Political Ideas in Modern Britain: In and after the Twentieth Century

By Rodney Barker | Go to book overview

1

Two introductions

INTRODUCTION 1996

Less than a year after the publication of the first edition of this book, a Conservative government under the premiership of Margaret Thatcher took office. Mrs Thatcher was to remain premier and party leader for another eleven years, and the government was to survive for a further eighteen. During that time not only did a Conservative Party converted to what was swiftly labelled ‘Thatcherism’ make major changes to the structure of government and the provision of public services, but the broad network of thinking which had already been termed the ‘New Right’ enjoyed increasingly substantial intellectual influence. Those years had a dramatic effect on political thinking in Britain, even more so than did the careers of similarly ‘New Right’ governments and the advance of New Right ideas in the United States under Ronald Reagan, in France under Jacques Chirac, or in what was still then West Germany under Helmut Kohl. But it was not the New Right alone which transformed the agenda. The 1980s came to a close with the even more dramatic abdication of the state socialist regimes of Eastern Europe in the 1989 revolutions, and the replacement of managerial communist despotism with a variety of regimes mixing democracy, capitalism, democratic socialism, and nationalist authoritarianism.

Both domestically and internationally the reference points had been moved out of all recognition, so that the old maps no longer referred to any recognizable terrain. The framework of politics was shaken twice, and the course of political thinking reflects on and shapes that fact. One account describes our contemporary location as post-modernism. The old universals of human nature, rights and needs have been replaced by a series of historically specific or contingent values, identities and conventions. Postmodernism thus becomes a theory to

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