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Norman Tebbit

(b. 1931)

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(b. Enfield, 29 Mar. 1931)

British; Secretary of State for Employment 1981–3, Trade and Industry 1983–5, chairman of the Conservative Party and Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster 1985–7; Baron (life peer) 1992 Norman Tebbit came from a working-class background and was employed as an airline pilot (and trade union official) before he became an MP. He expressed direct, even abrasive, right-wing views on immigration, Europe, capital punishment, and welfare shirkers. He articulated populist authoritarian attitudes. For much of his political career he was very close to Mrs Thatcher.

He was first elected MP for Epping in 1970 and then Chingford from 1974 until his retirement in 1992. He seemed to represent what the media called the ‘Essex Man’. Critics of his politics called him the ‘Chingford skinhead’.

Mrs Thatcher made him Secretary of State for Employment in 1981. His predecessor Jim Prior had favoured an incremental approach to the question of trade union reform and sought to carry the trade unions with him. Mrs Thatcher—and Tebbit—favoured a tougher approach. He was responsible for the 1982 Trade Union Act which further weakened the closed shop and made trade unions liable for damages arising from unlawful industrial action. In 1983 he became Secretary of State for Trade and Industry and further reduced subsidies to ailing industries.

Tebbit nearly lost his life when an IRA bomb blew up the Brighton Grand Hotel in which many Conservative ministers and delegates were staying during the 1984 party conference. His wife was permanently paralysed. In 1985 he became party chairman. Relations with Mrs Thatcher became uneasy; he was regarded as a possible successor and at times she seems to have thought that he had designs on her job.

After helping to organize the Conservative election victory in 1987 he retired from government. He needed to make money, in part to care for his sick wife. Mrs Thatcher tried and failed to tempt him back to office, at one point offering him Education. Tebbit was a doughty supporter when she faced a leadership challenge in 1990. When she stood down, he subsequently campaigned for John Major. He stood down from the Commons in 1992, moving to the House of Lords where he joined with Mrs Thatcher in opposing the ratification of the Maastricht Treaty, describing the treaty as treason. Over time, Tebbit became more critical of John Major and claimed that he had not stood for the leadership in 1990 because he had thought that Major represented right-wing values. He remained an active member of the House of Lords and the most stalwart defender of Thatcherism, criticizing some of the centrist policy developments within the party under David Cameron.

Tebbit wrote a well-regarded memoir, Upwardly Mobile, and became a political commentator.

Subjects: Social sciencesPolitics

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