Thatcherism describes the conviction, economic, social and political
style of the British Conservative Party politician Margaret Thatcher,
who was leader of her party from 1975 to 1990. It has also been used
to describe the beliefs of the British government under
Prime Minister from 1979 to 1990 and beyond into the governments of
Tony Blair and David Cameron. An exponent of
Thatcherism is regarded as a Thatcherite.
Thatcherism represented a
systematic, decisive rejection and reversal of the post-war consensus,
whereby the major political parties largely agreed on the central
themes of Keynesianism, the welfare state, nationalised industry and
close regulation of the British economy. There was one major
exception: the National Health Service, which was widely popular. In
1982, she promised the British people that the NHS is "safe in our
Both the exact terms of what makes up
Thatcherism as well as its
specific legacy in terms of British history over the past decades are
controversial. In terms of ideology,
Thatcherism has been described by
Nigel Lawson, Thatcher's
Chancellor of the Exchequer
Chancellor of the Exchequer from 1983 to
1989, as a political platform emphasising free markets with restrained
government spending and tax cuts coupled with
British nationalism both
at home and abroad.
The Daily Telegraph
The Daily Telegraph stated in April 2008 that
the programme of the next non-Conservative British government, Tony
Blair's administration with an emphasis on New Labour, basically
accepted the central reform measures of
Thatcherism such as
deregulation, privatisation of key national industries, maintaining a
flexible labour market, marginalising the trade unions and
centralising power from local authorities to central government.
Thatcherism before Thatcher
Thatcherism as a form of government
2 Economic positions
2.1 Thatcherite economics
Trade union legislation
3 Domestic and social positions
3.1 Thatcherite morality
3.2 Sermon on the Mound
4 Foreign policy
5 Dispute over the term
7 Thatcher's legacy
8 See also
11 External links
This article is part of
a series about
MP for Finchley
Public Bodies (Admission to Meetings) Act
Secretary of State for Education and Science
Withdrawal of school milk
1975 leadership election
Prime Minister of the United Kingdom
First Ministry and Term
Iranian Embassy siege
"The lady's not for turning"
1981 England riots
Irish hunger strike
Ministers and policies
"wets" and "dries"
Right to Buy
Local Government Act 1985
Second Ministry and Term
Third Ministry and Term
1989 leadership challenge
Poll tax riots
1990 leadership challenge and resignation
The Downing Street Years
The Path to Power
Free markets, financial discipline, firm control over public
expenditure, tax cuts, nationalism, "Victorian values" (of the Samuel
Smiles self-help variety), privatisation and a dash of populism.
— Nigel Lawson's definition of Thatcherism.
Thatcherism attempts to promote low inflation, the small state and
free markets through tight control of the money supply, privatisation
and constraints on the labour movement. It is often compared with
Reaganomics in the United States, economic rationalism in Australia
Rogernomics in New Zealand and as a key part of the worldwide
economic liberal movement. Nigel Lawson, Thatcher's Chancellor of the
Exchequer from 1983 to 1989, listed the Thatcherite ideals as "free
markets, financial discipline, firm control over public expenditure,
tax cuts, nationalism, 'Victorian values' (of the Samuel Smiles
self-help variety), privatisation and a dash of populism".
Thatcherism is thus often compared to classical liberalism. Milton
Friedman said that "
Margaret Thatcher is not in terms of belief a
Tory. She is a nineteenth-century Liberal".
Thatcher herself stated
in 1983: "I would not mind betting that if Mr Gladstone were alive
today he would apply to join the Conservative Party". In the 1996
Keith Joseph memorial lecture,
Thatcher argued: "The kind of
Conservatism which he and I ... favoured would be best described
as 'liberal', in the old-fashioned sense. And I mean the liberalism of
Mr Gladstone, not of the latter day collectivists". However,
Thatcher once told Friedrich Hayek: "I know you want me to become a
Whig; no, I am a Tory". Hayek believed "she has felt this very
However, the relationship between
Thatcherism and liberalism is
complicated. Thatcher's former Defence Secretary
John Nott claimed
that "it is a complete misreading of her beliefs to depict her as a
nineteenth-century Liberal". As Ellen Meiksins Wood has argued,
Thatcherite capitalism was compatible with traditional British
political institutions. As Prime Minister,
Thatcher did not challenge
ancient institutions such as the monarchy or the House of Lords, but
some of the most recent additions such as the trade unions.
