The Effort to Avoid UK Economical Crisis with Thatcherism Beliefs
Margaret Thatcher became Britain’s first ever female Prime Minister following the general election in May of 1979. She and her cabinet inherited a country in peril. The economy was marred by a rising rate of inflation and levels of unemployment not seen since the early 1930s. The policy of past governments was for direct action on prices and wages to curb rising inflation rates and to adopt an expansionary fiscal policy to slow unemployment. Despite the best intentions of governments of both political parties, each successive government over the prior thirty years experienced a higher average rate of both unemployment and inflation than its predecessors. The outlook seemed bleak to most of society. Miseducated Britons, products of a shoddy education system, walked an uneasy path to the future. Thatcher’s right-wing solution to this economic and social Labour plight was an ideology that came to be known as “Thatcherism.” Pushed on the nation by Thatcher and her strong will and personality, the policies of her ideology transformed Britain from a nation plagued by “Socialist rot” in to a world power yet again.
Thatcherism was defined by its combination of monetarism, belief in market forces, a strong, yet unintrusive, government, anti-Socialism, strong nationalist beliefs and importance in the improvement of education. These sweeping changes, so contradictory to the previous governmental mindset, were only successfully adopted as Thatcher’s government turned its back on the consensus politics that had dominated Britain since 1945. She preferred a confrontational style of politics and in her own words described the old consensus style to be “the process of abandoning all beliefs, principles, values and policies in the search of something in which no one believes but to which no one objects.”
One of the first problems Thatcherism dealt with was the steeply rising inflation rate. Public spending increased while national production remained steady or rose very little. As more and more money was pumped into the economy, inflation rates rose and prices soared. For example, in 1978, domestic production in the United Kingdom grew only by 1% while consumer spending went up by 5%, resulting in a 13.8% rise in prices. Another 10% increase was expected during the next four years. This result was the continuation of a trend that existed during the previous regimes thanks in part to the policies of the Labour governments, who in fact had been in power for 11 of the previous 15 years. The oil crisis during the beginning of Thatcher’s reign also accelerated inflation. In order to quell these rising rates the Thatcher government implemented a monetarist policy involving a reduction in government spending, shifting tax rates and a return of much of the economy to the private sector. As the Conservative Manifesto of 1979 states: “to master inflation, proper monetary discipline is essential, with publicly stated targets for the growth of the money supply.” All this was done in the interest of efficiency and to keep the money supply in step with domestic production.
In her first few years of office, government spending was cut by billion, including cuts in housing, energy, education, employment, industrial subsidies, transport and foreign aid. The only departments that were not scaled down were the police and armed forces. This widespread reduction in government spending allowed for lower tax rates for the majority of the population. Tax revenue had to come from somewhere so while the rates dropped for income, expenditure taxes and taxes on North Sea oil increased. The Tories soon earned the reputation as honest and effective inflation-fighters. By 1983, as the British economy was recovering from recession, inflation fell from 20% to 4%, the lowest level in 13 years, largely as a result of these monetarist policies.
The fight to suppress inflation did not stop there. Thatcherism stressed the need for the removal of the government from the market system. So her government started a series of massive privatizations and deregulations in 1981. British Telecom became privatized first and it soon spread to British Steel, British Gas, and then the electricity and water industries. The government sought to increase competition within industries for foreign and domestic contracts and to bring about more efficiency within the competition that already existed. The public would benefit from this increased efficiency for the government could utilize the funds saved more beneficially. Privatization was extended to the employees of those same companies as they were given the opportunity to buy shares in them. This aspect also diminished the necessity for trade unions. Workers could now own a small piece of the company and the conflict between themselves and the owners would be avoided.
This conflict in interest between owners and unions had marked the downfall of previous governments. The resulting unemployment and the man hours lost due to the numerous strikes during the “Winter of Discontent,” and other instances in history, prior to Thatcher’s government could be dealt with. The policies already in place and Thatcher’s foresight helped bring down the power of the unions, who remained adamant about receiving higher wages for insufficient output. The 1984 coal miners strike, led by Marxist Arthur Scargill, was put down by Thatcher because of her ingeniousness in predicting and preparing for the strike. Stockpiles of coal had been gathered at power stations and the ill effects of the strike on the economy were nonexistent. To further the suppression of the unions, parliament passed legislation making strikes more difficult to pull off and less effective if it occurred. Thatcherism helped usher in “a new era of government-industrial relations where more economic power was given to the British people and workers, and less to the labour union elite.”
