Marjorie Seldon R.I.P.

Friends of the IEA will be saddened to hear of the death last month of Marjorie Seldon. Marjorie, who was 94, was the wife of Arthur Seldon, who was the first Editorial Director of the IEA for about thirty years from 1957. Arthur, with Ralph Harris, formed one of the most productive partnerships in think tank history to provide the intellectual framework for the market reforms of the Thatcher period.[1]

Arthur and Marjorie were married in 1948 and their marriage lasted for 57 years until Arthur’s death in 2005. Marjorie made a wonderful home for Arthur and their three boys. Moreover, she was Arthur’s intellectual companion, someone on whom he could try his ideas and have a sympathetic but critical audience. Her interest and support were crucial to his success, both in his own writings and in the IEA publications programme which he formulated and which turned out to be so influential.

Marjorie understood and appreciated what Arthur was trying to accomplish. She was an enthusiastic supporter of and participant in his (eventually successful) efforts to change the climate of opinion in a more liberal direction. In some of their activities, particularly the proposal to free the education market by introducing an education voucher, she played a major part. She chaired a group called Friends of the Education Voucher Experiment in Representative Regions (FEVER) which tried to increase support for the voucher. Marjorie was also a keen participant in Mont Pelerin Society meetings and she achieved the rare distinction of becoming an MPS member. The ‘parties for non-conformists’ which she and Arthur held at their splendid cottage in Godden Green were marvellous occasions, affectionately remembered by those who attended, where established liberal scholars would mingle with the young and aspiring to discuss ideas which defied the conventional wisdom of the day.

Arthur had a deep love and respect for Marjorie and recognised that he could not have accomplished what he did without her. Their interests and their lives were so closely intertwined that, to him, living without her was inconceivable, as he realised when she was briefly in hospital towards the end of his life. In thinking about the revival of classical liberal ideas in the latter part of the twentieth century, in which the IEA was so prominent, we should remember and acknowledge the significant part played by Marjorie Seldon.

[1] For a biography of Arthur see Arthur Seldon: A Life for Liberty.

Member of the Advisory Council

Professor Colin Robinson is a member of the Advisory Council to the Institute of Economic Affairs and is the Chair of Economics at the University of Surrey. Colin is the sole or joint author of over 25 books and monographs and about 160 journal papers, including studies of the international oil, coal and gas markets, North Sea oil and gas, nuclear energy in Britain, British energy policy, privatisation, utility regulation and the British water industry. He continues to write regularly and is now Emeritus Professor of Economics.

2 thoughts on “Marjorie Seldon R.I.P.”

  1. Posted 28/07/2014 at 10:10 | Permalink

    I’ve only just heard the news about Marjorie’s death and, although at the ripe old age of 94 it was clearly not unexpected, it is still sad. She was such a warm and interesting person, with a great sense of humour, and provided wonderful hospitality at the Seldon’s home. I can’t remember if I belonged to FEVER, but I certainly caught the vision of education vouchers years ago as a result of Marjorie’s enthusiastic advocacy.

  2. Posted 29/07/2014 at 19:16 | Permalink

    Professor Colin Robinson’s tribute to Marjorie Seldon is very accurate; but I
    would like to emphasise certain matters.
    Marjorie was, as he diagnoses, the “essential” Other Half, in her marriage
    to/with Arthur Seldon…one of the most important proponents of classical liberal
    ideas, globally considered, in the last quarter of the last Century.
    And yes, she was undoubtedly a great hostess — at the Seldon’s summer weekend
    garden parties! As the Ozzies would say (I think): Good on You, Marge!
    But she had an “independent” influence, I would suggest, from Arthur,
    also: because of her particular interest in trying to introduce some
    greater choice and competition into the primary and secondary education industry/
    sectors in the UK: then an activity theoretically homogeneized by the state.
    The Secretary of State for Education and Science(1981-86) of the reforming
    Thatcher governments of the 1980s, Sir Keith Joseph, sought to introduce
    Marjorie’s ideas; but was defeated then by a combination of “Sir Humphrey”
    departmental intransigence and (educational) Trade Union opposition to any such
    However, I note that, in subsequent UK Administrations, the idea of
    Academy Schools, and Free Schools, were implemented: and which have
    had the effect of introducing some competitive spur into a state sector where
    (in all frankness) the UK has been failing badly cf. many other countries,
    over many decades.
    So: perhaps the legend on Marjorie Seldon’s intellectual “tombstone”
    should read: ‘I planted the seed of of a very important idea’.

Comments are closed.