What Is Thatcherism? Did It Succeed? Essay, Research Paper
1979 Margaret Thatcher took over from James Callaghan as Prime Minister. On
being appointed she appealled, in the words of Francis of Assisi for help in
bringing harmony when there is discord. For the next eleven years Margaret
Thatcher was Prime Minister winning an incredible three general elections.
During this time, though, her style was anything but harmonious. This style
and the policies that came to be associated with them came to be known as
There are several identifiable aspects of Thatcherism which helped her and
her government stay in power for so long and improve the United Kingdom so
Throughout the 1970s Britain had been subjected to a series of damaging
strikes and terrific inflation. The Tories 1979 manifesto pledged to
encourage private enterprise, lower taxes and restore power to the
individual. What Thatcherism was promising at the end of the Seventies was
the formula for renewed economic success in Britain through reinvigoration of
the supply side of the economy.
The high inflation crisis in Britain’s economy was gradually defeated under
the Thatcher government. In 1978, domestic production in the U.K. only grew
by 1% while consumer spending went up by 5%.An unacceptably high level of
inflation resulted. In the early years, the Thatcher government committed
itself to gradual reductions in the money supply and increases in various
taxes to quell inflation. These policies were monetarist. Monetarism was a
policy Thatcher believed in which distinguishes her from previous
governments. The Tories soon earned the reputation as honest and effective
inflation-fighters. As the British economy was recovering from recession in
1983, inflation fell form 20% to 4%, the lowest level in 13 years- largely as
a result of these monetarist policies.
During its years in power, the Thatcher government managed to weaken the
stranglehold labour unions held over industry and government in Britain.
Thatcher saw this as a very important part of her plans for the country.
Unions had contributed towards, or been responsible for, the downfall of
three successive governments. In 1980, 82, 84 and 88 legislation was
introduced affecting the Unions. Unions in Britain had priced many of their
members out of jobs by demanding excessive wages for insufficient output.
This had the effect of making British goods incompetitive. At first, unions
were able to hold down the Tories as they had done with previous governments.
But the government gradually piled pressure onto the unions until one of them
snapped. In 1984 the most powerful and most militant union went on strike. It
was the miners union led by a Marxist, Arthur Scargill. Thatcher had
ingeniously predicted and prepared for the strike; by stockpiling coal at power
stations the effects of the strike on the economy were minimalised. The
government had passed legislation to make striking more difficult with a
compulsory secret ballot and less effective with flying pickets being banned.
The Tories won the coal strike hands-down, and this win signalled that the
era of union supremacy in the governing of Britain came to an end. In
addition, at about the same time as the miners’ strikes, the Tories won
battles with staff at the Government Communications Headquarters. The
leashing of unions began to produce prominent signs of economic efficiency:
From 1973-9, general economic productivity amounted to 1% or so p.a. Since
then productivity has doubled, and in the manufacturing sector it has
quadrupled, due, in part to declining union clout. However, Thatcherism has
not done a thoroughly clean job in the area of unions. School teachers never
had been won over by the Tories and were threatening to strike in 1994. Also
high levels of unemployment assisted the Thatcher Tories in decreasing the
unions’ propensity to hold strikes. Thatcherism ushered 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. Heralding the
end of the tripartite coalition that had run the country since the war.
As mentioned above Thatcher believed very strongly in the freedom of the
individual and the removal of the state from the market system. So her
government started a series of massive privatisations in 1981 with British
Telecom. Thatcher also saw this as a way of stopping the inevitable conflict
of interests between owners and workers. Workers in the companies were
offered cut – price shares to encourage them to own part of the business.
This removed the need for trade unions (although most employees simply cashed
in on their shares).
Thatcher encouraged ordinary people not only to own the companies they worked
for but also to own the houses they live in. Huge numbers of council houses
were sold to their tenants. The cash generated from the sale of these houses
and the public companies served to alleviate the massive budget deficit
In the above, primarily economic areas Thatcher has devolved power to others
i.e. shareholders. Margaret Thatcher spent a lot more of her time, though,
taking power from other organisations and concentrating them in Westminster.
The most notable example of this power struggle was against local government
in general and Ken Livingstone’s GLC in particular. Thatcher also opposed
further UK integration into Europe perhaps to preserve her powers. So while
Thatcher believed in personal freedom she also believed very strongly that in
areas such as law and order or defence the government should be strong.
Mrs. Thatcher’s tenure included reforms in public spending and social
services which helped make Britain’s economy more efficient. In her first few
years of office government spending was cut by £1 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. These changes were probably necessary for even in 1983 the
government still had to borrow £3 billion.
One component of the public sector that was in need of major repair was
education. As the Thatcher government was brought in, education in Britain
had serious defects. Schools had teachers of low quality, students of low
achievement, leaking roofs and poor libraries. The Education Reform Act
released in 1988 sought to correct the situation. Under the legislation,
local politicians would no longer be automatically in charge of schools,
hence there were provisions for self-government in every secondary school and
most primary schools. Teachers would no longer be automatically in charge of
what should be taught, letting government decide course content. The
increased control of education in Mrs. Thatcher’s hands allowed her to reform
history curricula so that they contained facts as opposed to trends, and
British as opposed to foreign history. The reforms in education should also
enable the government to keep local schools on track on sober policies in the
interest of a quality education for each student, and not different learning
content and teaching styles according to the whim of each individual
locality. The Tories also showed insight into the future as Mrs. Thatcher
designated 1982 the "Information Technology Year," with an
initiative to put a desktop computer in every secondary school. This
increased control of education could, though be setting a dangerous precedent
as it stops teachers from setting their own agendas and smacks of
dictatorship-like mind control.
Thatcher also sought to re-educate the public in more subtle ways. As she was
a self – made woman who had fought her way up from grammar school she wanted
to encourage enterprise. She did this in direct ways like cutting the top
rate of income tax but also, as mentioned, through re-education; she wanted
to encourage an American style reckless pursuit of wealth for its own good.
She tried to devulgarize the nouveau-riche and remove the stigma of
It is debatable whether Thatcher had a blueprint for Britain when she came to
office or whether she just reacted to the changing stimuli of the country
with a series of responses that came to be known as Thatcherism. I believe it
was a combination of the two; she had a strong set of principles which she
made her decisions by. These principles can be identified as a belief in
individual freedom and a strong role for government defending that freedom.
So the word Thatcherism is best applied to a description of principles rather
than a description of the individual policies she used.
The most memorable and some would say brilliant aspect of Thatcherism was not
the policies she put in practice but the sheer force of her personality. She
controlled her cabinet absolutely and pursued vendettas in a quasi-immature
fashion against people who she believed might stand in her way. She was the
archetypal conviction politician who pushed through unpopular policies with
the sheer force of her personality.
The effectiveness of as prime minister must be measured with numbers in order
to build up a subjective view and not one that is swept up in the romantic
aura of her personality. From 1983-1987 real average weekly earnings were
increased by 14% while the stock-market quintupled in value. While these
figures are selective and do not represent the whole of her administration
they show that Britons should be grateful to her for improving their national
economic health, for stopping the socialist rot in our country and for
increasing the standing of Britain in the world.