Even during these times of economic boom and government successes unemployment topped the 3 million mark by January of 1982 and the public’s view of Thatcherism was one of disapproval. A uniting factor was necessary to get the peoples’ minds off the turmoil the nation was experiencing. The Falkland Wars of 1983 brought that much needed change. Thatcher knew the risks involved and the traumatic effect failure would have on her political career. More importantly, she knew the thought of breaking Britain’s longstanding tradition of protecting its colonies served as more of a deciding factor. Thatcher dispatched troops to the island over 8,000 miles away and the invasion was smashed. The triumph overwhelmed the country with a sense of nationalism with the Prime Minister to thank. Thatcherism was acceptable again and it resulted in another Conservative victory in the general election later in the year.
The landslide Tory victory in 1983 marked the beginning of the second phase of Thatcher’s reign as Prime Minister. The strength of Thatcherism did not wane. Her imprint on the public sector was defined by her measures for improving the educational system. Schools throughout Britain were run independently by the local government and the curriculum was decided on by the teachers. The schools themselves were falling apart and lacked the tools for a proper education. Thatcherist reforms began in her second term when she designated 1982 the “Information Technology Year” by calling for a computer to be set up in every secondary school. The Education Reform Bill of 1988 also helped to improve education by reversing the trend of independently run schools. No longer would teachers be the deciding factor in what children should learn. Each school was to follow guidelines established by the British government. British society had truly been reeducated.
Under Thatcherism, Britain regained its position as a world power. Through economic and social revamping, the nation stood poised to step into the 1990s and take on any challenges the world had to dole out. Thatcherism provided Britain with the leadership and policies it needed to cleanse the “Socialist rot” that plagued many aspects of British life. Her persona and her resolve pressed the issues needing to be dealt with into the limelight. Thatcher’s simplification of those problems and its solutions into laymen’s terms helped garner the support needed from the public. While her Thatcherist policies were unpopular to most, Thatcher herself appealed to the masses. In fact, her approval rating, among politicians and the public alike, over her reign as Prime Minister averaged a shade below 40%. Thatcherism can be best explained as unpopular, but necessary, policies implemented simply by the sheer strength of Thatcher’s character. Her humble middle-class background was shared by many and her convictions instilled in her by her father from a very young age, helped turn the tide against Labour’s negative influence and bring a nation back into standing in the world community.
Margaret Thatcher’s Focus on Environmental Issues that LED to a Major Change in UK’s Agenda
In office, 1979-1992, a major change came with Margaret Thatcher´s `conversion´ following her reading of a paper on global warming and a major speech in September 1988 to the Royal Society. She followed this with an address to the UN General Assembly in November 1989, when she called for protocols on ozone depletion, climate change and the preservation of plant species. She wanted half of Britain´s waste recycled by the end of the century and urged international cooperation based on free trade. The Prime minister was clearly out to claim a leading role, as a scientist as well as a world leader, and in 1989 invited representatives of 120 countries to London to discuss depletion of the ozone layer.
The Tories would claim environmental credentials they campaigned against whaling, favored lead free petrol and began to clamp down on Sellafield emissions and subsidies for intensive farming. It was reported later, after the Green´s success in the 1989 European elections, the Prime Minister had `secretly instructed three ministers-Chris Patten, Lynda Chalker and David Trippier to get green issues off the agenda by the next general election; they did it with a judicious blend of fair words, personal decency, and small (but well hyped) policy changes´ (Geoffrey Lean in The Independent, 23 May 1995).
Thatcher´s claims came under scrutiny: Britain´s earlier blocking of CFC bans, its worsening rivers, toxic waste imports and the lack of action on acid rain. Like most pressure groups in this period, the environmental ones were excluded from policy making and were not invited to her seminars, still less the cabinet committee she chaired on green issues. Doubts were expressed about her belief that privatization of electricity would assist cleansing and after a year the environmentalists contrasted progress on one and a half issues against failure on twenty-seven from sea dumping, toxic waste imports (up 50 %) and aid to developing countries. The seemingly easy `free market´ solution that the polluter should pay, embraced by Environment Secretary Chris Patten, began to become unstuck. Condemned as `socialism by the back door´ and the ministers responsible for privatizing water and electricity realized the financial and political costs for passing on the price of a clean up to the consumer.