Indeed, many leading Thatcherites, including
Thatcher herself, went on
to join the House of Lords, an honour which Gladstone, for instance,
Thinkers closely associated with
Thatcherism include Keith Joseph,
Friedrich Hayek and Milton Friedman. In an interview
Simon Heffer in 1996,
Thatcher stated that the two greatest
influences on her as Conservative leader had been Joseph and Powell,
who were both "very great men".
Thatcher was a strong critic of communism,
Marxism and socialism. She
made several references about them during her speeches and personal
statements. In 1977, she famously declared in a statement: "My job is
to stop Britain going red".
Thatcherism before Thatcher
A number of commentators have traced the origins of
post-war British politics. The historian Ewen Green claimed there was
resentment of the inflation, taxation and the constraints imposed by
the labour movement, which was associated with the so-called
Buttskellite consensus in the decades before
Thatcher came to
prominence. Although the Conservative leadership accommodated itself
Clement Attlee government's post-war reforms, there was
continuous right-wing opposition in the lower ranks of the party, in
right-wing pressure groups like the Middle Class Alliance and the
People's League for the Defence of Freedom and later in think tanks
like the Centre for Policy Studies. For example, in 1945 the
Conservative Party chairman Ralph Assheton had wanted 12,000 abridged
The Road to Serfdom
The Road to Serfdom (a book by the anti-socialist economist
Friedrich Hayek later closely associated with Thatcherism), taking
up one-and-a-half tons of the party's paper ration, distributed as
election propaganda. The historian Dr. Christopher Cooper has also
traced the formation of the monetarist economics at the heart of
Thatcherism back to the resignation of Conservative Chancellor of the
Peter Thorneycroft in 1958.
Thatcherism is often described as a libertarian ideology.
herself as creating a libertarian movement, rejecting
Thatcherism is associated with libertarianism
within the Conservative Party, albeit one of libertarian ends
achieved by using strong and sometimes authoritarian leadership.
British political commentator
Andrew Marr has called libertarianism
the "dominant, if unofficial, characteristic of Thatcherism".
However, whereas some of her heirs, notably
Michael Portillo and Alan
Duncan, embraced this libertarianism, others in the Thatcherite
movement, such as John Redwood, sought to become more
Some commentators have argued that
Thatcherism should not be
considered properly libertarian. Noting the tendency towards strong
central government in matters concerning the trade unions and local
Andrew Gamble summarised
Thatcherism as "the free economy
and the strong state".
Simon Jenkins accused the Thatcher
government of carrying out a nationalisation of Britain.
Libertarian political theorist
Murray Rothbard did not consider
Thatcherism to be libertarian and heavily criticised
Thatcherism stating that "
Thatcherism is all too similar to Reaganism:
free-market rhetoric masking statist content".
Thatcherism as a form of government
Main articles: Premiership of
Margaret Thatcher and List of ministers
under Margaret Thatcher
Another important aspect of
Thatcherism is the style of governance.
Britain in the 1970s was often referred to as "ungovernable". Thatcher
attempted to redress this by centralising a great deal of power to
herself, as the Prime Minister, often bypassing traditional cabinet
structures (such as cabinet committees). This personal approach also
became identified with personal toughness at times such as the
Falklands War, the IRA bomb at the Conservative conference and the
miners' strike.
