Thatcherism: Concept and Interpretations

  • Michael Biddiss

Abstract

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.

Keywords

Economic Crisis Income Shrinkage Volatility Stake 

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Notes

  1. 2.
    Quoted in Peter Riddell, The Thatcher Government, revised edn (Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1985) p. 7.Google Scholar
  2. 3.
    Hugo Young and Anne Sloman, The Thatcher Phenomenon (London: BBC, 1986) p. 20.Google Scholar
  3. 5.
    Interview of May 1981, quoted in Martin Holmes, The First Thatcher Government, 1979–1983: Contemporary Conservatism and Economic Change (Brighton, Wheatsheaf, 1985) p. 209.Google Scholar
  4. 8.
    Keith Joseph and Jonathan Sumption, Equality (London: Murray, 1978) p. 61.Google Scholar
  5. 11.
    Monica Charlot, ‘Doctrine et image: le thatchérisme est-il un populisme?’, in Jacques Leruez (ed.), Le Thatchérisme: Doctrine et action (Paris: CNRS, 1985) p. 21.Google Scholar
  6. 14.
    Joel Krieger, Reagan, Thatcher, and the Politics of Decline (Cambridge: Polity, 1986) p. 189.Google Scholar
  7. 15.
    See Ronald Butt, The Unfinished Task: the Conservative record in perspective (London: CPS, 1986) pp. 11–13.Google Scholar
  8. 16.
    Peter Jackson, ‘Policy Implementation and Monetarism: Two Primers’, in Peter Jackson (ed.), Implementing Government Policy Initiatives: The Thatcher Administration, 1979–83 (London: Royal Institute of Public Administration, 1985) p. 29. The classic (and early) statement of warning by Callaghan as premier can be found in the Labour Party’s Report of the Annual Conference 1976, p. 188.Google Scholar
  9. 20.
    Quoted in David Butler and Dennis Kavanagh, The British General Election of 1979 (London: Macmillan, 1980) p. 64n.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. 29.
    See, for example, Mike Goldsmith, ‘The Conservatives and Local Government, 1979 and after’, in David S. Bell (ed.), The Conservative Government, 1979–84: An Interim Report (London: Croom Helm, 1985) pp. 142–57;Google Scholar
  11. Clive Ponting, The Right to Know: The Inside Story of the Belgrano Affair (London: Sphere, 1985).Google Scholar
  12. 32.
    See Peter Hennessy, Cabinet, (Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1986) Chapter 3 (note especially the interview with David Howell, pp. 95–8), and the same author’s contribution to the present volume, chapter 4.Google Scholar
  13. 38.
    John A. Hall, Powers and Liberties: The Causes and Consequences of the Rise of the West (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1986) pp. 176–7.Google Scholar
  14. 40.
    David Marquand, ‘“Fire, fire”, be it in Noah’s Flood’, Government and Opposition, 20, (4), Autumn 1985, p. 512; and see, generally, Jean-Pierre Ravier, ‘Mme Thatcher et les syndicats’, in Leruez (ed.), Le Thatchérisme pp. 57–68.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. 41.
    See Riddell, The Thatcher Government, pp. 263–15 for a brief and sensible overall assessment of its significance. Note also Ian Mac-Gregor (with Rodney Tyler), The Enemies Within: The Story of the Miners’ Strike, 1984–5 (London: Collins, 1986).Google Scholar
  16. 42.
    Ralf Dahrendorf, On Britain (London: BBC, 1982) p. 165.Google Scholar
  17. 46.
    See Robert Kilroy-Silk, Hard Labour (London: Chatto & Windus, 1986).Google Scholar
  18. 58.
    Quoted in Young and Sloman, The Thatcher Phenomenon, p. 141; and see, generally, James Prior, A Balance of Power (London: Hamish Hamilton, 1986).Google Scholar
  19. 60.
    Quoted in Young and Sloman, The Thatcher Phenomenon, p. 55; and see, generally, Francis Pym, The Politics of Consent (London: Hamish Hamilton, 1984).Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Government & Opposition Ltd. 1987

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  • Michael Biddiss

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