Initiatives on energy efficiency were scrapped. The Prime Minister´s UK 2000 project, launched with film of her picking up litter and intended to stimulate green thinking, ended after a year. An attempt to have Whitehall use recycled paper was dropped because it would triple prices, and when the white paper Our Common Inheritance appeared, it was condemned as platitudes based on encouragement, with the ideas of Professor Pearce about tax polluting dropped. The120-clause Environmental Protection Bill gave new powers to councils to control pollution in their areas. After a year the pressure groups could point to an absence of resources, targets and results.
After a blunder by John Gummer, the Agricultural secretary, which implied that he would inherit pollution powers, John Major announced in 1991 that a new green `police´ would exist when regulation was consolidated. But the threat had gone from the green impetus of 1989, when Michael Heseltine condemned the government´s lack of urgency. In the 1992 election, Heseltine, now Environment Secretary, was claiming a world lead on the subject, with the 1990 Act and the addition of £36 million to recycling and protection forming `a green revolution in government´. But shortly after, the Transport Secretary was saying new roads were good for the environment, Baroness Chalker expressed her anger at the decline in the aid budget of 0.27% of gross national product, the Treasury cut out key specific jobs on conservation, and the Green Bill, with its news agency, was dropped from the Queen´s speech at the opening of Parliament.
In economic and political trouble in the autumn of 1992, the Conservative government began to backtrack on promises made at the Rio Summit on its aid budget, on `green farming´, on the work of the Renewable Energy Advisory Group and on energy conservation; in October the government was being threatened by the European Court again over pollution. Their white paper that month looked to `market forces´ to work for the environment, and John Major´s pledge to keep the Forestry Commission in the public sector was explained away as incorrect, `hurried´ election draft. While John Gummer at the Department of the Environment was increasingly enthusiastic and Kenneth Clarke introduced a genuinely green tax, on landfill, the Treasury and DTI and big Business lobbyists were stronger in their non-interventionism.
A Comparison Between Two Different Characters and Leadership Skills: Obama Versus Thatcher
Margaret Thatcher & Obama
Margaret Thatcher was raised in a strict British household with a strong commitment to “self-improvement and a dedication to duty”, and followed a distinguished academic path at Oxford into a career as a politician. Her status as a female Tory stateswoman made her an anomaly and an outsider, but Thatcher’s resilience, intelligence and laudable work ethic ensured a prominent position within the party. However, Thatcher developed several individual traits that presented challenges for her occupation. Her competitive disposition diminished her agreeableness, and gave her colleagues an impression of a curt and unfriendly individual. A Type-A personality helped Thatcher develop a reputation as urgent, ethical and conscientious, but also lacking empathy and manipulating – almost Machiavellian. Her highly task-oriented character narrowed her focus on getting jobs done rather than building relationships, and cast her as an introvert with underdeveloped interpersonal skills. Her belief in gathering information and arriving at decisions herself displayed her self-confidence, but also painted her as inflexible and unwilling to hear differing viewpoints and experiences. Thatcher’s unique personal characteristics are at the root of both her problems and successes as a politician.
Thatcher’s case furthers our understanding of leadership by providing a clear example of how some traits associated with strong, successful leadership – technical skills, conscientiousness, a high locus of control – can become detrimental when taken to extremes or are not balanced by other leadership qualities. Thatcher displayed most of the traits that are described by Kirkpatrick and Locke (1991) as central to effective leadership – motivation, energy and self-confidence. Moments from her schoolgirl years – such as refuting a headmistress who suggested that she was too young and lacked the requisite knowledge of Latin to succeed at Oxford – provide a snapshot into Thatcher’s personal drive and desire to jump into action. Thatcher also worked tirelessly to gain a deeper understanding of important issues, maintaining that “she would never be bested on detail or outworked”.
