How revolutionary was Thatcherism?

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How revolutionary was Thatcherism?

The result of 1975 leadership election for the Conservative Party heralded a new era in right wing politics.  Margaret Thatcher was not only in control of a male dominated and male orientated party but she had brought with her a new ideology that is best described by political theorists as Thatcherism.  The British economy and state was transformed between 1979 and 1990 as ‘she maximised her power to achieve the things she wanted’1.  There is a dispute however as to whether the period of Thatcherism was a revolution of the British State or if it was more of a reaction to Labour Socialism that had taken hold of society in the 1970s.  Furthermore there is a belief that Thatcher's revolution was more within the Conservative Party, providing it with a new sense of direction, rather than on Britain as a whole.  It is these notions that I intend to analyse before drawing a conclusion as to what extent Thatcherism was revolutionary.

Throughout Thatcher's leadership of the Conservative Party it was not uncommon for her opponents to claim that ‘she was not really a Conservative at all’2, as a result of her transformation of it.  Political observers are unclear as to whether the changes to the party were actually the rise of a new right or just a ideological return to the grass roots of Victorian politics, which is the judgement of one political scientist who claims that ‘Thatcherism can be explained as a reassertion of nineteenth-century liberalism’3.  By taking the party further to the right, the Victorian attitudes of laissez-faire and the distinction between deserving and undeserving poor were perhaps inevitably going to be reinstated, which is clear by the way that the idea that the state should provide from cradle to the grave was so readily rejected by Thatcher.  This was a huge ideological change, arguably the greatest, to conservative principles in post-war politics as it heralded a reduced commitment to the welfare state and individualism was once again a major aspect of Tory ideals. 

The cut back in state intervention was not only within social politics as it also stretched across the approach to the economy as well.  Thatcher was greatly influenced by the American

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1 B. Jones, D. Kavanagh, M. Moran, P. Norton, Politics UK (4th Edition) (Pearson, Edinburgh, 2001) page 107

2 R. Garner and R. Kelly, British Political Parties Today (Manchester Uni Press, Manchester, 1998) page 62

3 E. Evans, Thatcher and Thatcherism (Routledge, London, 1997) page 122

economist Milton Friedman who was a staunch believer that Keynesianism did more damage to the economy than good, therefore a free market economy should be allowed to operate.  This was

once again a reverse of post war conservative policies as preceding Tory governments had taken control of the economy by spending their way out of ...

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This is a good essay (the author submitted an upper middle mark, I would have given it a mid-2.1 depending on the level of the module). It shows an adept command of information, which is communicated clearly and systematically. The structure is good. Three things could have been improved upon, although this is within the context of an essay that is already more than satisfactory: 1) More critical use of literature. More often than not the quotations are used to corroborate, not to question. A more thorough and critical engagement with the literature would show greater intellectual depth. 2) Argument - although the structure of the essay is reasonably good (paragraphs flow, their point is clear, and they follow on nicely from each other) a stronger argument to explain the role of each paragraph in expanding an angle would be beneficial. As it is, there are numerous themes here (such as internal party revolution, ideological revolution, state revolution, economic revolution and party system revolution) which could be differentiated between more successfully to contribute to a very nuanced, interesting argument. 3) Greater evidencing of controversial points. Quite a lot of the statements made here are debated and a greater sensitivity to this would elevate the use of information in the essay.