sensibly, should not be more vulnerable to security issues than any other common CMS. Furthermore, WordPress can auto-update – but the process is painful on Drupal. Your Drupal version could become unsupported while you struggle to get the new version – and this is the experience for Drupal 7 or 8 users now, with an update deadline of Nov 2021 to be met by all users.

Support forum for an amateur WordPress plugin. Anyone can make a WordPress plugin, so it’s always good to research before installing.

Round 2: Ease-of-use
Which CMS do editors find most straightforward to use?


  • Drupal is self-described as ‘powerful and scalable’. It can produce more sophisticated functionality and has a more flexible taxonomy system – however the sophistication can be hard to handle for non-specialists.
  • Sample blog quote: “Drupal requires more technical experience than WordPress, but it is capable of producing more advanced sites” (  


  • WordPress has a user-friendly design and if plugins are chosen carefully (e.g. if they have many users and positive reviews), or are overseen by a WordPress specialist hosting company, they should not cause problems.
  • “WordPress is significantly more user-friendly [than Drupal], especially for non-developers (

Result: Round to WordPress because it is, by nearly all accounts, easier to use. The flexibility and sophistication that Drupal can offer often creates a lot of baffling complexity especially for non-technical editors, which then can lead to poor platform management or neglect that directly affects performance and user experience. This result could be flipped – if we asked ‘Which CMS is the most sophisticated?’, Drupal would win.

Part of the Drupal 8 interface

Round 3: Value for money
Which CMS could cost more in the long-term?


  • Drupal modules are free. It supports multilingual without cost.
  • Developers generally thought to be more expensive than WordPress, and fewer are available (sample search on freelance site – 85 results for ‘Drupal developer’).
  • Sample commentary online describes Drupal as “maintenance-heavy” and “resources-consuming”.


  • Many WordPress plugins are free, others come at a cost – for example multilingual support for approx. £50 per year.
  • WordPress developers usually more affordable than Drupal developers. Many developers available (over 10k results for ‘WordPress developer’ on
  • Easier to self-manage – but, as indicated in first point, cost may arise in the form of paid-for plugins instead of hands-on developers.

Result: Round to WordPress as it is generally less expensive, and offers better value for money especially for organisations that can’t throw money at a new problem or objective. In practise, WordPress users often use a plugin where a (non-techy) Drupal user might get a developer to build or configure the functionality they require. This plugin might come with a license fee, or contain bad code (if not examined), however the balance of risk and benefit is generally positive.


Note about speed and stability

This comparison does not address site speed and stability because these aspects rely very strongly on the set-up, general maintenance and hosting of the site. One CMS is not necessarily faster than another.

However, WordPress site plugins can build up in quantity, or be badly coded, or configured wrongly – leading to speed problems. These challenges can be addressed by using of good WordPress developers during the build, and for ongoing support. There are also WordPress specialist web hosts who proactively check plugins and prevent sites from installing badly-coded ones – for example.

Drupal organisations and WordPress organisations

On points this fight goes to WordPress. But to be truly fair it should be said that the choice of CMS depends on the organisation and its objectives. There is a reason why is a Drupal site – it needs to be very secure and sophisticated, and there probably aren’t serious issues with paying to upgrade it or develop it. On the other hand, WordPress is a very common option for organisations with lower budgets. It’s often seen as a stepping stone option – the CMS that will help a brand grow, until internal resource and budgets allow for a more resource-intensive and advanced option.


I do know that this will annoy some Drupal users and developers! It’s a good debate to have though, right? If you’re a Drupal fan, please do take this on and challenge my views. (Though don’t say ‘the next version of Drupal has a much easier-to-use interface’ because I have literally heard that for over 10 years now.)

And, I should also add, I’m writing this in WordPress right now – and have become very annoyed several times while writing this, by the Gutenburg editing interface that has been deployed by WordPress for the past few years.


Charities and the genius in the crowd

Here’s a presentation I made back in 2014, hosted on SlideShare. I still think it’s true that charities generally don’t do enough to cultivate the creativity of supporters!

Books Interesting bits

9 Great Things from Switch

The book is Switch: How to change things when change is hard by Chip and Dan Heath, and here are nine short reasons why it’s worth getting.

1. The Elephant & The Rider

A mental model for your mental waddle – why are some changes hard to navigate, emotionally and behaviourally? Imagine you’re a rider on an elephant. It’s a bit like System 1 and System 2, described in Daniel Kanneman’s Thinking Fast, Thinking Slow but as a metaphor it’s easier to visualise. The Rider is rational, analytical. The Elephant is emotional, quick-to-react. The Heath’s Elephant and Rider model helps you understand your own and others’ reactions to change.

2. Bright Spots

Bright spots are the glimpses of light in the darkness. Even a glimmer of light can lead to important, effective change.

Case Study: An aid worker addressed high infant mortality in a community. They noticed just 1 or 2 families did not fit the pattern. It turned out those families fed their children in a subtly different way to others…a minor behaviour modification which saved childrens’ lives.

3. Knowledge is overrated

If knowing equated to change, no doctor would smoke or drink too much. (Enough said). We have got to ‘find the feeling’. In a similar vein they talk about ‘TBU’:

TBU—true but useless. It was paralyzing knowledge.”

Chip and Dan Heath – Switch: How to change things when change is hard

4. The Miracle Question

A form of therapy described in the book asks the ‘miracle question’

“While you are sleeping, a miracle happens and your troubles are resolved. When you wake up in the morning, what’s the first small sign you’d see that would make you think the problem has gone?”

This isn’t asking you to describe the ‘miracle’ itself but rather a tangible sign that it happened. What would you see?

