American readers looking for a sweeping and superbly written study of the British Conservative Party should look no further than Robin Harris’s The Conservatives: A History, just published by Bantam Press. Its more than 600 pages cover every Conservative prime minister from Robert Peel to David Cameron, with in-depth and lively analysis of the premierships of some of the great titans of modern Britain, including Benjamin Disraeli, Lord Salisbury, Winston Churchill and Margaret Thatcher. As Harris observes in his conclusion, the Conservative Party has for two centuries symbolized the greatness as well as uniqueness of Britain as a global power that has shaped the world:
Disraeli, the Jewish outsider who championed traditional institutions, Salisbury, the fastidious aristocrat who won over the bourgeoisie, and Thatcher, the woman who crushed the unions, the Argentine Junta and most of the Cabinet, and restored the economy to health, are all, in their different ways, completely surprising. It matters to the country that the Conservative Party should retain its capacity to produce surprises, and so harness the eccentric, distinctive qualities of British national greatness.”
Dr. Harris, who is now a senior visiting fellow at the Heritage Foundation, is extremely well placed to write such a book, with more than three decades of experience at the heart of the Conservative Party. He served as Director of the Conservative Research Department, as well as a member of Margaret Thatcher’s Downing Street Policy Unit in the 1980’s, and later became Lady Thatcher’s chief speechwriter and political adviser, assisting her with both volumes of her autobiography, as well as her highly influential 2002 foreign policy treatise Statecraft: Strategies For a Changing World.
I had the privilege of working with Robin in Lady Thatcher’s private office, and to say that his ferocious intellect and eye for detail is legendary in conservative circles in London would be an understatement. On both sides of the Atlantic, his latest book is indispensable reading for anyone who wishes to gain a deeper understanding of the party that is the spiritual home of both Thatcherism and the Anglo-American Special Relationship, two of the most powerful forces that have helped shape the free world in the modern era.