However, Thatcher’s strengths were often a double-edged sword, and also represented her greatest weaknesses when taken to the extreme. Her commitment to an entrenched moral value system proved to be influential but also intractable – she “believed in her ideas passionately and there was conviction in her delivery” but also considered her challenges to the status quo as “the beginning of a crusade”, an extreme position that helped spur her resignation in 1990. Thatcher’s case demonstrates that leaders need to be willing and able to incorporate elements like agreeableness and flexibility into their portfolio, regardless of how well developed their technical skills are, or run the risk of alienating subordinates and allies. Thatcher’s competitive and task-oriented nature could be seen as integral to her successes, but those traits also highlight that leadership is often situational, and contribute to Thatcher’s complicated legacy. She successfully implemented policies aimed at reducing the size of the state, cut taxes, and promoted deregulation. Those who revered Thatcher’s commitment to her ideals, regardless of opposition, argue that she created the conditions for the booming enterprise economy of the 1980’s. Those who saw her leadership style as overly assertive and confrontational contend that her decisions undermined worker’s rights and put the interests of corporations above the needs of people. In this situation, a leader with a more positive, relationship-oriented style might have better navigated the internal and external considerations of her office.
The example of Thatcher also reflects the growing understanding that the match between organizational settings and leadership style is crucial, and possessing emotional intelligence can be as integral to success as traditional intelligence. Thatcher possessed a high locus of control – she believed that events where the result of her actions. Her self-dedication and work ethic constantly served her ambition; she set lofty goals and then worked to achieve them. However, Thatcher had to operate within the dichotomy of government – building policy platforms is loosely structured and flexible, but implementing legislation and government as a whole is highly structured. Her tendency to refuse a compromise on her goals and her type-A personality often compounded the problem of government gridlock, with a frustrated Thatcher unwilling to hear outside opinions and drawing more opposition from the Labour Party. In one prominent example, Thatcher refused to back down on a fairly minor local taxation issue: “Even when key cabinet ministers warned her that the measure would backfire, she fought on, crossing the line between conviction and rigidity.” Leaders can use this example to highlight the importance of adapting to the realities of their organizational environment, and hone the skills that allow a leader to organically develop enthusiasm for their causes, rather than imposing their views on others. As Daniel Goleman states, “The rules for work are changing, and we’re being judged by a new yardstick…how well we handle ourselves and one another”.
Many of Thatcher’s situational wounds were self-inflicted. Her Type-A personality, need for control and uncompromising disposition made her a polarizing figure, even within her own party. For a leader to have improved this situation, they would need to combine the intellectual prowess that Thatcher displayed with a long track record of cooperation, empathy and openness to differing positions. Because of his ability to integrate his strong academic background as a professor and lawyer with excellent interpersonal skills and a unique ability to self-monitor, Barack Obama is our Leader Exemplar of choice.
First, Obama believed in openness to experience as a core value. Whereas Thatcher presented herself as a hardliner on almost all issues, including subverting labour unions and raising the price of school lunches for students, Obama worked across the aisle, cooperating with Republican leaders to pass major legislation. In 2010, Obama worked extensively with leaders of both parties to pass the Tax Relief Act, using his relationship-building skills to win majorities in both Houses of Congress, including an 81-19 majority in the Senate, with just five Republican Senators opposing the bill. In the case of Thatcher’s tax cut bill, which she forced through in the midst of a 23% approval rating, Obama would have used the legislation as a opportunity to build consensus on both sides of the issue, adapting to the situation and resolving the conflict cooperatively. When the Affordable Care Act came under intense Republican opposition, Obama and the Democrats used it as an opportunity to debate their ideas in a public setting, holding 44 open hearings in the Senate and allowing over 160 Republican amendments to the bill.
Second, Obama displayed the ability to self-monitor behaviour and adjust to situations. When forced to cut education spending, Thatcher ended the school milk program and provided millions in subsidies to wealthy private schools, damning her as an unsympathetic “milk snatcher”. When Obama was faced with the issue of rising health care costs, he displayed a remarkable perceptiveness in designing the Affordable Care Act so that it would provide health insurance to tens of millions of low income Americans while simultaneously reducing the national deficit by taxing the incomes of the very richest Americans, a provision supported by an overwhelming majority of the country. Recognizing cues from the political landscape, Obama stepped back from his desire for a public-option system and embraced a plan endorsed by Mitt Romney; making behavioural adjustments based on social clues would have helped avoid the “Milk Snatcher” issue for Thatcher.
