Thatcherism


Thatcherism
   Margaret Thatcher gave her name to a set of political attitudes and a style of leadership that became known as Thatcherism. Even before coming to power she was nicknamed the ‘Iron Lady’ in Soviet media (because of her vocal opposition to communism), an appellation that stuck. The profound changes Thatcher set in motion as Prime Minister altered much of the economic and cultural landscape of the United Kingdom (UK). She curtailed the power of the trades unions, cut back the role of the state in business, dramatically expanded home ownership, and helped to create a more entrepreneurial culture. She also aimed to cut back the welfare state and foster a more flexible labour market that would create jobs and could adapt to market conditions. Exacerbated by the global recession of the early 1980s, such policies initially caused large-scale unemployment, especially in the industrial heartlands of northern England and the coalfields of South Wales, and increased wealth inequalities. However, from the mid-1980s, a period of sustained economic growth occurred that led to an improvement in the UK’s economic performance for which supporters of Margaret Thatcher claim she was responsible. They also laud her policy of privatisation as part of a drive to introduce popular capitalism.
   In foreign relations, she supported the ‘special relationship’ with the United States and formed a close bond with Ronald Reagan. In 1982 her Government dispatched a Royal Navy task force to retake the Falkland Islands from Argentina in the Falklands War. Her role as war-leader enabled her to adopt the Churchillian mantle and hone her developing image as a strong, formidable leader. She became increasingly antagonistic towards the European Union (then Community) as her premiership developed, her views being set out in her Bruges speech. There has always been debate as to whether
   Thatcherism was more a matter of style or substance. The strength of her personality and the rhetoric she employed made it sound as though she were an agent of fundamental transformation. For all of her single-mindedness and clear vision of what she wanted to achieve, she was not totally inflexible and did not always go as far in shifting the direction of policy as she might have wished. She had a shrewd sense of what the public would accept, a quality that only failed her over the introduction of the community charge.
   Further reading: A. Gamble, The Free Economy and the Strong State: The Politics of Thatcherism, Palgrave, 1994; P. Hennessy, The Prime Minister, Allen Lane, 2000

Glossary of UK Government and Politics . 2013.