Thatcherism and the restoration of governability

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Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University


Mrs Thatcher's third electoral victory in the summer of 1987 appeared to confirm and consolidate both the success and the popularity of the political and economic experiment attempted during her eight years in office. Thatcherism is perhaps most remarkable for guiding Britain out of the dark decades of the 1960's and 1970's when relative economic decline was the chief cause of a governmental and institutional paralysis that inevitably led to policy failures, "u-turns'', and defeats at the hands of the trade union movement. At a time when governmental effectiveness had been diluted, the hold of public expectations, symbolic of "consensus" or "Butskellite'' politics, showed no sign of loosening; despite the fact that welfare statism retained it's grip over the British public, years of economic decline and governmental ineffectiveness (symbolised by Heath's defeat by the miners and the "winter of discontent" under Callaghan), meant that fiscally, government commitments, both old and new, were outreaching their grasp and ability to deliver. It was speculated by many of the period's more prolific writers that public recognition of successive governments' inability to manage the demands of a modern economy was leading to severe, if immeasurable, credibility and legitimation problems.

To what extent have the Thatcher policies solved these seemingly intractable problems? Has Thatcherism found a solution to the demands of social democratic Britain? What is the real extent of Britain's economic recovery? Is there a "new consensus" that underpins the Thatcher challenge to the "mal Anglais''? These questions will be central to this paper's analysis of the extent of the restoration of British governability in the Thatcher years.



Thatcher, Margaret