Thatcher's Legacy

Date01 May 2007
AuthorSimon Jenkins
Publication Date01 May 2007
Thatcher’s Legacy
Simon Jenkins
The Guardian Newspaper
At the time of MargaretThatcher’s fall, conventional wisdom held thatThatcherism was a leadership style
that had departed with its author. In significant respects,Thatcher’s economic reforms were incomplete,
and she and her ideas had never enjoyed a popular majority. But subsequent events have made clear that
1979 was a new point of departure.Thatcher’s legacy can be descr ibed as two revolutions.The first
revolution was an assault on the size of the state sector, including the introduction of privatisation and
lower taxes.Thesecond was the centralisation of power inWhitehall; necessary for the achievement of the
first, but ultimately in conflict with it. John Major and Tony Blair were strong proponents of both
revolutions. Britain now requires a third revolution to decentralise, localise,and pluralise the state.
Many metaphors were produced for the downfall of Margaret Thatcher. Some
observers saw the Tories as hungry wolves ‘devouring their own’. Others saw a
Boyar’s Plot or a Bohemian defenestration.John Biffen’s homely analogy was that
all the routes on the Metro map suddenly lit up to one destination (Campbell,
1995, p. 710).It was no repeat of Thatcher’s peasants’revolt in 1975.The Cabinet
club had rather acted to stem a possible popular uprising that might have led
Heseltine to usurp the club.That said, Thatcher fell in November 1990 through
sheer exhaustion. Her political cunning had deserted her. Every bone of her body
was tired, and every bone of the body politic as well. Her final week found her
in the wrong city, Paris, with the wrong team guarding her interest back home.
Her Cabinet was tired of a style and a bullying behaviour that had dominated
their ministerial careers. Her parliamentary party was tired of the battles they were
forced to fight on her behalf, not least over the poll tax. Even the nation was
exhausted. It had taken Thatcher’s medicine and needed convalescence. The
toppling of Thatcher recalled Churchill’s ejection from office in 1945. Sorry as
many were to see her go, the nation breathed a collective sigh of relief.
The assumption in political circles was that,with Thatcher gone,Thatcherism had
come to an end and Westminster would revert to the status quo ante.Conventional
wisdom was that Thatcher ism was a leadership style, a statecraft intrinsic to its
author.Now it had administered its medicine, something called post-Thatcherism
would ensue, albeit a wholly unknown quantity. For this wisdom there was no
shortage of evidence.The state had not been rolled back other than in a handful
of dying industries. A key indicator, taxation, actually rose as a percentage of the
non-oil domestic product, from 35 percent in 1979 to 37 percent in 1990, and
continued to rise thereafter.There had been a severe recession, but if this was a
structural ‘supply-side’adjustment it was hardly productive.Within Thatcher’s first
eighteen months, industrial output fell by 14 percent and unemployment rose by
© 2007The Author.Jour nal compilation © 2007 Political StudiesAssociation

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