Finally, Obama displayed tremendous interpersonal skills. Thatcher’s shortcomings arose, in part, because she was outwardly combative and uncompromising. Obama, meanwhile, had developed a profoundly unique talent for connecting with people from his time as a community organizer in Chicago. His oratory skills and passion came off as sincere and hopeful, in stark contrast to Thatcher’s brash and at times harsh rhetoric. Thatcher’s most famous public moments – her “No, No, No!” speech in 1990, and the “Not For Turning ” declaration in 1980 – represent Thatcher rejecting any compromises to her beliefs. Obama instead cultivated a reputation for making profound, unifying speeches – like at the 2004 Democratic Convention – that, if applied to Thatcher’s case, would have helped communicate her policies in a kinder light and likely drawn more support from both the Labour Party and the general public. It is ultimately this belief in cooperation, in building relationships and adapting to change that makes Barack Obama the best choice to improve the situation presented in this case.
The Controversial Leadership Style of the Iron Lady: Margaret Thatcher as UK’s Prime Minister
Mrs Thatcher was Prime Minister of Great Britain from the Third of May 1979 until November 22nd 1990. She was the first female and the longest serving Prime Minister of the twentieth century. She brought with her a completely new ideology to base policies upon and a controversial style of leadership leading to nick-names such as ‘the Iron lady’ and ‘Tina’ The mere fact that she was in power for eleven years means that there must have been a significant impact on British Government and politics. The reason that Mrs Thatcher can be seen to have had a significant impact on British Politics is because she was elected to power with a set of ideas that were not widely held by anyone else, she then used her power to push forward her personal agenda in the face of resistance from many areas such as public opinion, Whitehall, Cabinet, Parliament and social institutions such as universities and Trades Unions. Despite this resistance, she managed to pass much of her legislation and have many of her ideas accepted onto the political agenda.
To answer this essay I will define Mrs Thatchers’ style and show the changes that Mrs Thatcher took after coming to power, I will also discuss some of the areas where Mrs Thatcher had a significant impact and how they relate to her ideology. I will examine public opinion of Mrs Thatcher during her hold of office and why she managed to keep power during the whole of the eighties. I will then compare Britain to the experiences of other Western democracies over the same period, and examine to see what John Major has continued and discarded, and finally, what Labour have incorporated into their policies.
John Benyon argues that Thatcher brought many significant changes during her premiership. Issues such as privatisation are now part of the main political agenda. Actors such as the Trades Unions and Local government now are generally accepted as having a diminished role. However public attitude does not appear to have moved away from the collectivist ideas of Keynesianism, this brings up the interesting question that if most people did not agree with her ideas, why was she re-elected twice?
Mrs Thatcher is referred to as a conviction politician, she was a political activator (as opposed to a stabiliser or conciliator). She believed that she knew best both for the country and individuals, it is an absolutist style, “absolutely in favour of one thing, absolutely against another”. In 1979 she told Keith Harris of the Observer that her government “must be a conviction government, As Prime Minister I could not waste time having internal arguments.” She believed in hard work, self-reliance, self-discipline, moral property and patriotism. ‘Thatcherism’ is a short hand term for the New Right policies and ideological values of Mrs Thatcher. Thatcherism is not an ideology that can be repeated by anyone else, as it is a style which reflects her manner and approach to British Government. Her use of Prime minister power, with frequent reshuffles, referring to cabinet less often, increasing the use of inner cabinets and committees and energetically interfering in departments increased her authority many times over and led to worries about an ‘elected dictatorship’ first pondered upon by Lord Hailsham in 1978.
Thatcherism broke the previous ethos of the Consensus in terms of the ‘central planks’ (policy areas where both parties were in broad agreement) and the style of party leaders. Thatcherism attempted to redress the problems that the Consensus period failed to solve, these included Britains’ relatively inferior economic performance and the growing welfare state. In the 1970s there was a feeling that the government was not in control of the economy, nationally stagflation (rising inflation and high unemployment together with low growth) was occurring, when this put against excessive wage demands by militant unions, failed incomes policies – firstly for politicising wage increases and secondly for contributing to the Winter of Discontent (1978/79) – Britain could be seen to be ungovernable. Internationally, the breakdown of the world economy, the oil crisis, the decline of United States hegemony and fordist methods of production meant the world economy was volatile and unpredictable making international trade dangerous.
