Thatcherism is the system of political thought attributed to the governments of Margaret Thatcher, British Prime Minister from 1979 to 1990. Thatcher was unusual among British Conservative Prime Ministers in that she was a highly ideological leader — she once slammed a copy of Friedrich Hayek's "The Constitution of Liberty" down on a table during a Shadow Cabinet meeting, saying, "This is what we believe."

Thatcher became Prime Minister with a mandate to reverse the UK's economic decline. Thatcher's political and economic philosophy emphasised reduced state intervention, free markets, and entrepreneurialism.


"Thatcherism" is supposedly characterized by decreased state intervention via the free market economy, monetarist economic policy, privatisation of state-owned industries, lower direct taxation and higher indirect taxation, opposition to trade unions, and a reduction of the size of the Welfare State. "Thatcherism" may be compared with Reaganomics in the United States, Rogernomics in New Zealand and Economic Rationalism in Australia . Thatcher was deeply in favour of individualism over collectivism, with self-help as a mantra.

Thinkers closely associated with Thatcherism include Keith Joseph, Enoch Powell, Friedrich Hayek and Milton Friedman. In an interview with Simon Heffer in 1996 Mrs. Thatcher stated that the two greatest influences on her as Conservative leader had been Joseph and Powell, "both of them very great men". [cite book |author=Simon Heffer |title=Like the Roman: The Life of Enoch Powell |publisher=Phoenix |year=1999 |pages=p. 958 |isbn=075380820X]

Friedman once said: "the thing that people do not recognise is that Margaret Thatcher is not in terms of belief a Tory. She is a nineteenth-century Liberal." ["The Observer", 29 September 1982] Mrs. Thatcher believed in economic liberalism and stated in 1983 that "We have a duty to make sure that every penny piece we raise in taxation is spent wisely and well. For it is our party which is dedicated to good housekeeping—indeed, I would not mind betting that if Mr. Gladstone were alive today he would apply to join the Conservative Party". [ [ Speech to Conservative Party Conference (14 October 1983)] ] In the 1996 Keith Joseph memorial lecture Mrs. Thatcher argued that "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". [ [ Keith Joseph Memorial Lecture (11 January 1996)] ]

Nigel Lawson, Mrs. Thatcher's Chancellor of the Exchequer from 1983 to 1989, has defined Thatcherism as:

Against the trade unions

Reduction in the power of the trades unions was made gradually, unlike the approach of the Heath Government, and the greatest single confrontation with the unions was the NUM strike of 1984 to 1985, in which the union eventually had to concede. While Thatcher's confrontational tactics with the unions were part of a broader economic plan that in the long term ultimately benefited the economic state of the United Kingdom, they destroyed the 'post-war consensus' of British politics. Both Thatcher's approach to industrial relations and the behaviour of the trades unions in the 1970s accelerated the departure from the British tradition of voluntarism (based on contract law), bringing more and more aspects of labour relations into the sphere of government. This process was adopted under the New Labour government of Tony Blair (1997-2007).

ermon 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 claimed "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 claimed choice was also Christian by stating that Christ chose to lay down his life and that all individuals have the God-given right to choose between good and evil.


Towards the end of the 1980s Margaret Thatcher, and so Thatcherism, became increasingly vocal in its opposition to allowing the European Union to supersede British sovereignty. In her famous 1988 Bruges speech, Thatcher declared that "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 from Brussels."

Thatcherism as a form of government

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 a certain toughness at times such as the Falklands War, the IRA bomb at the Conservative conference and the Miner's Strike.

Sir Charles Powell, the Foreign Affairs Private Secretary to the Prime Minister (1984-91, 96) 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". [cite book |author=Peter Hennessy |title=The Prime Minister: The Office and its Holders since 1945 |publisher=Penguin |year=2001 |pages=p. 397 |isbn=0140283935]

Dispute over the use and meaning of the term

The term "Thatcherism" was coined by one of her critics, the sociologist and head of Birmingham School Stuart Hall, in his article "The Great Moving Right Show" on Marxism Today magazine. [Stuart Hall, [ The Great Moving Right Show] , Marxism Today, January 1979] [cite book |author=James Procter |title=Stuart Hall |publisher=Routledge |year=2004 |pages=p. 98 |isbn=0415262666] However, not all social critics have accepted the term as valid, with the High Tory journalist T. E. Utley believing that "There is no such thing as Thatcherism." [ T. E. Utley, 'Monstrous invention', "The Spectator", 9 August 1986.] Utley contended that the term was a creation of Mrs. 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, "for cultural and sometimes ethnic reasons " had little sympathy with what he described as the "English political tradition." Thatcher was not an ideologue, Utley further argued, but a pragmatic politician; giving examples of her refusal to radically reform the welfare state and the need to avoid a miners' strike in 1981 at a time when the Government was not ready to handle it.

