Monday, February 26, 2007

Was Thatcher really a Thatcherite?

Following on from my earlier post about Prime Ministerial legacies, I've been reminded that whilst it is no secret that the Thatcher government did many things the left don’t approve of, it is more surprising that there is a lot that can be said against it from a right wing perspective.

Both Thatcherite and Anti-Thatcherite legends tell us that between 1979 and 1990 the Thatcher government set about a continuous process of "rolling back the frontiers of the state", limiting the amount of legislation passed, aggressively promoting the private sector over the public, reducing central controls, respecting individual liberty, taking a firm course in foreign policy standing up for the UK's interests and actively defending its sovereignty, pursuing a free floating pound and so much more.

So how is this compatible with a government that shadowed the Deutshmark before signing up to the Exchange Rate Mechanism? A government which signed both the Single European Act and the Anglo-Irish Agreement? A government which time and again introduced new controls such as the Dangerous Dogs Act, or considered others such as limiting attendance at football matches to club supporters (before the industry and sanity prevailed)? A government which emasculated local government, introducing stringent central controls right down to dictating a National Curriculum and passing legislation to bar local authorities "promoting" things? A government which intervened to keep ball by ball cricket commentary on the public sector broadcaster rather than leaving it to the free market? A government that kept up a relentless stream of new legislation passed? A government which participated in the "nationalisation of blame" by making many things a matter for government and legislation, with the result that by 1990 numerous questions were asked at PMQs about subjects that in 1979 would have been considered "not a government matter"?

A government that was "the most centralizing, regulatory and interfering [government] that the country had ever had"?

Much could be said on this and there is clearly scope for a right wing critical history of the Thatcher years. But one thing is clear – Thatcher was never so strident and vocal in her early years in power. It was only towards the end of the 1980s that the government began to sound ever more distant from the centre, and that was when things started going wrong.

The idea that strident Thatcherism was electorally successful in and of itself is also hard to maintain – the Conservatives in the 1980s repeatedly polled shares of the vote than in earlier years confined them to opposition and much soul searching. Conservative electoral success was built on a divided opposition and the ability to answer the question "Can Britain be governed" at a time when many in politics were losing their nerve. Those who presently advocate a "return to Thatcherism" or even to go further (look for example at the way certain Thatcherite groups welcomed the introduction of university tuition fees and their subsequent extension, despite there being no such fees when Thatcher was either Education Secretary or Prime Minister) would do well to ponder that.

1 comment:

C4' said...


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