Sir Charles Powell, the Foreign Affairs Private Secretary to the Prime
Minister (1984–1991 and 1996) described her style thus: "I've always
thought there was something Leninist about Mrs
Thatcher which came
through in the style of government: the absolute determination, the
belief that there's a vanguard which is right and if you keep that
small, tightly knit team together, they will drive things
through ... there's no doubt that in the 1980s, No. 10 could beat
the bushes of Whitehall pretty violently. They could go out and really
confront people, lay down the law, bully a bit".
Graph showing the annual UK GDP growth with the
(1979–1990) highlighted, depicting the economic turnaround
Part of the
Politics series on
Company and Corporation
Foreign direct investment
Free trade (area)
Harmonisation of law
Negative income tax
Private finance initiative
Gross domestic product
Association of Southeast
Asian Nations (ASEAN)
Greater Arab Free
Trade Area (GAFTA)
International Monetary Fund
North American Free Trade
Criticism of intellectual property
Perspectives on capitalism
Critique of capitalism
Thatcherism is associated with the economic theory of monetarism. In
contrast to previous government policy, monetarism placed a priority
on controlling inflation over controlling unemployment. According to
monetarist theory, inflation is the result of there being too much
money in the economy. It was claimed that the government should seek
to control the money supply to control inflation. However, by 1979 it
was not only the Thatcherites who were arguing for stricter control of
inflation. The Labour Chancellor
Denis Healey had already adopted some
monetarist policies, such as reducing public spending and selling off
the government's shares in BP.
Moreover, it has been argued that the Thatcherites were not strictly
monetarist in practice. A common theme centres on the Medium Term
financial Strategy, issued in the 1980 Budget, which consisted of
targets for reducing the growth of the money supply in the following
years. After overshooting many of these targets, the Thatcher
government revised the targets upwards in 1982. Analysts have
interpreted this as an admission of defeat in the battle to control
the money supply. The economist C. F. Pratten claimed that "since
1984, behind a veil of rhetoric, the government has lost any faith it
had in technical monetarism. The money supply, as measured by £M3,
has been allowed to grow erratically, while calculation of the PSBR is
held down by the ruse of subtracting the proceeds of privatisation as
well as taxes from government expenditure. The principles of
monetarism have been abandoned".
Thatcherism is also associated with supply-side economics. Whereas
Keynesian economics holds that the government should stimulate
economic growth by increasing demand through increased credit and
public spending, supply-side economists argue that the government
should instead intervene only to create a free market by lowering
taxes, privatising state industries and increasing restraints on trade
Trade union legislation
Further information: UK miners' strike (1984–85)
Opposition to trade unions
Opposition to trade unions and History of trade unions in
the United Kingdom
Reduction in the power of the trades unions was made gradually, unlike
the approach of the
Edward Heath government and the greatest single
confrontation with the unions was the National Union of Mineworkers
(NUM) strike of 1984–1985, in which the miners' union was eventually
defeated. There is evidence that this confrontation with the trade
unions was anticipated by both the Conservative Party and the NUM. The
outcome contributed to the resurgence of the power of capital over
Domestic and social positions
Thatcherism is associated with a conservative stance on morality.
The Marxist sociologist and founder of the New Left Review, Stuart
Hall, for example, argued that
Thatcherism should be viewed as an
ideological project promoting "authoritarian populism" since it is
known for its reverence of "Victorian values". The Social Democrat
David Marquand claimed that
"authoritarian populist" sentiment in 1970s Britain: "Go back, you
flower people, back where you came from, wash your hair, get dressed
properly, get to work on time and stop all this whingeing and
moaning".[non-primary source needed] Norman Tebbit, a close ally
of Thatcher, laid out in a 1985 lecture what he thought to be the
permissive society that conservatives should oppose.[relevant? –
Bad art was as good as good art. Grammar and spelling were no longer
important. To be clean was no better than to be filthy. Good manners
were no better than bad. Family life was derided as an outdated
bourgeois concept. Criminals deserved as much sympathy as their
victims. Many homes and classrooms became disorderly; if there was
neither right nor wrong there could be no basis for punishment or
reward. Violence and soft pornography became accepted in the media.
Thus was sown the wind; and we are now reaping the whirlwind.