On another hand some claim that Thatcherism was moved actually by pure ideology and that her policies marked a turning point in economic policies which were dictated more by reasons of political power and interests than actually by economic reasons:

The Conservative historian of Peterhouse, Maurice Cowling, also questioned the uniqueness of "Thatcherism". Cowling claimed that Mrs. 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 under Mrs. Thatcher has used a radical rhetoric to give intellectual respectability to what the Conservative Party has always wanted." [cite book |author=Maurice Cowling |title=Mill and Liberalism: Second Edition |publisher=Cambridge University Press |year=1990 |pages=pp. xxvii-xxviii |isbn=0521388724]


Critics of Thatcherism claim that its successes were obtained only at the expense of great social costs to the British population. Industrial production fell sharply during Thatcher's government, which critics believe increased unemployment — which tripled during her premiership. 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 30% in 1994 during the Conservative government of John Major, who succeeded Thatcher.cite web |author=Nelson, Emily and Whalen, Jeanne |url= |title=With U.S. Methods, Britain Posts Gains In Fighting Poverty |publisher=The Wall Street Journal Online |date=December 22, 2006 |accessdate=2007-10-18]

While credited with reviving Britain's economy, Mrs. Thatcher also was blamed for spurring a doubling in the poverty rate. Britain's childhood-poverty rate in 1997 was the highest in Europe.

During her government Britain's Gini coefficient increased, going from 0.25 in 1979 to 0.34 in 1990. [cite web |url= |format=PDF |author=Shephard, Andrew |title=Income Inequality under the Labour Government |work=Briefing Note No. 33 |publisher=Institute for Fiscal Studies |year=2003|accessdate=2007-10-18 p. 4.]

Thatcher's legacy

The extent to which one can say 'Thatcherism' has a continuing influence on British political and economic life is unclear. In 2001, 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." [cite web|url=,9061,730718,00.html|title=Mandelson: we are all Thatcherites now|publisher=The Guardian|date=2002-06-10|accessdate=2006-09-15]

In reference to contemporary 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 1983-1992, 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 have been described as "neo-Thatcherite" by some, since many of their economic policies mimic those of Thatcher. [cite web|url=|title=New Labour Neo-Thatcherite|publisher=New Statesman|date=2005-06-06|accessdate=2007-04-01]

Most of the major British political parties today accept the anti-trade union legislation, privatisations and general free market approach to government that Thatcher's governments installed. No major political party in the UK, at present, is committed to reversing the Thatcher governments reforms of the economy. Such a convergence of policy is one reason that the British electorate perceive few apparent differences in policy between the major political parties.Fact|date=March 2007

Moreover, the UK's comparative macroeconomic performance has improved since the implementation of Thatcherite economic policies. Since Thatcher resigned as British Prime Minister in 1990, UK economic growth was on average higher than the other large EU economies (,i.e. Germany, France and Italy). Additionally, since the beginning of the 2000's, the UK has also possessed lower unemployment, by comparison with the other big EU 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 years.

On the occasion of the 25th anniversary of Thatcher's inauguration, BBC conducted a survey of opinions which opened with the following comments:

Quote|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. [cite web |url= |title=Evaluating Thatcher's legacy |publisher=BBC News |date=2004-05-04|accessdate=2007-10-18]

ee also

*Margaret Thatcher
*Conservative Party (UK)
*Welfare state
*Labour Party (UK)
*Economic liberalism
*Liberal Democrats



*Anthony Giddens, "Sociology" (5th Edition, Cambridge: Polity Press, 2006 - ISBN 074563379X )
*Andrew Gamble, "The Free Economy and the Strong State: The Politics of Thatcherism" (Palgrave Macmillan, 1994).
*Sir Ian Gilmour, "Dancing with Dogma: Thatcherite Britain in the Eighties" (Simon & Schuster, 1992).
*Stuart Hall and Martin Jacques (1983), "The Politics of Thatcherism" (London: Lawrence and Wishart).
*Bob Jessop et al (1988), "Thatcherism: A Tale of Two Nations" (Cambridge: Polity).
*Dennis Kavanagh, "Thatcherism and British Politics: The End of Consensus?" (Oxford University Press, 1990).
*Shirley Robin Letwin, "The Anatomy of Thatcherism" (Flamingo, 1992).
*Kenneth Minogue and Michael Biddiss, "Thatcherism: Personality and Politics" (Palgrave Macmillan, 1987).
*Robert Skidelsky (ed.), "Thatcherism" (Blackwell, 1989).
*Peter Hennessy, 'The Prime Minister: The Job and Its Holders Since 1945' (Penguin Books, 2000)

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