Like what you've read?

On Line Opinion is the only Australian site where you get all sides of the story. We don't
charge, but we need your support. Here�s how you can help.

  • Advertise

    We have a monthly audience of 70,000 and advertising packages from $200 a month.

  • Volunteer

    We always need commissioning editors and sub-editors.

  • Contribute

    Got something to say? Submit an essay.

 The National Forum   Donate   Your Account   On Line Opinion   Forum   Blogs   Polling   About   
On Line Opinion logo ON LINE OPINION - Australia's e-journal of social and political debate


On Line Opinion is a not-for-profit publication and relies on the generosity of its sponsors, editors and contributors. If you would like to help, contact us.


RSS 2.0

Thatcher the way they like it

By Neil Clark - posted Wednesday, 4 May 2005

While Tony Blair and his Chancellor, Gordon Brown, will receive the plaudits, the ideological architect of Labour's likely third consecutive general election victory will be far from the spotlight on Friday morning.

Margaret Thatcher has purposely been kept to the sidelines by the Conservative Party during the election campaign for fear that she will remind voters of the unpopular policies associated with her final months in power. Yet 15 years after she left office, the Iron Lady's impact on the British political landscape is as strong as ever.

Those who doubt the enduring legacy of Thatcherism - and how far to the neo-liberal Right it has shifted the political consensus - should think back to the last general election held in Britain before she became Conservative leader.


In October 1974, Britain was faced with a choice between a Conservative Party that had nationalised Rolls-Royce and whose leader, Edward Heath, railed against the unacceptable face of capitalism and a Labour Party pledged to extend public ownership and to bring about a fundamental and irreversible shift in the balance of wealth and power in favour of working people and their families.

Heath had included Josef Tito, Fidel Castro and Mao Zedong among his political heroes. His Labour counterpart Harold Wilson, decried for being too right-wing by Labour radicals at the time, had, when in office, refused to bow to US requests to send British troops to Vietnam, introduced a national plan and nationalised the steel industry.

It may only have been 30 years ago, but in many ways the political world inhabited by Heath and Wilson seems more like 300 years ago. Not only would a Keynesian interventionist such as Heath be out of place in today's Conservative Party, he would find his ideas on the economy and foreign policy to be far to the Left of the present Labour Party, too.

Conversely, Blair may be standing under a Labour banner, but is a more enthusiastic cheerleader for big business and the market economy than any post-war Conservative prime minister bar the Iron Lady and her successor, John Major.

Far from marking a break with Thatcherism, New Labour's ascendancy in fact represents its continuum, albeit in a repackaged, made-over-for-the-millennium, environment-friendly form.

It's true that the high priestess of market fundamentalism would never have introduced a minimum wage or signed Britain up to the European Union's social chapter. It is also difficult to have envisaged her taking up the issue of Third World debt as enthusiastically as Brown has done.


But, on the core, defining issues of the day, Blair and Brown sing unmistakably from the Thatcher hymn sheet. Both enthusiastically embrace globalisation, the neo-liberal world order that Thatcher - together with her buddy from across the Atlantic, Ronald Reagan - did so much to establish.

Both talk passionately about markets and the need for further economic reform, and wax eloquent on the virtue of private business and entrepreneurs. Both show the classic Thatcherite's indifference to the loss of jobs in manufacturing (300 a day since Labour came to power) and they welcome Britain's transformation into a service sector economy.

State ownership - the panacea of the party in the past - is well and truly out: on the contrary, New Labour has extended the reach of the private sector into areas that even Thatcher dared not venture - such as air traffic control and the building of National Health hospitals.

  1. Pages:
  2. Page 1
  3. 2
  4. All

First published in The Australian on May 3, 2005.

Discuss in our Forums

See what other readers are saying about this article!

Click here to read & post comments.

12 posts so far.

Share this:
reddit this reddit thisbookmark with Del.icio.usdigg thisseed newsvineSeed NewsvineStumbleUpon StumbleUponsubmit to propellerkwoff it

About the Author

Neil Clark is a tutor in history and politics at Oxford Tutorial College in England.

Other articles by this Author

All articles by Neil Clark

Creative Commons LicenseThis work is licensed under a Creative Commons License.

Article Tools
Comment 12 comments
Print Printable version
Subscribe Subscribe
Email Email a friend

About Us Search Discuss Feedback Legals Privacy