Mrs. Thatcher (1925 -) gained leadership of The Conservative Party in 1975; taking the Conservatives on to win the general election of 1979, which saw the beginning of the Conservative’s reign for eighteen years. Upon election, Mrs. Thatcher and her government vowed to reverse Britain's economic decline and to reduce the role of government (Jary, 1996, P685). A distinct shift emerged from traditional conservative thinking to what is now known as ‘Thatcherism’. Thatcherism refers to the political notions and indeed actions implemented by Mrs. Thatcher’s government. Drawing upon principles and reflections of the new right, specifically in regards to the design of welfare, the role of government and the state, and the economy. It has been stated that the social policies of Mrs. Thatcher’s government were based around what the state “wouldn’t do and shouldn’t do”. To Mrs. Thatcher the states provisions had gone to far and were creating welfare dependency. Mrs. Thatcher, greatly influenced by Milton Friedman and Frederich von Hayek, her government saw that their focus should be upon economic problems (Leys, 1989, Pp 101 – 125). Mrs. Thatcher’s approach, therefore, in a generalized way, saw less focus upon welfare social policies and more emphases upon economic social polices. In this view, government should interfere as little as possible within the market, Thatcherism envisaged that the free market should, and would be fundamentally important, for example tackling inflation with the goal of wealth creation as oppose to welfare issues and tackling and pursuing equality. Thatcher’s party saw that the over-spending state should transfer certain services from the statutory to personal, private and voluntary providers and institutions, in order to cut public spending (Leys, 1989, Pp 193-211).
Mrs. Thatcher’s parties’ policies saw very different approaches to the former Labour party with key areas of policymaking. A key example of this is the move from Keynesian economic policy to Monetarist economic policy (Jones,1991, P145). Taking the former, Keynesian economics, refers to the works of John Maynard Keynes. The main aim of Keynesian economics was to maintain a high standard of employment, for governments adopting this way of thinking; there is a greater role of intervention and an attempt to manage the economy in a more active manner. The latter Monetarist economics, focuses on controlling the supply of money, restricting the government’s economic interventions to this area, and in the main to keep inflation under control (Atkinson, 1996, Pp10 – 13). A direct result of the adoption of Monetarist economics was the privatisation of nationalised industries and services . Mrs. Thatcher’s government wanted to reduce government borrowing and the subsidisation of industries (Jones,1991, P536). The Thatcher government and their subsequent social policies held an overall principle, known as ‘the rolling back of the welfare state’(Atkinson, 1996, Pp11 – 12). As before mentioned, the state was seen to be overspending and a new approach was seen to be desirable, this new approach was the shift from Keynesian economics to Monetarist economics. Social policies that followed embodied the notion of rolling back state intervention, especially with regard to social security, the National Health Service and council housing. These policies were both explicit and implicit in their emergence and in the origins from the Conservative parties manifestos (Walsh, 2000, Pp52 – 53).
The Conservative government continued throughout the 1980’s under the leadership of Mrs. Thatcher. In 1990 a change in the Conservatives political leadership changed hands to John Major. Although there was a change in leadership, the strategy of Thatcherite policies ensued, with their profound results remaining (Walsh, 2000, P 53).
Ideologically, Mrs. Thatcher never saw herself as being anything but a true Conservative. Some have said Thatcherism can be seen as ‘a distinctive reading of Conservative Party history’ therefore Thatcherism is not a new ideology simply the accurate interpretation of Conservatism (Aughey, 1983, vol.36 No. 4). Although it is greatly argued to the contrary, with the policies of Mrs. Thatcher’s conservative party, although embodying certain conservative thought, ideological emphasis was greatly placed upon Laissez-Faire, capitalism with a hint of new liberalism. Conservatism as an ideology want little change, dominant traditional values are poignant, centering on age-old institutions such as the family and church. Conservatism agrees with slow, evolutionary change is best, not rapid change based upon revolution, which would be associated with socialism, which Mrs. Thatcher was indeed against.
Laissez-Faire, translated to ‘let things alone’ also referred to as classical liberalism, in economics, policy of domestic nonintervention by government in individual or industrial monetary affairs. The doctrine favors capitalist self-interest, competition, and natural consumer preferences as forces leading to optimal prosperity and freedom (see aditional sources). In this view is in its foremost the ideological stand point of Thatcherism, and its ideological frameworks. The notion of a free market was high upon Mrs. Thatcher’s principle policies, the interventional role of the 1980’s conservative government was to be kept to a minimum – leading to the rolling back of the welfare state. Thatcher’s politics were a return to the laissez - faire from which the Tory Party was created. Therefore despite claims that Thatcherism is a distinct ideology in itself, it is more a continuation of true Conservatism as Mrs. Thatcher campaigned. Individuals within Laissez-Faire ideologies are autonomous within the states diminished role of intervention, allowing for individuals to the make the best of their own situations. This would lead on to the Thatcher policy in creating a home owning democracy – which in Laissez-Faire terms would create wealth and prosperity for the state and all within it. In essence, Thatcherism was a reaction against the philosophical basis of the Labour party, notably Keynesianism economics. Therefore Thatcherism is inherently monetarist in its approach, the need to control public spending and eradicate inflation, regardless of the social consequences were poignant to Thatcherism (see aditional sources).