Examples of this conservative morality in practice include the video
nasties scare, where in reaction to a moral panic over the
availability of a number of provocatively named horror films on video
cassette she introduced state regulation of the British video market
for the first time. Despite her association with social conservatism,
Thatcher voted in 1966 to legalise homosexuality. That same year,
she also voted in support of legal abortion. However, in the 1980s
during her time as Prime Minister, Thatcher's government enacted
Section 28, a law that opposed promotion of homosexuality by local
authorities and the promotion of the teaching of "the acceptability of
homosexuality as a pretended family relationship" in schools. The law
was opposed by many gay rights advocates such as Stonewall and
OutRage! and was later repealed by Tony Blair's Labour government in
Thatcher was one of only a handful of Conservatives to vote
for the Sexual Offences Act 1967.
Conservative Prime Minister
David Cameron later issued an official
apology for previous Conservative policies on homosexuality,
specifically the introduction of the controversial
Section 28 laws
from the 1980s, viewing past ideological views as "a mistake" with his
own ideological direction.
Sermon on the Mound
Main article: Sermon on the Mound
In May 1988,
Thatcher gave an address to the General Assembly of the
Church of Scotland. In the address,
Thatcher offered a theological
justification for her ideas on capitalism and the market economy. She
said "Christianity is about spiritual redemption, not social reform"
and she quoted St. Paul by saying "If a man will not work he shall not
eat". Choice played a significant part in Thatcherite reforms and
Thatcher said that choice was also Christian, stating that Jesus
Christ chose to lay down his life and that all individuals have the
God-given right to choose between good and evil.
Special Relationship §
Thatcher and Reagan
Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan, 26 February 1981
Thatcher was Prime Minister, she greatly embraced transatlantic
relations with the U.S. President Ronald Reagan. She often publicly
supported Reagan's policies even when other Western allies were not as
vocal. For example, she granted permission for American planes to use
British bases for raids on Libya and allowed American cruise missiles
and Pershing missiles to be housed on British soil in response to
Soviet deployment of SS-20 nuclear missiles targeting Britain and
other Western European nations.
Towards the end of the 1980s,
Thatcher (and so Thatcherism) became
increasingly vocal in its opposition to allowing the European
Community to supersede British sovereignty. In a famous 1988 Bruges
Thatcher declared: "We have not successfully rolled back the
frontiers of the state in Britain, only to see them reimposed at a
European level, with a European superstate exercising a new dominance
Euroscepticism has for many become a characteristic of
Thatcher was far from consistent on the issue, only
becoming truly Eurosceptic in the last years of her time as Prime
Thatcher supported Britain's entry into the European
Economic Community in 1973, campaigned for a "Yes" vote in the 1975
referendum and signed the
Single European Act
Single European Act in 1986.
Dispute over the term
It is often claimed that the word "Thatcherism" was coined by cultural
theorist Stuart Hall in a 1979
Marxism Today article, However,
this is not true as the phrase "Thatcherism" was first used by Tony
Heath in an article he wrote that appeared in Tribune on 10 August
1973. Writing as Tribune's Education Correspondent, Heath wrote: "It
will be argued that teachers are members of a profession which must
not be influenced by political considerations. With the blight of
Thatcherism spreading across the land that is a luxury that only the
complacent can afford". Although the term had in fact been
widely used before then, not all social critics have accepted the
term as valid, with the High
T. E. Utley believing
that "[t]here is no such thing as Thatcherism".
Utley contended that the term was a creation of Thatcher's enemies who
wished to damage her by claiming that she had an inflexible devotion
to a certain set of principles and also by some of her friends who had
little sympathy for what he called "the English political tradition"
because it facilitated "compromise and consensus". Utley argued that a
free and competitive economy, rather than being an innovation of
Thatcherism, was one "more or less permanent ingredient in modern
It was on that principle that Churchill fought the 1945 election,
having just read Hayek's Road to Serfdom...What brought the Tories to
13 years of political supremacy in 1951 was the slogan 'Set the people
free'...There is absolutely nothing new about the doctrinal front that
she presents on these matters...As for 'privatisation', Mr. Powell
proposed it in...1968. As for 'property-owning democracy', I believe
Anthony Eden who coined the phrase.
