Urban Planning and the British New Right

By Philip Allmendinger; Huw Thomas | Go to book overview

9

THE GHOST OF THATCHERISM

Andy Thornley

Introduction

I would like to pursue two themes in this chapter. The first is to address the hypothesis of this book that the nature of the implementation process and the variation in local circumstances raise questions about the importance of Thatcherist ideology. To what extent does the research into the details of policy implementation show a divergence from the expectations raised by the ideology? Does this ideology fade into a blurred ghostly mirage when confronted with the facts about the nitty gritty actions of planners? The second theme, also raised by the editors in their introduction, is whether there were any significant changes when Mr Major took over. Mrs Thatcher’s reign may have died but did the ghost of Thatcherism live on to haunt planning activity? In addressing these issues I will draw partly on some aspects of my previous work (e.g. Thornley 1993, 1996) and an analysis of the formulation of a planning agenda for London during the 1990s which I undertook with Peter Newman (Newman and Thornley 1997).

In this discussion it is important to distinguish between the level of setting the priorities and parameters of the policy framework and the details of policy implementation. The essence of my argument is that Thatcherism had, and in the 1990s continued to have, an extremely strong hold over the broader agenda-setting level. This means that discretion and variation in implementation may have been possible within this framework but the limits were tightly controlled. So if variation in the implementation is detected it is important to discuss the level of importance of the variable factors and how far they deviate from the overarching priorities. The strength and nature of the mechanisms of guidance, control and monitoring are key elements in the discussion. The basic priority of Thatcherism has been stated as the importance of the market as the decision-making arena and the procedures of Thatcherism as one of centralising power in order for this to happen. Now it may be said that these are very general characteristics and indeed it might be claimed that these

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