Combined with aspects of capitalism that has certain key characteristics. First, basic production facilities are owned privately. Secondly, economic activity is organised and coordinated through the interaction of buyers and sellers in markets. Thirdly, owners of land and capital as well as the workers they employ are free to pursue their own self-interests in seeking maximum gain from the use of their resources and labor in production, with a restricted role of government and state. Which were strongly examined through the policies of Mrs. Thatcher’s government (Haywood, 1992, P311).
Finally, there were hints towards new-liberalism, though not many; Mrs. Thatcher’s political manifestos outlined the need for state help for the elderly, disabled and long-term sick, yet emphasis was greatly placed upon the deserving, where a safety net would be in place (Haywood, 1992, P17).
Through these ideological steps, the political regime of Mrs. Thatcher were very much legitimated and justified, though many would greatly disagree and indeed counter Mrs. Thatcher’s social policies. Many would see the greatest counter of Conservatism in the Labour Party of 1997, under the leadership of Tony Blair, ended the eighteen years of Conservative power. New Labour, as the party now call themselve, took significant steps to counter the former policies of Mrs. Thatcher’s Conservative government. New Labour outlined there move from ‘old’ post war Labour governments. New Labour in their approach to social policy took into account the effects of Thatcher’s political regime (Walsh, 2000, Pp 56 – 57).
Addressing the fabian society in 1995, Tony Blair stressed the parties moves to cross the boundries between ‘left and right’, ‘progressive and conservative’. In this New Labour claim to have discovered a ‘third-way’ in UK social policy. New Labour questioned whether social welfare should be provided universally, not outlining target groups, marking a noticable shift from old Labours targeted welfare approach. Under New Lanour, the refocused outlook of welfare provision, there is still emphasis placed upon vulnerable, focus has moved to inividuals to take steps in their own acceptance to escape the welafre trap of dependency. New Labour has greatly emphasised the fundamental importance of social inclusion, to provide support to those experiencing social exclusion. Yet there are many similarities between New Labours approach to social policy to that of Mrs. Thatcher’s policies. The shift from centralised, bureaucratic provisions of welfare are continued, New Labours ‘pluralist’ welfare system as embodied the complex notions of private, voluntary and statutory providers of welfare, in an attempt to provide for the many needs and interests of the modern diverse UK society. Profoundly, New Labour have accepted the benefits of state holding back and giving way to other systems of welafre provision. Driver and Martell (1998) stated that New Labour in their approach were reforms of conservative policies not ther abolition. New Labour policies have accepted and has committed to the exoistence of a market economy. New Labour aim to enable people to work in and benefit from such an economy, rather than dwelling upon the disadvantaged. New Labours aims of social policy are to ‘promote personal autonomy and choice, giving way to allow for individuals to gain the confidence and capability to manage their own lives’ (Commission on Social Justice, 1994, P113) these steps are to change the once safety net of welfare into a trampoline (Walsh, 2000, Pp 56 – 57).
Ideologically, these steps to reform social policies of ‘Old Labour’ to ‘New Labour’ are a far step from the former socialism and new liberal backgrounds. These policies show similarities to Conservatism, Laissez-Faire, with a few Socialist values and new liberal ideologies in place to promote former origins and values.
Wrapping up, political legitimation supported by ideologies of welfare in an essay of this size cannot be completely explored. I began this essay by offering definitions of political legitimation and ideologies. Moving on to account the social policies of Mrs. Thatchers Conservative regime from 1979 onwards, outline the eonomic shift from keynesian to montearist economics, and there effects upon UK welfare systems. The essay then proggressed to outline the ideologies of welfare which could be used to offer political legitimantions and an attempt to offer a critique using New Labour polices and there legitmations. Therefore, this essay has attempted to explain and discuss how the ideologies of welfare” explored in this module can be used to understand the political legitimation and debate within the uk social policy from 1979 to the present day.
- Moore Et Al (2000) “Social Policy And Welfare” London, Stanley Thornes
- Heywood, A (1992) “Political Ideologies: An Introduction” London, Macmillan Press
- Jary And Jary (1991) “Dictionary Of Sociology” Glasgow, Harper Collins
- Atkinson Et Al (1996) “Economic Policy” London, Macmillan Press
- Leys, C (1989) “Politics In Britain: From Labourism To Thatcherism” London, Heinemann Educational Press
- Jones Et Al (1991) “UK Politics” Hertfordshire, Simon And Schuster International Group
- A.Aughey, "Mrs.Thatcher Philosophy." Parliamentary Affairs, Vol.36 No.4 (1983).
- Microsoft® Encarta® Encyclopedia 99. © 1993-1998 Microsoft Corporation
- Smith, s lecture notes
Here's what a teacher thought of this essay
3 Stars - This essay is thorough and well structured, and attempts to construct a logical and coherent analysis of the ideologies and their contribution to political legitimacy. The essay successfully defines different political ideologies without adequately relating it to actual policy and its effects. There is also little linkage and meaningful comparison of the different elements of the question.