Sunday, March 15, 2020

Assess the success and failures of Thatcherism Essays

Assess the success and failures of Thatcherism Essays Assess the success and failures of Thatcherism Essay Assess the success and failures of Thatcherism Essay Margaret Thatcher and her time in British politics have had a profound impact upon not just Britain but on world politics too. Thatcher’s high profile of governance began from May 1979 and she continued to be the Prime Minister of Britain for eleven and half years. During her time in office, Thatcher had been the talk of Britain and the world. The reason being her strong public personality moreover she was judged in terms of her political, social and economic ambitions. Thatcher’s governance led to the political phenomena of Thatcherism. The term Thatcherism obviously derives from Margaret Thatcher but can be defined generally as the system of powerful political beliefs which were based on ‘monetarism and a belief in reducing the power and actions of the state in economy and society’, but also the promotion of the private sector. Thatcherism wasn’t only based around Thatcher’s policies but equally as important on her leadership style, for example the reference made by the Russians to the ‘Iron Lady’. However the concept of Thatcherism was deeply rejected and regarded as a failure by socialists and social groups. This essay intends to assess the two sides of Thatcherism, the success as well the failures. It will also examine Thatcher’s personality and politics, i. e. policies, which contributed to the formation of Thatcherism. The legacy of post-war Conservatism and Thatcher began when the Labour party’s time in office ended inevitably. This was highlighted under James Callaghan’s government. The Labour government faced immense difficulties such as inflation rise, British power cuts and especially in 1979, where the ‘Winter of Discontent’ was a key event. The Winter of Discontent subsequently led to a rash of strikes in crucial public services which deemed that the country was ungovernable. This led to the destruction of Labour’s party image and subsequently forced Callaghan to call an early general election, which paved way to Thatcher’s victory. Labour’s defeat also meant that it would allow Thatcher to ‘reverse the relative decline from which Britain was acknowledged to be suffering’. Furthermore to break from the ‘Post-war consensus’, which characterized Britain’s governing tradition since 1945. The first Thatcher government was probably the most pragmatic; she was elected with a working majority of 43. The early years of Thatcher’s governance, particular attention was paid to the economy. And the intentions of the Conservative government were transparent before they came into power but were particularly successful and appealing amongst the affluent worker social group in 1979, which was used as evidence for the ‘electoral preference for lower taxation rather than higher public spending’. The Conservative party manifesto also highlighted Thatcher’s pledges other than lower taxation which were to restore the health of Britain’s economy by ‘controlling inflation’, to encourage private enterprise and promote individualism. Therefore the period from 1979 was clearly an important one for economy policy as the government were faced with an exceptionally high annual inflation rate of 20 per cent. Furthermore, the economic forecasts of November 1979 highlighted that ‘output in the economy was expected to fall by 3 percent in 1980; unemployment to rise to 2 million by 1981†. This was the aftermath of Callaghan’s struggling Labour government, therefore there needed to be a serious restructuring of the economy. The Conservative’s economic aims were set by Geoffrey Howe, the first Chancellor of the Exchequer under Thatcher, whom introduced the tax-cutting budget of 1979. This programme was underpinned by the doctrine of ‘monetarism’, which is a school of thought based upon the control of the supply of money circulating in the economy and that aims of ‘monetary policy are best met by targeting the growth rate of the money supply’. As a result, her monetarist economic policies started by increasing interest rates to slow the growth of money and increases in various taxes to quell inflation. The battle against inflation was succeeded at reducing inflation from ‘20% to between 4 and 5% percent in the period 1983 to 1987†. It could be said that these monetarist policies and budgets distinguished her from previous governments. The reduction of inflation meant a success for the Conservative party but also a turning point for Thatcherism. Although Thatcher was successful at reducing inflation at the lowest level in 13 years; this was largely achieved by the mass closure of factories and recession. The world recession of 1979 – 81 was felt particularly badly so the rate of unemployment had risen 3 million in 1983. This highlights the impact of Thatcher’s governance had reached to epic proportions already in her first term and also a great failure. It could be argued that the issue of the Falklands war in 1982 led to a recovery in Thatcher’s popularity but more importantly she faced the most challenging crisis of her career. The war which lasted for 74 days for the control over the Falkland Islands was a result from the long running dispute between Argentina and Britain. This was over the sovereignty of the Falkland Islands. The invasion demonstrated Thatcher’s sheer toughness and strength. It could also be said that the liberation the Falklands was reckoned as a ‘personal triumph’ and was proved to be the ‘defining moment of her premiership’. The Falklands war and a distrusted divided opposition helped Thatcher win the 1983 general election. And one of Thatcherism’s innovations during her second term was the attitude towards the trade unions. Thatcher was determined to weaken the stranglehold labour unions held over the industries and government in Britain which resulted in enacting the trade union reforms. The main aims of