The Labour party (1974 – 1979) initiated a number of changes from the Consensus in their period of power, for example in 1975, Dennis Healey refused to stimulate aggregate demand to decrease unemployment , instead favouring a control of inflation. Dennis Kavanagh called this “a historic breach with one of the main planks of the post-war Consensus”. Secondly, the Sterling crisis of 1976 led the government to adopt monetary targets, something Mrs Thatcher was to continue. Although the Labour party initiated these new ideas in economic management and public expenditure control it was not launching a new ideology for government , it was done out of necessity from the economic problems of that time, for example the International Monetary Fund (IMF) demanded that monetary policies were introduced into the United Kingdom as part of their conditions for the loan needed in 1976.
Mrs Thatcher embraced the ideas of Milton Friedman and Fredrik Hayek who constituted significant writings on the New Right and systematic criticisms of Keynes. Andrew Gamble argues that Thatchers’ policies were aiming for two higher objectives, the free economy and the strong state. Analysis of Thatcherism in this way shows a move away from the traditional notion of ‘high’ and ‘low’ politics to ‘high’ and ‘no’ politics: government should either withdraw completely from certain areas or insist upon its absolute and unchecked right to govern. “The Conservative Party has never believed that the business of Government is the government of business”
The removal of unnecessary interference of the state in many areas meant that government was being stretched too far, individuals are more capable of dealing with certain issues on their own than the state, therefore the state should remove its interference in those areas. This attitude is particularly relevant in the economy. Thatcher believed that it was the states’ role to just create a broad framework in which individuals could work within. The key to this was low inflationary pressures, policies to promote this changed over Thatchers’ reign but the objective never did. Specific policies included the privatisation of private industries, the signing of the Single European Act (SEA) in 1985, the introduction of market principles in the public sector and the prevention of excessive influence by the Trades Unions.
The withdrawal of state intervention allowed the government to take a firmer grip on areas they deemed important. Strong government is needed to stop itself and other actors such as the trades Unions from interfering in the ‘free areas’ (i.e: the economy).
Both these objectives can appear to be separate and indeed on policies such as the Trades Unions, it can be seen to contradict, but they do in fact complement each other well to create a single coherent ideology which policies can be based on. The main belief for Mrs Thatcher underpinning this theory is individualism, removing state control was intended to allow individuals to freely reach their full potential. Examples where this is clear include policies orchestrated towards the removal of the growing reliance by some on the Welfare State – the so-called ‘Dependency Culture’. Instead of the state creating work for the unemployed (as under Keynes), training schemes were introduced, for example the YTS and Training Credits, which were designed to improve an individual’s talents and so make them more employable in real jobs. A second part of this was to encourage individuals to set up small businesses creating an ‘enterprise culture’. These proliferated through the eighties but were some of the first to feel the effects of the recession of the second half of the decade. The sale of council houses which begun in 1980 and was intended to allow individuals to become home owners and therefore freer from the state. The privatisation of parts of the public sector allowed individuals to become part of ‘a share owning democracy’ and be more involved in the private sector as well as removing some of the reliance on the state. It confronted the idea that the state should provide for all ‘from cradle to grave.’
Mrs Thatcher will probably be most remembered for her privatisation policy. Broadly this took on three strands, the de-nationalisation of public companies, the sale of council houses and the introduction of market principles into local authorities and agencies. It is however de-nationalisation with which privatisation is most associated with. generally there are two main periods during Mrs Thatchers’ reign as Prime Minister, 1979-1984 saw the sale of more traditionally private companies, such as Amersham International and Jaguar. 1984 onwards saw the sale of public utilities – gas water, electricity and telecommunications, these are much more controversial and had to overcome greater resistance. The Housing Act (1980) permitted council tenants who had been living in their home for three years the right to buy the property at a discounted rate from the local council. This proved to be electorally very popular but underwent resistance by local authorities who saw increasing problems in housing stock.
