Keith Joseph

Keith Sinjohn Joseph, Baron Joseph, Bt, CH, PC, QC (17 January 1918 – 10 December 1994) known as Sir Keith Joseph, 2nd Baronet, for most of his political life, was a British barrister and politician. A member of the Conservative Party, he served in the Cabinet under four prime ministers: Harold Macmillan, Sir Alec Douglas-Home, Edward Heath and Margaret Thatcher. He was a key influence in the creation of what came to be known as "Thatcherism"[2].

The Lord Joseph

Secretary of State for Education and Science
In office
11 September 1981  21 May 1986
Prime MinisterMargaret Thatcher
Preceded byMark Carlisle
Succeeded byKenneth Baker
Secretary of State for Industry
In office
4 May 1979  11 September 1981
Prime MinisterMargaret Thatcher
Preceded byEric Varley
Succeeded byPatrick Jenkin
Shadow Home Secretary
In office
13 June 1974  11 February 1975
LeaderEdward Heath
Preceded byJames Prior
Succeeded byIan Gilmour
Secretary of State for Social Services
In office
20 June 1970  4 March 1974
Prime MinisterEdward Heath
Preceded byRichard Crossman
Succeeded byBarbara Castle
Minister for Housing and Local Government
In office
13 July 1962  16 October 1964
Prime MinisterHarold Macmillan
Alec Douglas-Home
Preceded byCharles Hill
Succeeded byRichard Crossman
Member of the House of Lords
Lord Temporal
In office
12 October 1987  10 December 1994
Life Peerage
Member of Parliament
for Leeds North East
In office
9 February 1956  11 June 1987
Preceded byOsbert Peake
Succeeded byTimothy Kirkhope
Personal details
Keith Sinjohn Joseph[1]

(1918-01-17)17 January 1918
London, United Kingdom
Died10 December 1994(1994-12-10) (aged 76)
London, United Kingdom
Political partyConservative
Hellen Guggenheimer
(m. 1951; div. 1978)

Yolanda Castro Sherriff (m. 1990)
Alma materMagdalen College, Oxford

Keith Joseph was the first to introduce the concept of the social market economy into Britain, an economic and social system inspired by Christian democracy.[3] He also co-founded the Centre for Policy Studies writing its first publication: Why Britain needs a Social Market Economy.[4]

Early life

Joseph was born in London, to a wealthy and influential family, the son Edna Cicely (Phillips) and Samuel Joseph. His father headed the vast family construction and project-management company, Bovis, and was Lord Mayor of London in 1942–3. At the end of his term he was created a baronet.[5][6] Joseph's family was Jewish.

On the death of his father on 4 October 1944, 26-year-old Keith inherited the baronetcy.

Education and academic career

Joseph was educated at Lockers Park School in Hemel Hempstead in Hertfordshire, followed by Harrow School and Magdalen College, Oxford, where he studied Jurisprudence, obtaining first class honours. He was elected a Prize Fellow of All Souls College in 1946.

Early career

During World War II, Joseph 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 Temple). 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 London. In 1945, Joseph joined the leadership of the Post-War Orphans’ Committee of the Central British Fund for German Jewry (now World Jewish Relief).[7]

Member of Parliament

He failed to be elected to the marginal seat of Barons 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 Board of 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.

Social Services

In opposition, Joseph was spokesman on Social Services, and then on Labour under Edward Heath. He was one of twelve founder members 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.

Trade spokesman

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.

After 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 Thatcher to support it.[8]

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 in which 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.[9]

Many on the right wing of the Conservative Party looked to Joseph to challenge Heath for the leadership, but his chances declined following a controversial speech on 19 October 1974. It covered a variety of socially-conservative topics and drew on an article that had been written by Arthur Wynn and his wife and published by the Child Poverty Action Group.[10]

The notion of the "cycle of deprivation" holding down poor people was the basis of his speech.[11] He linked it to current theories of the culture of poverty, especially to the chaotic lifestyle of the poorest people. However, he suggested that poor people should stop having so many children. In his highly publicised speech at Edgbaston, he reflected on the moral and spiritual state of Britain:

