Thatcherism: Concept and Interpretations

  • Michael Biddiss


Early in 1986 The Times reported that, from the latest poll of visitors to Madame Tussaud’s waxworks, Margaret Thatcher had emerged as the most popular political figure on display; it added, however, that she was also runner-up to Hitler under the category ‘Hate and Fear’. A few months previously Sir Keith Joseph had remarked that ‘My eyes light up at the sight of her, even though she’s hitting me about the head, so to speak’.1 These may be masochistic trivia, but they hint at deeper truths about the nature and power of the impact made by the ideas and personality of Britain’s first female prime minister. Not only does she seem determined to surpass Asquith’s record for longest continuous service by a 20th-century premier (as she will do in January 1988), but she has already achieved the distinction, unique amongst holders of that office, of witnessing her own eponymous ‘ism’ being firmly established in contemporary political discourse. Many of her supporters have come to find the label of ‘Thatcherism’ almost as convenient as her opponents have done, despite the divisions between them over its precise meaning, and certainly over the worth of her aims and achievements. There is thus today a large measure of agreement that ‘Thatcherism’ can be usefully employed to denote, if not a rigorously systematized ideology then at least a certain set of values and a certain style of leadership, and that these have been promoted by an exceptionally forceful personality, put to work at a critical epoch in British history, and directed towards dismantling many leading features of the particular form of political consensus developed over the post-war period.


Labour Party Seismic Trace Political Consensus British History British Politics 
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© Government & Opposition Ltd. 1987

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  • Michael Biddiss

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