By Harry Phibbs
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The arguments taking place this week have not only been about Margaret Thatcher, but also about Thatcherism. This prompts the question as to whether Thatcher was a Thatcherite. Not all policies pursued by her Government were Thatcherite. Not all of those that were Thatcherite were pushed by Thatcher. For instance, Nigel Lawson, in his excellent memoirs, The View from No 11, says she took quite a bit of persuading before approving the abolition of exchange controls.
Thatcherism existed before her – there are references to "pre Thatcher Thatcherites." Obviously there are many areas in this country and internationally where Thatcherite policies were applied after she ceased to be Prime Minister.
No wonder young people sometimes find it a bit confusing.
It is also true that Thatcherism is not the same as libertarianism.
Libertarians tend not to concern themselves with winning elections. Thatcherism has a belief in liberty, free markets, and a strict limit to the role of the state at its core. But it goes about applying this in ways that are popular. Privatisation, as applied in a Thatcherite manner, is not just about selling shares to get the best price – but offering discounts to the workforce and the public.
Constraining the power of the trade unions was achieved through empowering trade unionists – secret ballots before strikes, ending the closed shop so the unions couldn't just force people to join, ending mass picketing so they couldn't stop their members working, etc.
A libertarian government would be neutral about whether you were married or single, whether you were a home owner or rented privately. Thatcherism included a dollop of social engineering. She wanted more home owners – hence not just the generous right to buy discounts but also the mortgage tax relief. The tax system recognised marriage.
We can recognise Thatcherism when we see it. The key message was there early enough in her 1975 Party Conference speech.
Let me give you my vision.
A man's right to work as he will .
To spend what he earns to own propert.
To have the State as servant and not as master.
These are the British inheritance.
They are the essence of a free economy. And on that freedom all our other freedoms depend.
We have had plenty of anecdotes about Margaret Thatcher on the TV. I am pleased that on the TV tomorrow evening there is a programme about Thatcherism. Margaret: Death of a Revolutionary is being shown at 7pm on Channel Four. It is the latest work of Martin Durkin whose previous films include Britain’s Trillion Pound Horror Story. Mr Durkin is an unusual documentary maker in that he does not start out with left wing assumptions.
In the programme tomorrow evening Mr Durkin argues that Baroness Thatcher was a subversive, anti establishment figure. A revolutionary who smashed the class system.
The “market” was not a wicked thing. It was lively and sociable, she said. It brought spices and coffee and bananas into the shops. In her day, it brought Fred Astaire to the local cinema. And most ordinary Britons had the good sense to agree (unlike the Left, our “intelligentsia” and the Tory old guard).
To the horror of the Left, Thatcher, re-defined the class struggle. The socialists argued that “the workers” were being ripped off by “the bosses”. But when workers looked at their wages and saw almost half had gone, they knew it wasn’t the bosses who had taken it. It was the state. “Socialism” was reduced to fleecing hard-working people in the private sector to keep the middle class public sector gravy train rolling.
The new class struggle, as defined by the revolutionary Thatcher, was between Tax Producers (in the productive economy) and Tax Consumers (in the parasitic public sector). The regions that voted Labour were dominated by public sector workers and benefit recipients (they wanted to keep the tap on). The regions that voted for Thatcher were populated by the suckers who footed the bill (and rather resented it).
Well worth tuning in.