Conservatives were to reduce the ability of the trade unions to challenge the government and stand in the way of economic change and reforms, which broke the traditional relationship with them. This could be highlighted by the uprising of the militant miners in 1984. The miners union and strike was led by Arthur Scargill for a year, with the stated aim of ‘roll back the years of Thatcherism’, as he needed a show of force with large numbers of pickets to stop coal being transported. And also Scargill needed to ensure that the strike held by ensuring that miners did not return to work. On the other hand Thatcher’s attitude throughout the strike was to hold firm and regarded it as ‘more a political insurrection than an industrial dispute; picket violence met police force’. This meant that Scargill’s flying pickets and his resolution to roll back the years of Thatcherism had ended in bitter defeat. The strike was a clear demonstration of the politics of Thatcherism, which were radical, uncompromising but very divisive. Two of the lasting legacies of Thatcherism were arguably the privatisation programmes and the government’s right to buy scheme. The Tories as a party have long upheld the policy of self-reliance from state and Thatcher believed strongly in the freedom of the individual. Therefore the government promoted the privatisation of public owned public services, with it being called â€Å"a crucial ingredient of Thatcherism†. The process of de-nationalisation of state owned industries meant the privatisation of gas, water, electricity and steel, which are a few to name. The privatisations helped to reinforce enterprise, small state, gave individuals the chance to buy shares and increase their wealth. As stated by Holmes, one junior minister thought that ‘the political advent of privatisation was a clear way of influencing the electorate – it was a sensible and popular policy’. Privatisation of council housing was another success of Thatcherism. The ‘right to buy’, as it was commonly called, the policy could be argued that it targeted particularly at non traditional Conservatives. The Thatcher government had foreseen the electoral prospects by the support of those who had bought their homes under the right to buy scheme and who would lose their home under compulsory purchase orders with the return of a Labour government. Inevitably the growth of party de-alignment and class de-alignment grew in the 1980’s as working class voters helped to return a Conservative government. This highlights the changing nature of British voting ethos which was influence by Thatcherism. Apart from the fact that inflation returned again in 1990 to destroy the economy, Thatcher’s implementation of the poll-tax was proving controversial and unpopular. The poll-tax was another classic piece of Thatcherism and it was aimed at exposing high spending Labour councils. It worked not by taxing properties but by levying a tax on the individual people within those households. Therefore, those at the top of the income scale paid little more than middle class and working class voters. These very voters that had voted the Conservatives soon opened revolt with the series of mass disturbances known as the ‘Poll Tax Riots’ in 1990. Thatcher defended the poll tax, which an opinion poll had found 12% favoured it. This highlights as perhaps one of the greatest failures of Thatcherism, which subsequently contributed to Thatcher’s downfall. Another reason to contribute towards Thatcher’s downfall and resignation was the discontentment within the party and also due to her unpopularity. It could be argued that during her years in office, Thatcher had the second-lowest approval rating, at just 40 percent and was consistently deemed as less popular than her party by polls. To support that statement, opinion polls in September 1990 reported that ‘Labour had established a 14 percent lead over the Conservatives’. However the resignation of Geoffrey Howe was fatal to Thatcher’s premiership later, with Michael Heseltine’s challenge for the leadership of the Conservative party had completely destroyed Thatcher’s ability to stay at 10 Downing Street. It could be said that the Thatcherism still had a profound influence on British politics after Thatcher left office, as John Major sought to build upon her legacy by attempting to secure her legacy whilst smoothing over the rough edges. And more notably, Tony Blair’s New Labour was built upon Thatcher’s reforms such as the privatisation programme was left intact as Labour itself carried out mini privatisations such as air traffic control. Furthermore business and enterprise had been courted by New Labour, corporation tax cut and employee rights were strengthened rather than the ties with the Trade Unions. As this essay has provided arguments for the successes and the failures of Thatcherism and the Thatcher government, it without a doubt, highlights the unique political style and political substance that was present for over eleven years. It could be said that Thatcherism radically departed from the norms and traditions of British politics, especially after the post-war consensus. The policy in regards to the economy from the period of 1979 demonstrated a significant shift from accepting previous government’s Keynesianism orthodoxy to Thatcher’s belief in monetarism. The contrast between previous Labour governments and Thatcherism could not be sharper. The Labour party’s incentive was to nationalize more whereas it was the Conservatives that privatized industries with the individualistic approach enacted effectively under Thatcher. However the arrival of Thatcherism marked something which could be claimed as revolutionary, as Blair strategy was based upon third way politics. It could be said that Thatcherism was a success as the school of thought is still applied to today’s politics however times are once again changing in British politics, so the success of Thatcherism in the future is yet to be decided.

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