When Margaret Thatcher became the leader of the UK’s Conservative party in 1974, it had been weakened by repeated electoral failures and had adopted much of the Labor party’s economic and even social ideas. It was also not particularly hospitable to Jews, and Jews tended to be wary of it. Yet, by the time Thatcher was first elected prime minister in 1979, she had presided over an ideological rejuvenation that she would put into practice during her many years in office, leading to economic privatization, a muscular foreign policy, and a reaffirmation of British values. Two Jews, who would become her closest political allies, were responsible for this change, as Robert Philpot writes:
They were Sir Keith Joseph, the scion of a wealthy Anglo-Jewish family, and Alfred Sherman, a former Communist working-class Jew from London’s East End whose parents had fled Tsarist Russia. . . .
The son of a former lord mayor of London, Joseph was an improbable revolutionary by both background and temperament. Sherman would later note his ally’s “tendency to wilt under pressure” and aversion to conflict. And yet Joseph was to be the man who lit the torch that, as Sherman put it, “sparked off the Thatcher revolution.”
Thatcher and Joseph shared a common attribute: the sense that they were both outsiders. Hers stemmed from her grocer’s-daughter upbringing, the snobbery and disdain she encountered at Oxford from both the upper-class grandees of the Conservative Association and the liberal intelligentsia that dominated its academic body, and later, her gender, as she sought a safe Tory seat. His originated from his Judaism. . . . Despite his rapid rise through the Tory ranks once he had entered parliament in 1956, Joseph remained, in the words of one observer, “almost alien.” . . .
[Sherman, the] son of Jewish immigrants, would later speak of his disapproval of the term “Judeo-Christian values” and would insist that Thatcher should root her message in her own Methodist upbringing and the Tories’ close relationship with Britain’s established church. Thatcher proved more ecumenical. As her close friendship with Chief Rabbi Immanuel Jakobovits illustrated, she saw, and often remarked upon, the close harmony between Judaism and the nonconformist insistence on individual responsibility, community self-help, and the moral necessity of self-improvement and wealth creation imparted by her father. Not for nothing would the Sunday Telegraph later admiringly suggest during her premiership that Judaism had become “the new creed of Thatcherite Britain.”