The conservative dialectic of Margaret Thatcher’s first term.
Hart, Bradley W. and Carr, Richard (eds.)
The Foundations of the British Conservative Party.
The Thatcher government can fairly be credited with establishing free market liberalism as an important reference point for all serious British politicians, but this narrative focuses on struggle within that government between the Thatcherites and their opponents within. In her first term, the dragon Thatcher vanquished these none-too-effective St Georges, picking them off or marginalising them one by one, taking conservatism “off the political agenda” and giving herself free rein in her second and third terms. This narrative is based on two assumptions which I will challenge: first, that conservatives must have been opposed to the Thatcher government’s programme during its first term; second, that, although Thatcher’s radicalism took a while to be cranked up, it was fully in control by the second term. Against these assumptions, I will try to establish that (a) although there was certainly a conservative challenge, there was little in that first term that was intrinsically opposed to conservative thinking properly understood, and (b) a conservative who was happy with the rough direction of travel in 1979-83 could also have found common ground in the second term, 1983-7. The pivotal moment where the conservatives lost their influence in the Conservative Party was not 1975 or 1979, but rather some time round about 1986
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