Keith Joseph

From Academic Kids

Keith Sinjohn Joseph, Baron Joseph (January 17, 1918December 10, 1994), was a British barrister, politician, and Conservative cabinet member under three different administrations. He is widely regarded as the "power behind the throne" in the creation of what came to be known as "Thatcherism".

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Sir Keith Joseph, Bt., MP


Joseph was the son of Sir Samuel Joseph, who had founded the construction company Bovis, and served as Lord Mayor of London in 1942-1943. At the end of his term he had been created a Baronet, and on his death on October 4, 1944, his son inherited the baronetcy with the right to be called Sir Keith. He had attended Harrow School and Magdalen College, Oxford where he studied Jurisprudence, obtaining first class honours.

During World War II he served as a Captain in the Royal Artillery, was wounded in Italy, and mentioned in despatches. After the end of the war, he was called to the Bar (Middle Temple). Following his father he was elected as an Alderman of the City of London. He also served as a Director of Bovis, becoming Chairman in 1958, and became an underwriter at Lloyd's of London. Joseph, after losing the marginal seat of Baron's Court in West London by 125 votes in the 1955 election, was elected to parliament in a by-election for Leeds North East in February 1956. He was very swiftly appointed as a Parliamentary Private Secretary.


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 July 13, 1962 he was made Minister for Housing and Local Government, a cabinet position. Joseph 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 acted as 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.

Heath's government

When the Tories 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.

Influence on Thatcher

Thatcher has referred to Joseph as her closest political friend. In the early 1970s Joseph stated that, "I have only recently become a conservative." This remark reverberated powerfully for Thatcher, which she interpreted as referring to Joseph's ideological shift rightwards from his ealier centrist Fabian position.

Following the 1974 election defeat, Joseph worked with Margaret Thatcher to set up the Centre for Policy Studies as a think-tank to develop policies for the new free-market Conservatism which 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. Many on the Conservative right looked to Joseph to challenge Heath for the leadership, but when Joseph made a misguided speech at Edgbaston which sounded like an argument against lower class families having children, he accepted that he had no chance of winning and urged Mrs Thatcher to stand.

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

Education Secretary

As Secretary of State for Education and Science from 1981 he started the ball rolling for GCSEs, and the establishment of a national curriculum. 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 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.

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.


Like many great political thinkers, Joseph was a failure in office. His 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". 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 did set the tone for politics in the 1980s.

Preceded by:
Richard Crossman
Secretary of State for Social Services
Succeeded by:
Barbara Castle
Preceded by:
Eric Varley
Secretary of State for Industry
Succeeded by:
Patrick Jenkin
Preceded by:
Mark Carlisle
Secretary of State for Education and Science
Succeeded by:
Kenneth Baker

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