In memory of Tessa Keswick

The Centre for Policy Studies expresses its deepest sorrow at the loss of Tessa Keswick.

Lady Keswick, who died on Tuesday at the age of 79, became Director of the CPS in 1995, having been a special adviser to Kenneth Clarke during his time in government. In 2004 she became deputy chairman of the think tank, a role she held for a further 13 years.

Under her leadership, the CPS published more than 100 policy reports and bulletins. In addition to producing a stream of policy ideas on the economy and public services – many of which have subsequently been taken up by both Labour and Conservative Governments – she also argued fiercely for the Conservative Party to redress its appalling gender imbalance. That the party selected its third female leader and Prime Minister shortly before her death stands as a profound vindication of those efforts.

The CPS and all of its current and former staff are hugely grateful for her contribution over the decades and send their deepest sympathy to Sir Henry and the Keswick family.

Lord Clarke, former Chancellor, said: ‘It was always a pleasure to work with Tessa. She was highly intelligent and full of good policy ideas. I remember that she persuaded me to create Ofsted, the schools inspectorate, when we were at Education. I will have fond memories of a good friend.’

Lord Saatchi, former Chairman of the CPS, said: ‘Tessa Keswick changed my life. When she was Director of the Centre for Policy Studies, she asked me to join the Board. Later, she proposed me to become Chairman, and brought about my unanimous appointment by the Board. Being Chairman of the CPS for 10 years was the most fulfilling time of my political life. She taught me how to do the job properly.

‘Tessa and Henry, Josephine and I became wonderful friends. I am sure that Tessa and Josephine are now organising great lunch parties for all the political Immortals.’

Lord Blackwell, former Chairman of the CPS, said: ‘Tessa was a stalwart defender of Conservative principles, who upheld and passionately argued those values as Director of the CPS through years in which true Conservative principles were at risk. The CPS and the country owe her a huge debt of gratitude for her energy and fortitude in helping to shape the political agenda over several decades. I was very lucky to work with Tessa as Director during my time as CPS Chairman.’

Lord Griffiths, former Chairman of the CPS, said: ‘Tessa was the most wonderful person to work with. She was bright, lively, interested in ideas, an avid reader and a fearless opponent in an argument. What she lacked by not having had a university education she more than made up for by her practical involvement in politics. Her political views frequently had a visceral as well as an intellectual dimension, often backed by her own experience as a single mother with three children and not much money, and as a local councillor.

‘She was a true conservative but not ideological. In 1988, when I was head of the No 10 Policy Unit, Ken Clarke asked me, did I have a name for someone who might be his special adviser. I said without any hesitation: ‘Yes, Tessa Keswick’.

‘She made a major contribution to the CPS at a very difficult time following the disastrous end to John Major’s premiership. In terms of publications, conferences, lunches and events she was a brilliant director and organiser.’

Lord Kalms, former Treasurer of the CPS, said: ‘When our dear Tessa Keswick self-selected herself to be Chief Executive of the CPS. it was a joyous moment for Brian Griffiths as Chairman and myself as Treasurer.

‘With her unique skills, energy and political focus she recharged Keith Joseph’s original Think Tank concept with the dynamic organisation it is today. The best writers flocked to us, and the flow of our pamphlets, political ideas and challenges penetrated into the soul of the Conservative leadership. Tessa’s speciality was education, a complex arena, which was exposed with good effect into the limelight.

‘There was much more. Tessa with her eminent husband Henry gave dinner parties in their beautiful home that were the ultimate invitation to a world of concerned friends.’We have lost two great ladies, but both have built foundations of granite for us to continue their efforts.’

Tim Knox, former Director of the CPS, said: ‘I heard the tragic news of Tessa’s death while travelling in the Mani. Sadly appropriate as Tessa personified the Maniot values of fierce independence, limitless courage and great charm.

‘Always happiest when encouraging our authors to take an extra step forward, she was unstintingly loyal whenever she had provoked criticism – and the more pompous the critic, the louder the laughter.

‘She led us into battle. We followed happily. A great life, well lived. Thank you, Tessa.’

Jenny Nicholson, former Deputy Chairman, said: ‘The years that Tessa was Director were the happiest eight years of my time at the CPS and she stayed a good friend. I shall miss her very much.’

Martin McElwee, partner at Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer, said: ‘Tessa will always be one of the most memorable figures in my life. She gave me my first job coming out of university – taking a chance on a frankly slightly Blairite law graduate. She had tremendous instincts as well as a human touch that made her a person that everyone warmed to. I will always remember Tessa with enormous affection: my first boss, and one of the very best.’

Robert Colvile, Director of the CPS, said: ‘Tessa was a force and a presence at the CPS for many years, and cared very deeply about it. I am hugely grateful for her help, advice and leadership, as are so many others.’

Date Added: Friday 16th September 2022