Firstly, I would highlight the fact that conservative ideology in modern Britain is, although marginally ‘top-right’, predominantly centrist. Thatcherism, on the other hand, was more strongly placed in the ‘top-right’. It could be argue that Thatcherism has altered conservative ideology in Britain in many ways The first of these ways would be that the Conservatives place the free-market very highly in their value system, striving for economic competition and independence.
The idea that Britain should hold a free-market or strongly right-wing mixed economy was famously held by Thatcher; this moulded the conservative way of thinking to move along the same lines. However, it could also be argued that Thatcher has not had much of an effect for reasons against the one above. The Conservatives, historically, have valued competition; it could therefore be argued that, had Thatcher not come into power, Conservative economic ideology may have gone this way anyway.
Some might argue against this point, saying that Thatcher did alter conservative ideology in this sense because she acted as a catalyst for Conservative economic policy. Another argument against that of Thatcherism altering conservative ideology in Britain is to point out that Thatcher developed an absolute faith in the market, she believed in market fundamentalism. This is not the case in current conservative ideology, arguably.
Due to the current economic situation in Britain, it would not make sense for conservatives to put their absolute faith in the markets, and modern conservatives do not see the market as being morally or practically superior to government. In contention with this argument, many would argue that although Margaret Thatcher was a Neoliberal thinker and politician, she didn’t hold market fundamentalist views, or not to the extreme by which they are commonly understood.
Some might argue that the authoritarian nature of Thatcherite politics show that Thatcher may have placed government control in certain aspects of politics over economic freedom and competition. Primarily, Thatcherism strived to escape traditionalism within the Conservative party; setting out a new ideological stance.
Arguably, it could be said that Thatcherism has altered conservative ideology in the sense that Thatcher’s movement was seen to be a reaction to the events of the 1970s. The electoral failure of the Heath government led to overwhelming calls in the party for a change of direction. It could be argued that since Thatcher there has been no overwhelming change from her way of thinking in the conservative party, thus meaning Thatcherism still lies at the heart of conservative ideology.
However, this statement could be contested in arguing that the Third Way movement of New Labour meant that conservative ideology had to change and move more central, although I would argue that this was not an overwhelming transition, it could be said that the modern Conservative party have made a distinct move away from Thatcherite ideology and settled within modern, central, Third Way ideology; this may show how Thatcherism has not altered conservative ideology. It could also be argued, however, that Thatcherism has indirectly altered conservative ideology in Britain.
The extremities of Thatcher’s ideology meant that the Conservatives felt the need to detach themselves from Thatcherite thinking. In this sense, many might argue the fact that this indirect effect has changed conservative ideology, therefore fortifying the statement given. The fact, however, that this change was not a direct one may mean that it could not be argued that Thatcherism has fundamentally altered conservative ideology, even if it has had a minor effect.
Another reason why one might argue that Thatcherism has fundamentally altered conservative ideology in Britain is in the remaining presence of fundamental, core conservative values such as the nuclear family and individuality within modern conservative politics. Concentration on the nuclear family and policies surrounding that, such as the policy to provide ‘Tax breaks to promote marriage and civil partnerships’ could also be seen to provide evidence for Thatcherism altering conservative ideology on areas such as the family.
However, some might argue that the ‘civil partnerships’ part of this policy may be evidence of a new breed of conservatism; one that is more socially viable and inclusive. Some may have criticised Thatcherism in the past for being elitist and too old-fashioned; policies promoting civil partnerships do not run alongside these views, possibly proving that Thatcherism has not altered, or at least influenced, conservative ideology in Britain.
Finally; Thatcher’s distinct, rhetorical hostility towards the EEC (European Economic Community) and the general ‘European project’ can be seen to have had an impact in altering conservative ideology in Britain. For example, Cameron’s recent ‘opt-out’ of the EU treaty creating more EU integration for members using the Euro, can be seen as a clear sense of British patriotism and possibly the British nationalist sentiment of which Thatcher appeared to posses. This could be argued to have been a clear influence of Thatcherism as it portrays pragmatism and clear implementation of the traditional conservative viewpoint on the EEC and EU.
However, some may argue that the fact that Cameron decided to remain a full member of the EU is a step away from traditional Thatcherism and defines a new standard in European policy in British conservative politics. On the other hand, it could also be stated that it would not be viable for Cameron to exclude Britain from the EU in the current socio-economic climate and Cameron; although his ideology and conservative ideals may wish otherwise; must remain a full member of the European Union in order to influence European economic and defend our currency and economy.
To conclude, I would point out that although Thatcherism has directly altered conservative ideology in Britain in some aspects; it could not be said that Cameronite conservative ideology has been altered indirectly. Whether this may be in making a conscious diversion away from certain extreme aspects of Thatcherite belief or simply altering Thatcherite ideology itself to suit modern politics, it can be seen clearly that certain aspects of Thatcherism have altered conservative ideology in Britain; thus I would agree with the statement given.