A high and rising proportion of children are being born to mothers least fitted to bring children into the world ... Some are of low intelligence, most of low educational attainment. They are unlikely to be able to give children the stable emotional background, the consistent combination of love and firmness ... They are producing problem children ... The balance of our human stock, is threatened.[12]

The outrage, despite his repeated apologies, in reaction to his speech sharply undercut Joseph's campaign to replace Heath as party leader. The speech was largely written by Alfred Sherman, with Jonathan Sumption, but the most controversial sentence was inserted by Joseph himself.[13][14]


Joseph withdrew from the contest against Heath and endorsed Thatcher. She had been eager to run but had backed Joseph.

He now became a major advisor. Thatcher later referred to Joseph as her closest political friend, and they both moved sharply to the right. His overnight conversion to free-market, small-government policies "had the force of a religious conversion".[15] In 1975, he said:

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.)[16]

This remark expressed Joseph's sense of failure during multiple Conservative governments that had automatically followed the post-war consensus of a welfare state with strong labour unions. Their policies to stabilise the economy retained government control on industries and creating an intricate system to control wages and dividends. In the eyes of Thatcher and Joseph, that pragmatic approach was contrary to the true "Conservative" ideology. As he had done a great deal to promote Thatcher, when she won the leadership in 1975, she determined to put him in a position that would facilitate a profound influence on Conservative Party policy.

In Thatcher's Shadow Cabinet, Joseph wanted to be Shadow Chancellor of the Exchequer, but that was impossible since his notorious 1974 speech. Instead, he was given overall responsibility for Policy and Research. He had a large impact on the Conservative manifesto for the 1979 election, but frequently, a compromise had to be reached with Heath's more moderate supporters, such as James Prior.

Thatcher named Joseph Secretary of State for Industry. He began to prepare the many nationalised industries for privatisation by bringing in private sector managers such as Ian MacGregor but was still forced to give large subsidies to those industries making losses.

Secretary of State for Education and Science

As Thatcher's Secretary of State for Education and Science from 1981 he started the ball rolling for GCSEs, and the establishment of a national curriculum in England and Wales. Mark Carlisle, his predecessor in the Conservative government in 1979, had cancelled the plans of Shirley Williams, his second-last predecessor, to merge O Levels and CSEs, but he achieved that policy. Although that was 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 and led 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. That plan provoked heated opposition from fellow members of the Cabinet (particularly, Cecil Parkinson) and a compromise plan was found necessary to secure consensus. The compromise involved the abandonment of Joseph's plan to levy tuition fees but preserved 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 ministers to survive the IRA's bomb in the Grand Hotel during 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. It 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 was appointed to the Order of the Companions of Honour in 1986.[17]

He received a life peerage in the dissolution honours, being created Baron Joseph, of Portsoken in the City of London on 12 October 1987.[18]

30-year rule and official documents

At the end of 2011, the release of confidential documents under the UK Government's 30-year rule revealed Joseph's thoughts regarding the Liverpool Riots. In response to Michael Heseltine's regeneration proposal, Joseph suggested that there should be a "managed rundown" of Merseyside instead.[19] Later, his private secretary asked for minutes of a meeting to be amended to remove reference to explicit economic regeneration as Joseph believed “it is by no means clear that any such strategy could lead to a viable economic entity”.[19]

Thought leadership and legacy

Joseph's speech Monetarism is Not Enough was described by Margaret Thatcher as “one of the very few speeches which have fundamentally affected a political generation's way of thinking.".[20]

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 his 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.

Personal life

Joseph was married twice: firstly, in 1951 to Hellen Guggenheimer, with whom he had four children. After their divorce in 1978,[21] he married Yolanda Sheriff (née Castro) in 1990.