In foreign policy, Utley claimed Thatcher's desire to restore British
greatness did not mean "primarily a power devoted to the preservation
of its own interests", but that she belonged "to that militant Whig
branch of English Conservatism...her view of foreign policy has a high
moral content". In practical terms, he claimed this expressed itself
in her preoccupation in "the freedom of Afghanistan rather than the
security of Ulster".
Some leftist critics such as
Anthony Giddens claim that Thatcherism
was purely an ideology and argue that her policies marked a change
which was dictated more by political interests than economic reasons:
Rather than by any specific logic of capitalism, the reversal was
brought about by voluntary reductions in social expenditures, higher
taxes on low incomes and the lowering of taxes on higher incomes. This
is the reason why in Great Britain in the mid 1980s the members of the
top decile possessed more than a half of all the wealth. To
justify this by means of economic "objectivities" would be an
ideology. What is at play here are interests and power.
The Conservative historian of Peterhouse, Maurice Cowling, also
questioned the uniqueness of "Thatcherism". Cowling claimed that
Thatcher used "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". Cowling further contended that the "Conservative Party
Thatcher has used a radical rhetoric to give intellectual
respectability to what the Conservative Party has always wanted".
Historians Emily Robinson, Camilla Schofield, Florence
Sutcliffe-Braithwaite and Natalie Thomlinson have argued that by the
1970s Britons were keen about defining and claiming their individual
rights, identities and perspectives. They demanded greater personal
autonomy and self-determination and less outside control. They angrily
complained that the establishment was withholding it. They argue this
shift in concerns helped cause
Thatcherism and was incorporated into
Thatcherism claim that its successes were obtained only at
the expense of great social costs to the British population.[how?]
There were nearly 3.3 million unemployed in Britain in 1984,
compared to 1.5 million when she first came to power in 1979,
though that figure had reverted to some 1.6 million by the end of
While credited with reviving Britain's economy,
Thatcher also was
blamed for spurring a doubling in the relative poverty rate. Britain's
childhood-poverty rate in 1997 was the highest in Europe. When she
resigned in 1990, 28% of the children in Great Britain were considered
to be below the poverty line, a number that kept rising to reach a
peak of nearly 30% during the government of Thatcher's successor, John
Major. During her government, Britain's
Gini coefficient reflected
this growing difference, going from 0.25 in 1979 to 0.34 in 1990, at
about which value it remained for the next 20 years, under both
Conservative and Labour governments.
Margaret Thatcher § Political impact
The majority of Thatcher's reforms were retained by
New Labour and in
2002 she is said to have regarded that as her greatest achievement
The extent to which one can say
Thatcherism has a continuing influence
on British political and economic life is unclear. In 2002, Peter
Mandelson, a member of parliament belonging to the British Labour
Party closely associated with Tony Blair, famously declared that "we
are all Thatcherites now".
In reference to modern British political culture, it could be said
that a "post-Thatcherite consensus" exists, especially in regards to
economic policy. In the 1980s, the now defunct Social Democratic Party
adhered to a "tough and tender" approach in which Thatcherite reforms
were coupled with extra welfare provision. Neil Kinnock, leader of the
Labour Party from 1983 to 1992, initiated Labour's rightward shift
across the political spectrum by largely concurring with the economic
policies of the
Thatcher governments. The
New Labour governments of
Tony Blair and
Gordon Brown were described as "neo-Thatcherite" by
some on the left, since many of their economic policies mimicked those
Most of the major British political parties today accept the trade
union legislation, privatisations and general free market approach to
government that Thatcher's governments installed. At preset, no major
political party in the United Kingdom is committed to reversing the
Thatcher government's reforms of the economy, although in the
aftermath of the
Great Recession from 2007 to 2012 the then Labour
Ed Miliband had indicated he would support stricter
financial regulation and industry focused policy in a move to
a more mixed economy. In 2011, Miliband declared his support for
Thatcher's reductions in income tax on top earners, her legislation to
change the rules on the closed shop and strikes before ballots as well
as her introduction of Right to Buy, claiming Labour had been wrong to
oppose these reforms at the time.
