The former Tory leader seems an unusual source for a fascinating piece of alternative "what if?" history as we approach the 30th anniversary of 1979. It sounds, to Labour ears as if IDS has an uncannily similar reading to the Bennite account of our recent political history. I don't think I am convinced. sent the interview to Denis Healey - among the great Fabians, having contributed to New Fabian Essays back in 1951 - a couple of weeks ago, but I don't know if he will have any response to it.
The former Conservative leader also believes his own party must take greater responsibility for the impact of the 1980s on the social problems he now studies at the Centre for Social Justice.
Once, IDS seemed the creature of Margaret Thatcher, who endorsed his leadership bid. With the 30th anniversary of Thatcher’s accession imminent, does he now regret the brutal edge of Thatcherism or acknowledge the harm caused by rampant individualism? “Britain’s position by 1978/9 was appalling – we were just disappearing as a nation. It simply was not possible to go on any longer.
“You have to remember it was Denis Healey who did most of the serious hard work, the heavy lifting, before Mrs Thatcher came in. Had she come in without Healey’s work in the IMF, I don’t think she’d have lasted two years. She would have been out in 1983. Getting the economy back to a point where it was profitable and we had some sort of enterprise was [vital].
“But yes, what happened next was in some ways [unfortunate]. We forgot that, while the economy was moving on, society itself was not really ready for this. Swathes of the population got left behind in the process...The gap between the bottom socio-economic group and the rest started to grow, and it’s grown ever since. Under Labour it’s grown almost faster in some senses.
“While I’m not going to point the finger and say the changes made in the Eighties were wrong, we didn’t have any real sense of where this might go go and what needed to happen. Big social reforms should have taken place then, and they never did.” This partial denunciation of Thatcherism by her protege and heir will strike some Tories as a heresy. But few leading politicians are as familiar as IDS with the sink estates that symbolise the price of inequality.
Thatcher’s policy of selling council houses and failing to invest the profits in social housing added up, as he admits, to a disaster. “Nobody really thought about what happens if you allow only the most broken families to exist on housing estates. You create a sort of ghetto in which the children who grow up there repeat what they see around them.”
This critique reflects IDS' increasing emphasis on the need for a cross-party and sustained approach to problems which are inter-generational in nature. Riddell writes that he has become the "antithesis of a party tribalist", while IDS says he believes that Gordon Brown can win the next election.
“I think there must be an outside chance. What would be required?” he wonders. “The public turns round and says maybe things are picking up, maybe he was right.”
Riddell comments that "While such musings are unlikely to warm the heart of David Cameron, the Conservative leader owes much to Mr Duncan Smith. If caring Conservatism has any credibility, then it is rooted in the IDS project".
* The Spring issue of Fabian Review, focusing on the politics of the family, will be published in April.
* UPDATE: Many Fabian members (as well as Next Left readers) may recall IDS' similar comments on Council House sales at the very well attended Saturday night fringe in Manchester last September, hosted by the Fabians and the Centre for Social Justice, with the End Child Poverty coalition and the Webb Memorial Trust; he made the point at the follow-up Conservative fringe the following week, being concerned to show that he was willing to make similar arguments to the different party audiences in the search for a cross-party consensus on social questions.