Magazine August 16, 2010, Issue

On Thy Silver Wheels

(Jonathan Ernst/Reuters)

The recent political ructions over the extension of unemployment benefits brought Norman Tebbit to my mind. Tebbit was Margaret Thatcher’s secretary of state for employment in the early 1980s. There was some urban rioting, and it was suggested to Tebbit that these disturbances were a natural response to the indignity of unemployment. Tebbit, whose origins were humble, replied briskly: “I grew up in the Thirties with an unemployed father. He didn’t riot. He got on his bike and looked for work, and he kept looking till he found it.”

This was a key moment in Tebbit’s career, a sort of political

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