Coat of arms of Keith Joseph
In front of an Annulet Azure encircling a Tower Gules two Sprigs of Honesty leaved and slipped saltirewise proper
Per chevron Gules and barry wavy of ten Azure and Or a Fess embattled of the last masoned Sable in chief a Sun in Splendour Gold
Incepta perficiam (I will do to perfection what I have started) [22]


  1. "OBITUARY: Lord Joseph". The Independent. London: INM. 12 December 1994. ISSN 0951-9467. OCLC 185201487. Retrieved 22 July 2014.
  2. "Keith Joseph, the father of Thatcherism, 'was autistic' claims". The Independent. 12 July 2006.
  3. Birnie, Esmond. "Christianity and the Social Market Economy in Britain, Germany and Northern Ireland" (PDF). Retrieved 21 October 2019.
  4. "Neo-liberal Ideology: History, Concepts and Policies". Retrieved 30 July 2017.
  5. Yergin, Daniel; Stanislaw, Joseph (1998). Excerpt from "The Commanding Heights". New York: Simon & Schuster. pp. 92–105. ISBN 978-0-684-82975-3. Retrieved 22 July 2014.
  7. Gottlieb, Amy Zahl. Men of Vision: Anglo-Jewry's Aid to Victims of the Nazi Regime, 1933–1945. London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 1998, p.185
  8. Margaret Thatcher acknowledged his influence on her intellectual evolution, especially in her book, The Path to Power, 1995
  9. Sir Keith Joseph, Centre for Policy Studies (5 April 1976).Stockton Lecture, Monetarism Is Not Enough, with foreword by Margaret Thatcher. (Barry Rose Pub.) Margaret Thatcher Foundation (2006); David Friedman, New America Foundation (15 June 2002). No Light at the End of the Tunnel Los Angeles Times.
  10. Aitken, Ian (29 September 2001). "Obituary: Arthur Wynn". The Guardian. London. Retrieved 12 May 2009.
  11. John Pierson; Martin Thomas (2010). Dictionary of Social Work: The Definitive A to Z of Social Work and Social Care. McGraw-Hill. p. 140.
  12. Halcrow, p 83
  13. Andrew Denham and Mark Garnett, Keith Joseph (Acumen, 2002), p. 265.
  14. Moore, Thatcher, 1:272-4
  15. Andrew Marr, A History of Modern Britain (2007) p 355
  16. Tony Wright (2013). British Politics: A Very Short Introduction. Oxford UP. p. 49.
  17. "No. 50547". The London Gazette. 10 June 1986. p. 7729.
  18. "No. 51092". The London Gazette. 15 October 1987. p. 12747.
  19. Gainsbury, Sally (30 December 2011). "Tories debated letting Liverpool 'decline'". Financial Times. Retrieved 22 July 2014.
  20. Margaret Thatcher The Path to Power (London 1995), p. 255
  21. "Keith Joseph and wife to part". Glasgow Herald. 30 March 1978. Retrieved 22 July 2014.
  22. "Current United Kingdom Baronetcies I - P".


  • Denham, Andrew and Mark Garnett. Keith Joseph (Acumen, 2002)
  • Halcrow, Morrison. Sir Keith Joseph: A Single Mind (1989)
  • Harrison, Brian. "Mrs. Thatcher and the Intellectuals," Twentieth Century British History (1994) 5#2 pp 206–245.
  • Harrison, Brian. "Joseph, Keith Sinjohn, Baron Joseph (1918–1994)", Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004; online edn, May 2011 accessed 6 June 2013
  • Moore, Charles. Margaret Thatcher: From Grantham to the Falklands (2013)
  • O'Connell, Jeffrey and Thomas E. O'Connell. "Global Raising and Razing of Statism: The Mirror Roles of Two Law-Trained Englishmen – William Beveridge and Keith Joseph," Journal of Law & Politics (2000) 16#3 pp 639–662.
Parliament of the United Kingdom
Preceded by
Osbert Peake
Member of Parliament for Leeds North East
Succeeded by
Timothy Kirkhope
Political offices
Preceded by
Charles Hill
Minister for Housing and Local Government
Succeeded by
Richard Crossman
Preceded by
Richard Crossman
Secretary of State for Health and 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
Baronetage of the United Kingdom
Preceded by
Samuel Joseph
Joseph Baronet of Portsoken
Succeeded by
James Joseph
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