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Thatcherism Notes

History Notes > British History VII (Since 1900) Notes

This is an extract of our Thatcherism document, which we sell as part of our British History VII (Since 1900) Notes collection written by the top tier of Oxford, Keble College students.

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Thatcherism Past Paper Questions:

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There is no such thing as Thatcherism apart from Conservatism. Discuss.

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'Economics is the method; the object is to change the heart and soul'. How successful was the Thatcher government in achieving these aims?

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Did Mrs Thatcher fail in her aim of transforming British society?

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How new was Thatcherism?

General: To what extent can we consider Thatcherism as a distinct political ideology?
Did she succeed in accomplishing her agenda for Britain?
------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------Historical context - 1970s

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A loose consensus emerged between parties in the post-war period but by the 1970s it had become apparent that this consensus was close to implosion. 'Crisis upon crisis' has been used to describe the 1970s. o Thatcherism should be considered as a policy of crisis management U-turns, abnegations of some aspects and concentrations of other aspects of state power and responses to pressures from those who wished to pursue a more rigorous right-wing agenda.

Kavanagh - the term consensus is a loose one. o Very real differences between the parties persisted, with similarities overlapping in a small but crucial area. o As such, ideological tensions were not extinguished, and eventually overruled consensus when the appropriate socio-economic climate developed. o Consensus essential the political ideology of an elite - did not strike a chord with the electorate, as Thatcher did. Crises can be identified in four key areas - economic, social, , industrial and governability. Economic Old forms of economic management had ceased to work.

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Breakdown over exchange rates, established Bretton Woods Quadrupling of oil prices as a result of Yom Kippur War Stagflation, a product of Keynesian economic paradigm

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Fully employment no longer attainable. 'Selesden policy' abandoned by Conservatives, consensus politics maintained, to the anger of many members of the party. Reduced taxes lead to 'Barber Boom', speculation exacerbates problems. 26% inflation by 1975. EEC trade agreements constrains economy - public expenditure continues to be cut, symbolically by Labour. IMF bailout needed in 1976 - Britain goes 'cap in hand'. Symbolically, Callaghan argues 'you cannot spend your way out of recession'. Clear change of political direction necessary.

Industrial

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TU gain membership - peak at 13 million by 1979 and increasingly militant. Labour's attempts to restrict union power fail. Series of strikes occur from 1970s. Scargill represented new, radical phase of unionism. Increasing predisposed to paralyse industry. Lose support from working-classes who suffer as a result. Culminates in 1978-9 'winter of discontent. Cemetery workers refuse to bury the dead - symbolic nadir. Hobsbawm observes a fractured and self-interested working-class. 33% of unions and working-classes vote Tory in 1979.

Social

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Debates on permissiveness continue from 1960s. 'Gay Liberation Front' and other minority demographics believe policy has not gone far enough discrimination still rampant. Internal sexism within radical groups.. Anti-permissiveness reactions; Mary Whitehouse. Cultural war - racism, 'festival of light', etc. Educational debates - comprehensivisation vs. grammar schools Welfare state no longer so relevant in light of inability to achieve full employment. Creation of a dependency culture, sub-standard housing sparks discontent fro the Left. Immigration becomes an issue. 1971 Patriality Act. National Front gain some popular following, but confined to areas of deprivation. Counter-groups challenge racist culture.

Governability

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Source of great concern in 70s. 'Who Governs Britain?' election compromises Labour's authority. Vote of no confidence, 1979. EEC questioned. Political divisions as to the benefits of membership. Grassroots Labour movement push for nationalisation of biggest 25 companies. Many leave Labour. Tories move further right - eschewal of Keynesian policy heralds end of consensus.

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Crisis also of Conservatism. Lost 4 out of 5 general elections, falling from nearly 50% of the vote in 1955 to 36% in 1974. o Running third among first time voters. 'One Nation' Toryism muted the more or less constant hostility to progressive elements of the party from backbenchers. o Middle Class Alliance and People's League for the Defence of Freedom express critical views on nationalisation and the pervasiveness of the state.

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Saunders - must be defined in this context. In office, appeals to the 'seventies crisis' proved a powerful rhetorical device, framing the actions of the Thatcher governments against a gallery of apocalyptic alternatives. o 70s became a short hand for the decade of the unburied dead, the collapse of British prestige. o Thatcher's ascent to power based, not only on opportunism (instinctive model) but on her ability to provide an effective narrative of the failures of the 1970s, as defined against her premiership.

------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------Thatcher & Thatcherism

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Distinctly personal doctrine. o Explains the frailties of the empirical/intellectual aspects of the ideology. Cultural as well as a political icon. o Emphasises the extent to which her rule was fundamentally a personal one. Skidelsky - first leader of twentieth century to lend their name to a personal belief system - legitimates personal over doctrinal.

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Nest of contradictions that prompted heavily polarised opinions. o First woman PMP, appoint only one woman in entirety of her rule. Champion of low taxation, taxation higher in 1990 than in 1979. o A consequence of her incapacity to refrain from interfering. Not the most 'Thatcherite' of politicians (Evans) intuition and self-confidence as central to leadership as ideology and doctrine.

Most crucially, a crusade against socialism. Helps to explain reactions against the crises of the 1970s, international context, focus on binding electorate to individualism. Unable to reconfigure mentalities in other areas - social liberty, etc. Hegemonic project.

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Defined by what she was against: socialism, strikes, and the Soviet Union. o As much a symptom of changes (industrial, social, etc) as was a cause. Personal aspects of Thatcher's rule suited her well for historical context.

Conviction necessary to 'vanquish socialism', desired to restore industrial spirit of 19th century.
------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------What was Thatcherism?
Traditional Conservatism

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Freeden - Ideologies not static belief systems, but consisting of certain concepts whose meaning may change and evolve over time. o Ideologies may be seen as having 'core' and 'peripheral' concepts over time, which may alter in significance or fall out of use entirely. o Thatcherism a patchwork of neo-liberal and Conservative tenets, with roots that also had very personal sources. o The political project of Thatcherism, however, had one guiding purpose: the moral (and secondarily, economic) rejuvenation of Britain, achievable through destroying Socialist principles.

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Arguments against: Thatcherism did not constitute a coherent and consistent ideology, instead must be perceived in the context of the abiding Conservative impetus for power. o Moulded by the economic pressures, political manoeuvres an electoral imperatives of its time, rhetoric a stitch-up of incompatible policies designed to appeal to all demographics at once. o Instinctive appeals to self-interest. o Jackson - 'A new weapon to be mobilised behind the Conservative Party's longstanding instinct for power'

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Bulpitt - A tradition of Conservative statecraft based on the 'relative autonomy of the centre' had been a crucial ideological tenet since the late 19th century. Restored after quarter-century of pluralism and deference.

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Cowling - Thatcherism simply promoted 'radical variations on that patriotic conjunction of freedom, authority, inequality, individualism and average decency and respectability, which had been the Conservative Party's theme since at least 1886'

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Electorally, rather than ideologically dominant Conservatism. o Elections blunt instruments for determining popular preferences on specific issues. o Thatcher never represented fully any widely held views in society. No 'unique empathy' between herself and the electorate. o Demonstrated that while Thatcherism temporarily impacted on the views of the electorate, to argue it was a persistent and deeply transformative ideology is an overstatement.

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