In 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 Thatcherism. 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 mmeasurably.
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 ere 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 ot 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 ndividual 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 ere sold to their tenants. The cash generated from the sale of these houses and the public companies served to alleviate the massive budget deficit considerably. 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 overnment 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 ate 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 bankruptcy. 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 ndividual 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 he 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.