5. Their Dad

“(Our dad, Fred Heath, who worked over thirty years
for IBM, would tell his teams that when “milestones” seemed too distant, they should look for
“inch pebbles.” Nice one, Dad.)”

6. Destination Postcard

There are interesting case studies about the need to make strategic goals simple and singular in the Heath Bros book, Made to Stick. In Switch the Heaths use a nice image for a smaller, near-to objective:

“We want what we might call a destination postcard—a vivid picture from the near-term future that shows what could be possible.”

7. Exposure Effect

“…which means that the more you’re exposed to something, the more you like it. For instance, when the Eiffel Tower was first erected, Parisians hated it. They thought it was a half-finished skeletal blight on their fair city, and they responded with a frenzy of protest.”

8. Designated drivers

Brilliantly, it seems that the concept of a ‘designated driver’
was spread by infiltrating TV.

“Segments featuring designated drivers appeared on Hunter, The Cosby Show, Mr. Belvedere, and Who’s the Boss? On an episode of the smash-hit 1980s legal drama L.A. Law, the heart-throb lawyer played by Harry Hamlin asked a bartender to call his designated driver. A designated-driver poster appeared in the bar on Cheers.”

So that’s the second time Cheers helped establish a Norm. [1]Apologies. This joke will only be understood by people who’ve seen Cheers, and they will rightly have contempt for it too.

9. The Identity Model

Appealing to a positive sense of identity, not self-interest, can get people to take unusual decisions.

“…In the identity model [we ask]: Who am I? What kind of situation is this? What would someone like me do in this situation?”

Case Study: researchers found that people who accepted a small ‘drive safely’ sign in the window of their house were then far more likely to accede to having huge ‘drive safely’ billboards on their lawn.

10. That’s it, I hope that whets your appetite – there’s more in there than this post covers, so I recommend getting a copy of the book 📖


1 Apologies. This joke will only be understood by people who’ve seen Cheers, and they will rightly have contempt for it too.


Supertat is the name for tourist souvenirs that go a little bit beyond what might be considered normal or rational.

Tat – noun [mass nounBritish informal
tasteless or shoddy clothes, jewellery, or ornaments:

Source – Oxford English Dictionary
Miscellaneous Pondering

The Thatcherite Ratchet?

Keith Joseph helped to overturn a generation of post-war so-called Keynesian consensus by inspiring Margaret Thatcher to privatise major nationalised industries and coined the phrase ‘the socialist ratchet’ to illustrate his then-radical beliefs1.

Joseph and others suggested that Labour were a party of change, so did things like creating the welfare state, whereas Conservatives were by nature pragmatic and left things pretty much alone. The upshot of this over time, was that the direction of the Government was inevitably leftward.

By railing against this situation, Joseph therefore helped usher in a Conservatism that was radically reforming towards a free-market right-wing, so not really pragmatic at all. This is quite a feat because, until Thatcher, conservatism and pragmatism were virtually synonymous. In helping to sever that connection, he helped kill off the previous so-called post-war consensus that began with Labour’s shock general election win in 1945.

What I ponder a lot is the duration of these political epochs, and if there’s a pattern there. If the post-war consensus lasted from about 1945 to roughly the mid-80s (e.g. we could take the nationalisation of British Gas, the first really major privatisation in 1986, as the final nail in the coffin), Thatcher ended about 40 years of ‘Keynesian’ orthodoxy.

And then, since the mid-80s with New Labour maintaining the core economic model during their governments, we’ve now had 30-something years of Thatcherite orthodoxy. I’m writing this in 2017, so about 32 years of Thatcherite ratchet that seems unable to turn left, to adapt the phrase from Keith Joseph. 

The time periods here could be meaningless, of course, but it’s worth a suggesting a hypothesis – each major economic consensus lasts for a generation of roughly 40 years, and over the next few years we’re due for another major turn.

Even if you disagree with this hypothesis, it’s worth remembering that all apparently unassailable consensuses are not actually immortal truths. Tides change, even after decades of repetition. For example, when the Conservatives lost in 1945 they thought they had to accept the welfare state and some nationalisation – and did so, until Thatcher’s rise. In 1997, Labour thought it had to accept the free-market and some privatisations.

What orthodoxy will flip next, and when?

(By the way, I’m not consciously cheerleading for any particular political ideology in this piece, it’s just a perspective I enjoy thinking about!)

Below are a couple of quotes that give a bit more context – and the latter, written before the rise of Jeremy Corbyn, is fairly amusing.

“I argued that the pendulum in politics had been replaced by the ratchet, in the sense that the Socialists, when in office, move the balance towards collectivism: we Conservatives, when in our time comes, at best leave things as they are ready for Labour’s next turn of the screw.”

Keith Joseph, 1975

“She reversed what her mentor, Keith Joseph, liked to call “the ratchet effect”, whereby the state was rewarded for its failures with yet more power. With the brief exception of the emergency measures taken in the wake of the financial crisis of 2007-08, there have been no moves to renationalise industries or to resume a policy of picking winners. Thanks to her, the centre of gravity of British politics moved dramatically to the right. The New Labourites of the 1990s concluded that they could rescue the Labour Party from ruin only by adopting the central tenets of Thatcherism. ‘The presumption should be that economic activity is best left to the private sector,’ declared Mr Blair. Neither he nor his successors [sic] would dream of reverting to the days of nationalisation and unfettered union power.”

Margaret Thatcher obituary, The Economist, 2013


1.Rhodes Boyson had a phrase, ‘slow-quick-quick-slow foxtrot to socialism’, that expressed the same view.