Thirty years ago

Posted by Tory Historian Monday, May 04, 2009

The media and the blogosphere are buzzing with that anniversary. Thirty years ago the Conservative Party, led by Margaret Thatcher, won the first of four elections and began a government that proved to be the most radical in its reforms than any since Attlee's 1945 one that sealed this country's socialism.

Tory Historian is not going to rehash all the arguments for and against (mostly for as the lady was undoubtedly the greatest prime minister of the 20th century, Churchill being a great war leader and bad politician) but wants to raise a few questions that, perhaps, readers of this blog might discuss.

We can discard the left-wing canard that Mrs Thatcher destroyed this country's economy and political life, both of them, in the minds of these commentators having acquired some kind of a rosy glow that certainly is not present in anybody's real memory. We were poor but we were happy is a stupid mantra. Britain in the 1970s was not a happy country.

A more insiduous myth is propounded by some of the younger Conservatives that in 1979 the country deliberately voted for radical reform. Absolute rubbish. The country rather hesitantly voted for the Conservatives, anyway, and nobody outside the immediate circle around Thatcher knew that she had any ideas beyond the widely shared rather vague assumption that "something needs to be done" with a country that had, apparently, reached rock bottom.

James Callaghan who lost in 1979 also promoted the idea that there was a sea-change in opinion because it suited him to say so. In actual fact, he lost the election because he was perceived to be a bumbling incompetent.

The third question that needs to be asked is whether those radical reforms have really changed the country or were they as Mark Steyn says in a recent article, largely about Obama, just a blip, a slowing down in the collapse?

John O'Sullivan disagrees with Mark Steyn and sees the date as crucial and the effects irreversible.

Tory Historian is looking forward to a vigorous debate.


  1. Anonymous Says:
  2. Mark Steyn argues persuasively that the relationship between European governments and the voters resembles that between drug pusher and junkie.
    It is certainly true that Maggie's success did not extend to curing people of the idea that Government is responsible for dealing with all the big problems in life. Nor did she halt the encroachment of the EU on democracy.

  3. Guessed Says:
  4. Thatch rescued the UK and almost all of her legacy is glorious.
    However, she appointed the architect of the Single European Act - Lord Cockfield - to Brussels and later guillotined debate on the Bill in the Commons. The SEA, as we all know, paved the way for Maastricht and subsequent freedom-threatening horrors such as the Lisbon Treaty.
    The UK needed her dogmatism even if it was that quality which would later defenestrate her. Well, that and the Europhile scum on her front and back benches.

  5. Chris Palmer Says:
  6. How about the conservative argument that Margaret Thatcher's governments did nothing to stop the radical social and cultural revolution that has been taking place in this country since the late 1950s?

    Firstly, we have to establish the fact that Mrs Thatcher was certainly not a conservative – she was a liberal. Her free market ideology was influenced by the economist Milton Friedman and the author Friedrich Hayek, both of whom described themselves as liberals. Furthermore, conservatism has not traditionally supported the ideas of any particular type of economic system, free market or not. Traditional conservatism has sought to maintain social stability through maintenance and gradual progression of the current social order. The market system which Thatcher imposed upon Britain radically altered our society in a very short period of time – some of the effects of which we are only just beginning to feel now. It was an economic revolution rather than a slow and gradual process.

    What else to say about Thatcher? Well, she is responsible for among the greatest surrenders of British sovereignty to the European Union. She signed the Single European Act in 1986 which was particularly unconservative, because wisdom suggests that although the nation state is not the only possible solution as a form of political order, it is a tried and tested solution that largely works and the only environment in which democracy seems permitted. The EU, whose aim it is to sweep away the old order of nation states, democratic traditions, and accumulated knowledge, and replace it with a new, untested supranational construct in which sovereignty is passed to a higher level than the nation, is fundamentally alien to conservatism. While she did, in the end, perhaps wake up to the undemocratic and destructive nature of European integration – it was by then too late.

    Margaret Thatcher was uninterested in the defence of selective education and Grammar schools, despite the fact that she had attended one as a young girl. Instead her Governments submitted to the equality agenda and destruction of these schools. During the 1960s the Labour party began to pursue the Comprehensive school agenda with much more vigour, despite it being acknowledged that the pursuit of equality of outcome would lead to a decline in educational rigour and standards. Yet, it was in her capacity as Education Secretary under the Heath Government that Thatcher approved more applications for Grammar schools to be turned into Comprehensives than any period before. Further, this surrender to the Left and the educational revolution taking place in Britain extended into her own Governments where she refused to reopen or build a single new Grammar school. It must be made absolutely clear that if you do not have selection by ability, which is by far the fairest method of selection, then you do not remove it altogether but simply replace it with another means by which schools choose their pupils. Academic selection now takes place in Comprehensive schools by wealth (by means of catchment areas where only the richest can afford the properties prices of houses near the best schools and poorer families are forced out), by religion and by the use of ‘interviews’ where the middle classes benefit at the expense of the poor.

    Thatcher’s Governments failed to reverse the creeping levels of political correctness entering our society, or to protect marriage or prevent an enormous growth in the size and power of the public sector. She failed to reform the National Health Service when she had the opportunity, or the BBC whose progressive influence on British society has been so damaging since. Her Governments did not seek to challenge the liberal-Left on its social and moral agenda, and her decade long rule helped to undermine personal responsibility and British liberties. In so many ways Margaret Thatcher continued the liberalisation of our society that begun in the late fifties, through her economic reforms and her indifference to the cultural agenda of the Left. The strange, reverent cult that has built up around her image certainly needs to be examined more closely.

  7. 'Hesitantly voted'??? Thatcher won in 1979 with the same percentage of the vote as the Labour 'landslide' of 1997. Not for nothing was she known as TINA - there is no alternative

  8. The myth that Britain was poor but happy in the 1970's is believed by massive numbers of the electorate. People don't want the truth, they want the myth, and the myth (incorrectly) states that Thatcher was the devil. It will be many, many years, maybe decades before her true accomplishments are recognised by the populace.

    Cameron and Co ought to be careful in these times. As i have said before elsewhere, the entirety of the liberal/socialist MSM will apply itself any way possible to stop a Cameron government. Lets talk about Thatcher loads, and remind everyone about those evil Tories!!

  9. Unknown Says:
  10. Three brief comments: one to rebut the notion that Margaret Thatcher was somehow against Grammar Schools. Not true. If an LEA came forward with a scheme, she had to look at it quasi judicially and it was only if she could find good reasons to reject it that she was legally able to turn LEA proposals down. She managed to halt some schemes, but note well that an early action when the Conservatives got back in in 1979 was to repeal the 1976 Act - hence saving Kent's grammar schools for which we on the KCC had been fighting for three years.

    Although she was not elected on a particularly radical manifesto, it is not true to say that the direction of travel was at all vague. Even privatisation was signalled, but the flagship scheme (British Airways) was delayed for legal reasons.

    Finally she did shift many attitudes: it was often thought that public attitudes did not shift, but if you look more carefully at the evidence, most of the reforms were accepted and the resistance was to going further, not a rejection of what had been done.

    And one comment on Maastricht, which is badly misunderstood. What Major achieved was the first set of intergovernmental pillars as opposed to the pure supranationality of everything done since the Treaty of Rome inclding the Treaty of Rome. Those who wish to leave the European Community may not appreciate the distinction, but those who want to reform it along Conservative lines ought to see that as an achievement. Not to be forgotten in the light of where Blair has taken us.

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