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Were the policy intentions of the Thatcher governments assisted or hindered by the structure of the British state?

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Introduction

Were the policy intentions of the Thatcher governments assisted or hindered by the structure of the British state? Prime Minister from 1979 to 1990, Mrs Thatcher had one of the most significant, and controversial, premierships of post-war Britain. She attempted to transform Britain at political, economic and social levels. The Thatcher government considered itself 'a radical government which sought to reverse British decline'1 and Thatcher claimed that 'the balance had be tilted too far in favour of the State at the expense of individual freedom'2. The title contains two key elements: 'policy intentions' and 'the structure of the British state'. The former may be taken as the plan or purpose of the Thatcher governements to achieve their aims. Many of their fundamental objectives were outlined in their 1979 Manifesto. The latter proves more difficult to define precisely. The definition of state, given in 'The Routledge Dictionary of Politics', is 'the whole fixed political system, the set-up of authoritative and legitimately powerful roles by which we are finally controlled, ordered, and organised'3. This is to include primarily Parliament and local government. However, trade unions have represented a large proportion of the British labour force and have been integral to the functioning of the British state, so they shall also be included as part of the structure. Firstly, this essay shall consider the reasoning behind their policies and place the rise of the New Right in context. Secondly, it is necessary to analyse what exactly were their policy intentions before assessing their success. ...read more.

Middle

Financial stability was extremely important because the government wished to avoid the recession and potential depression in the 1970s and they recognised that financial stability would give an impression of political competence. Moreover, it was a fundamental principle of monetarism. Much of the shift towards monetarist principles had already occurred under the Wilson-Callaghan government so the Thatcherite policies were not as radical as perhaps suggested. It could also imply that further monetarist policies would meet less resistance from the Opposition. Although not mentioned in the 1979 Manifesto, denationalisation became a crucial part of Thatcherite policy. However, no industry strategy was devised and the restructuring of British industry was left alone by the government. Privatisation involved little consultation with relevant parties before legislation was passed, but was also passed with few amendments. The Thatcher government wanted to increase firms' international competitiveness and transparency. Given the trade unions' power during the 1960s and 1970s, the 1979 Thatcher government was initially very cautious and modest in its approach towards trade union reform. They saw the trade unions as potential obstacles to policies of redundancy and restructuring in order to increase profitability. However, the trade unions proved to be less of a hindrance to policy intentions than initially thought. Their blanket immunity was removed in 1982 and other immunities were also reduced. According to the 1990 Employment Act trade unions could be held responsible for unauthorized strike action unless they categorically opposed it. Trade unions had little impact on policy and the few consultations they had with the government were effectively futile. ...read more.

Conclusion

Profound social change was important to the government in fulfilling their policy intentions. Although not directly part of the state, social attitudes of the electorate can influence discussion and debate within Parliament and other elements of the State. The government had already proved that it could control Parliament but in order to carry out its policies, it needed electoral support to be re-elected. In conclusion, the Thatcher government met relatively little resistance to its policy intentions throughout its time in office. The electoral system and the ineffectual Labour Party meant that legislation was hardly questioned before it was passed, assisting Thatcher Governments' policy intentions. Trade Unions did not hinder the Government as regularly as might have been expected and, following legislation, retreated from political debate which arguably assisted the Thatcher Governments. Local government did hinder policy intentions because they were increasingly incensed by central government policy and did not cooperate easily. Either as a result of existing conditions or due to Government manipulation, policy intentions were generally unhindered. However, this did not guarantee policy success, which was affected by wider socio-economic and global factors as well. 1 The Free Economy and The Strong State, The Politics of Thatcherism. A Gamble, Page 121 2 The Free Economy and The Strong State, The Politics of Thatcherism. A Gamble, Page 121 3 The Routledge Dictionary Of Politics, David Robertson, Page 457 4 The Free Economy and The Strong State, The Politics of Thatcherism. A Gamble, Page 121 5 Thatcherism, ed. Robert Skidelsky. Chapter One - Has the electorate become more Thatcherite, I Crewe. Jessica Mead 10/05/2007 ...read more.

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