PM secretly ploughed on with plans despite cabinet kibosh
THATCHER secretly continued pursuing her bloody-minded plans to destroy the welfare state even after ministers thought they had been killed off by a cabinet revolt, according to previously withheld documents published yesterday.
The proposals — drawn up by the Central Policy Review Staff (CPRS) — were among the most contentious and savage to be considered by the Tory regime during Thatcher's reign.
They included scrapping free universal healthcare and requiring people to take out private insurance, charging for education, ending the annual uprating of benefits in line with inflation and sweeping defence cuts.
Ironically the majority of these proposals have now been adopted by the current Tory administration without a murmur.
But in 1982 the CPRS paper baldly stated: “For the majority the change would represent the abolition of the NHS. This would be immensely controversial.”
When then-chancellor Sir Geoffrey Howe, who commissioned the report, introduced the proposals at a specially convened meeting of the cabinet on September 9 there was uproar.
Nigel Lawson, then the energy secretary, later recalled in his memoirs that it was “the nearest thing to a cabinet riot in the history of the Thatcher administration.”
And when the so-called cabinet “wets,” who opposed Thatcher’s hardline economic policies, contrived to leak details of the report to The Economist it sparked a public outcry.
In an attempt to assuage the public, Thatcher felt compelled to use her speech to the annual Tory conference in Brighton to hypocritically and falsely declare that the NHS is “safe with us.”
She later claimed to have been “horrified” by the CPRS plan which was deemed so contentious it was designated a “non-paper” in Whitehall.
But while the “wets” believed they had seen off the proposals for good, Treasury papers released by the National Archives at Kew show that in fact Thatcher and Howe continued to work behind the scenes to keep them alive.
On November 26 1982, P Mountford in the Treasury informed Mr Howe that Thatcher had set up a series of meetings with the key ministers involved — health secretary Norman Fowler, education secretary Sir Keith Joseph and defence secretary John Nott.
“This series of meetings is designed to soften up the three big spenders. Without their support the operation will not work,” Mr Mountford wrote.
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