The introduction of ‘Next Steps’ agencies, semi-autonomous units within Government departments is seen as the biggest shake up of the Civil Service for 130 years. Mrs Thatcher believed that the Civil Service was too large to manage and had become too powerful. The Next Steps initiative aimed to create a more efficient Civil Service which was more under central control. The Civil Service was to be split up, firstly by separating the small group of policy makers (Mandarins) from the bulk of the service who deliver goods and services, secondly this delivery side was to be run more as a private business. Despite the criticisms of impracticability and unaccountability the policy has found support outside of the Conservative Party and has been carried on by John Major. Whatever happens to the policy in the future, it still remains that Mrs Thatcher has had the more impact on the Civil Service than any previous Prime Minister and it appears largely irreversible.
Internationally, the threat of Communism was of great concern for Mrs Thatcher who saw Britain as a major partner to the United States against the USSR and Defence Policy became of increasing importance during her years in office. This has generally subsided for two main reasons, the fall of the Soviet Union and the perception that the world is now a less volatile place and so less justification for high spending, secondly the replacement of Mrs Thatcher by someone who does not share such a conviction for defence.
Andrew Gamble also argues that liberal democracies are open to subversives and militants who can easily penetrate social institutions such as universities, the schools, the media, the unions, the churches, local authorities, the Civil Service and the security forces. From these vantage-points they seek to stir up discontent, undermine the institutions and propel society towards chaos where then the ‘left’ can take over and impose an authoritarian state. Therefore, a major objective of the New Right is to stem this chaos, when this is put in the context of the 1970s as discussed earlier, it is of little surprise that each of these institutions have undergone reform to reassert the Governments authority. The second prong of this attack was to change the way people thought about politics, in short, shift the political agenda to the right so New Right ideas were on central ground. Success on these ideas is mixed, while it is true that institutions have been marginalised but the shift in public opinion has been less marked.
With exception to the church which was simply ignored, all the above mentioned institutions have undergone legislative changes which have led to a restructuring in their finances, what they legally are allowed to do and a shift to being held accountable directly to Central Government. To demonstrate this I will show some of the main changes that have occurred to the Trades Unions. Before 1979, the power of the Trades Unions was immense. Mrs Thatcher legislated against the Trades Unions to weaken them, strengthen an individual’s rights in a union and make the unions financially responsible for their actions. This, when put together against a background of distrust of the unions as being counterproductive to the British economy, high levels of unemployment which meant no guarantee of work for a sacked worker and Mrs Thatchers determination to win meant that the unions basically did not have a chance, they did however their best, the most remembered disputes were the miners’ strike (March 1984 – March 1985) and the Print unions dispute with News International Group (January 1986 – February 1987). Both these cases highlighted the futility of strike action under the new legislation and has resulted in a large drop in membership figures, 12.1 million in 1979 to 8.6 million in 1989,and the number of days lost through strike action has diminished greatly.
Thatcherism seems to have altered the agenda for mainstream debate, and the ideological context within Westminster has definitely shifted to the right. However, it does seem to have had less impact on the publics’ attitudes and values. In 1987, six out of ten voters were opposed to the Conservatives. On important issues such as welfare, Labour were preferred. Gallup in 1987 and MORI in June 1988 showed that a significant amount of people still favoured the ideas championed by Keynes such as higher taxes if it meant better services provided by the state. Because of this, some intellectuals within the New Right believe that Mrs Thatcher was not radical enough and needed to further consolidate herself within the Conservative party.
It can be seen that the reason why the Conservatives won three consecutive elections under Mrs Thatcher was not because the general public empathised with her ideas but rather saw no realistic opposition against her. At the time, the Labour party were in complete disarray, the 1983 Labour Party Election Manifesto was dubbed “the longest suicide note in history” and they suffered the worst election results in terms of percentages of either the two main parties since the Second World War, in 1983 only managing 27.6% of the vote and doing little better in 1987 with 30.8%. They were seen as the puppet of the Trades Unions, championing old extremist policies associated with extreme characters such as Tony Benn, Derek Hatton, Ken Livingstone, Ted Knight and Arthur Scargill; leading them to be dubbed ‘The loony left’ by the media. However, the work of Neil Kinnock to reform the party and now being led by John Smith then Tony Blair has boosted the credibility of the Labour party to such an extent that it is almost inconceivable that Labour could lose the next General Election.