Moreover, the United Kingdom's comparative macroeconomic performance
has improved since the implementation of Thatcherite economic
Thatcher resigned as British Prime Minister in 1990,
British economic growth was on average higher than the other large
European economies (i.e. Germany, France and Italy). Additionally,
since the beginning of the 2000s the United Kingdom has also possessed
lower unemployment, by comparison with the other big economies. Such
an enhancement in relative macroeconomic performance is perhaps
another reason for the apparent "Blatcherite" economic consensus,
which has been present in modern UK politics for a number of
Tony Blair wrote in his 2010 autobiography
A Journey that "Britain
needed the industrial and economic reforms of the
Thatcher period". He
described Thatcher's efforts as "ideological, sometimes unnecessarily
so" while also stating that "much of what she wanted to do in the
1980s was inevitable, a consequence not of ideology but of social and
On the occasion of the 25th anniversary of Thatcher's 1979 election
BBC conducted a survey of opinions which opened with the
To her supporters, she was a revolutionary figure who transformed
Britain's stagnant economy, tamed the unions and re-established the
country as a world power. Together with US presidents Reagan and Bush,
she helped bring about the end of the Cold War. But her 11-year
premiership was also marked by social unrest, industrial strife and
high unemployment. Her critics claim British society is still feeling
the effect of her divisive economic policies and the culture of greed
and selfishness they allegedly promoted.
Political positions of David Cameron
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^ SEXUAL OFFENCES (No. 2) (Hansard, 5 July 1966)
^ MEDICAL TERMINATION OF PREGNANCY BILL (Hansard, 22 July 1966)
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^ Local Government Act 2003 (c. 26) – Statute Law Database
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^ Giddens 1993, 233
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Late in 2002 Lady
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was her greatest achievement. She replied, "
Tony Blair and New Labour.
We forced our opponents to change their minds."
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The dictionary definition of
Thatcherism at Wiktionary
What is Thatcherism?.
What is Thatcherism?. Brit Politics.
Prime Minister of the United Kingdom
Prime Minister of the United Kingdom (1979–1990)
Leader of the Conservative Party (1975–1990)
MP for Finchley (1959–1992)
Member of Parliament
Public Bodies (Admission to Meetings) Act 1960
wets and dries
First ministry (1979–1983)
Second ministry (1983–1987)
Third ministry (1987–1990)
2nd & 3rd term
1981 United Kingdom budget
1981 Irish hunger strike
"The lady's not for turning"
Brighton hotel bombing
Opposition to trade unions
1984–85 miners' strike
Local Government Act
Sermon on the Mound
1988 broadcasting restrictions
poll tax riots
The Downing Street Years
The Downing Street Years (1993 autobiography)
The Path to Power (1995 memoir)
Statecraft: Strategies for a Changing World (2003)
Denis Thatcher (husband)
Mark Thatcher (son)
Carol Thatcher (daughter)
Alfred Roberts (father)
Thatcher: The Final Days (1991 film)
The Falklands Play
The Falklands Play (2002 play)
Pinochet in Suburbia (2006 docudrama)
The Long Walk to Finchley (2008 film)
The Iron Lady (film)
The Hunt for
Tony Blair (2011 episode)
In Search of La Che
In Search of La Che (2011 film)
Statue in London Guildhall
Statue in the Palace of Westminster
People's Republic of China
Klemens von Metternich
Charles de Gaulle
Alliance of European Conservatives and Reformists
Asia Pacific Democrat Union
European People's Party
International Democrat Union
List of conservative parties
Racial and ethnic variants
Sexual orientation and gender identity variants