Thatcherism - Dispute Over The Term

Dispute Over The Term

It is often claimed that the word "Thatcherism" was coined by cultural theorist Stuart Hall in a 1979 Marxism Today article, although the term had in fact been widely used before then. However, not all social critics have accepted the term as valid, with the High Tory journalist T. E. Utley believing that "There is no such thing as Thatcherism." Utley contended that the term was a creation of Mrs. Thatcher's enemies who wished to damage her by claiming that she had an inflexible devotion to a certain set of principles and also by some of her friends who, "for cultural and sometimes ethnic reasons" had little sympathy with what he described as the "English political tradition." Thatcher was not an ideologue, Utley argued, but a pragmatic politician; and he gave the examples of her refusal to radically reform the welfare state, and her avoidance of a miners' strike in 1981 at a time when the Government was not ready to handle it.

Some critics on the Left, such as Anthony Giddens, claim that Thatcherism was pure ideology, and that her policies marked a change which was dictated more by political interests than economic reasons:

Rather than by any specific logic of capitalism, the reversal was brought about by voluntary reductions in social expenditures, higher taxes on low incomes and the lowering of taxes on higher incomes. This is the reason why in Great Britain in the mid 1980s the members of the top decile possessed more than a half of all the wealth (Giddens 1993, 233). To justify this by means of economic "objectivities" would be an ideology. What is at play here are interests and power.

The Conservative historian of Peterhouse, Maurice Cowling, also questioned the uniqueness of "Thatcherism". Cowling claimed that Mrs. Thatcher used "radical variations on that patriotic conjunction of freedom, authority, inequality, individualism and average decency and respectability, which had been the Conservative Party's theme since at least 1886." Cowling further contended that the "Conservative Party under Mrs. Thatcher has used a radical rhetoric to give intellectual respectability to what the Conservative Party has always wanted."

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