It is hard to understand just how much an impact Mrs Thatcher had on British politics unless it is compared to similar experiences in other Western democracies. With the exception of France, every country elected a right wing party to power at the beginning of the 1980s. For example, In the United States President Reagan, another believer in New Right ideology was elected twice and his successor, George Bush, was also from the political right. Helmut Kohl was elected Chancellor of (the then) West Germany and remains more or less in power. It is understandable that this international shift occurred when it is remembered that many of the contributing factors as (discussed previously) to the breakdown of Keynes (an internationally accepted economic doctrine) were international pressures, and the ideas of the New Right were engaged in an international ‘campaign’ for their ideas to be accepted. The impact of Mrs Thatcher would have not been as great if this international context had been different, indeed as most Western countries began to move back towards their previous position, Mrs Thatcher begun to lose a great deal more of her popularity. Mrs Thatcher certainly had more of an impact than other right wing leaders, for example, no other country experienced such a large shift of public companies into the private sector or underwent such scathing reforms of the Civil Service.
The impact of Thatcherism from a liberal perspective was not as large as it could have been.. Liberals are committed to the individual enjoying the benefits of their labour. Mrs Thatcher went some way to allowing this but the traditions of the Conservative party which are still strong on the most dynamic leaders means it is impossible to reach the full Liberal potential. therefore, for Liberals, Mrs Thatcher had a limited impact on British government and Politics.
From a Conservative point of view, the impact is very large. Traditionally, the Conservatives have stood for pragmatism, not ideology; slow evolutionary social change; a general distrust of legislative innovation; and a safeguard to economic and professional interests. As can be seen, Mrs Thatcher did not stand for any of these ideals and therefore can be seen as a large impact on British politics.
From a New Right point of view, it was understood that their policies were hard to put in place. the best way to overcome this is to change public opinion, as already discussed, this did not occur. Therefore, from a New Right perspective, Mrs Thatcher did as well as she could be expected but could theoretically have done better.
Following Mrs Thatchers’ downfall in 1990, it is now possible to see what is left of Thatcherism. John Major was supported by Mrs Thatchers’ supporters and all those against Michael Heseltine. He was seen as the person most likely to unify the party and win the next General election. He has kept a number of Mrs Thatchers’ policies, most notably de-nationalisation. He was perceived as more positive towards the Welfare State and was better trusted with education and health policy. His vision of a ‘classless’ society showed a more consensual approach to government. His scraping of the Poll tax and negotiating the Maastricht Treaty gained him a lot of support.
The continuities in John Majors’ policies include further de-nationalisation, with British Rail, the Coal Mines, the Post Office and of course the recent Electricity producing companies; he has increased the opportunity for schools to opt out of local control and Next Steps has been continued. Although he is viewed as less aggressive towards the Trades Unions, it was under Major that the National Economic and Development Council (NEDC) – a symbol of the Tripartite period – was finally abolished. These policies can be seen to be some of the central policies of Mrs Thatcher, what is of significant difference is Mr Majors’ approach to leadership being much more consultative and quicker to back down, e.g. the closure of the coal pits; which have led calls of him being weak.
The Labour party has embrace a number of Mrs Thatchers’ policies in order to become electable, the main themes of these include; the sale of council houses, the marginalisation of the Trades Unions; an acceptance of the Next Steps reforms, the de-nationalisation process and the move away from full employment as their main economic objective (clearly shown by the rewriting of Clause IV).
Mrs Thatcher came to power in 1979 and became the longest serving Prime Minister of the Twentieth century. What makes her interesting is she brought with her an ideological break with the past and a large project to change nearly every aspect of Britain in the belief that it would make the country great again. Her confrontational style of leadership is an important factor of Mrs Thatchers’ legacy. She still has a large impact on British politics; Many of the ideas first put forward as a coherent ideology by Mrs Thatcher remain central to the political agenda, these include the reform of the Civil Service and local authorities, her privatisation policies and the reform of the Trades Unions. She did have a number of failures, the most significant being the Poll Tax, even so reform of the old rates system was finally accepted by all. However the conclusion remains that Mrs Thatcher came to power with set of unpopular ideas but yet still managed to have them acted upon and a number of them incorporated onto the main agenda. For this reason, Mrs Thatcher did have a significant impact on British Government and Politics.