From Rates to the Poll Tax: Local Government Finance in the Thatcher Era

By Arthur Midwinter; Claire Monaghan | Go to book overview

CHAPTER TWO
The Conservative Agenda

THE NEW CONSERVATISM

The election of the Thatcher Government in 1979 has often been presented as a watershed in political development, because of its challenge to the perceived established political consensus on the role of the state. It was opposed to big government for its effect on individual freedom and its propensity to waste and inefficiency. Thatcher herself has been accredited with the formation of a coherent political doctrine known as Thatcherism. Biddiss ( 1987) argues that whilst Thatcherism is not a rigorously systematised ideology, it can be usefully deployed as a term to denote a certain set of values and leadership style, in a commitment to rolling back the state. According to Kavanagh and Seldon ( 1989), the Thatcher Government was widely regarded as radical and reforming to coherent purpose, whilst Crewe ( 1989) saw Thatcher herself as possessing a coherent set of principles which shaped her views on specific matters. Contrastingly, Hahn ( 1988) saw Thatcher as possessing no systematic economic thought.

Politicians tend not to have strong theoretical orientations, preferring rather to utilise theories which support their predispositions to certain policy preferences. Thatcher and her Government were regarded as 'New Right', and the theoretical basis of New Right politics is a combination of three aspects of economic analysis.

Economic liberalism -- which argues from first principles that markets provide the most efficient mechanism for individuals to maximise their welfare; monetarism -- which argues that government control of the money supply is the key to controlling inflation; and public choice -- which applies economic concepts to the analysis of politics and bureaucracy. The normative predisposition of most adherents to such theories is that of reducing the scope of government, to create incentives and stimulate enterprise. In policy terms this translates into a fundamental concern with public spending, taxation and borrowing, and the economic efficiency of public services.

Leading intellectuals of the Right, such as Hayek, Friedman and Niskanen, developed their reasoning into normative arguments for curbing

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From Rates to the Poll Tax: Local Government Finance in the Thatcher Era
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page i
  • Contents iii
  • List of Tables v
  • Acknowledgements vii
  • Chapter One - the Fiscal and Budgetary Environment 1
  • Chapter Two - the Conservative Agenda 29
  • Chapter Three - the Control of Local Expenditure 38
  • Conclusion 61
  • Chapter Four - the Reform of Local Taxation 63
  • Conclusions 97
  • Chapter Five - the Politics of Efficiency 99
  • Chapter Six - the Limits to Financial Reform 123
  • Conclusions 135
  • References 140
  • Index 149
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