Aspects of British Political History, 1914-1995

By Stephen J. Lee | Go to book overview

15

THATCHERISM AND AFTER, 1979-95

Mrs Thatcher entered Downing Street in May 1979 committed to a policy of economic and social transformation. For the next eleven years she dominated British politics more completely than any other prime minister of the twentieth century. There were periods in which she was vulnerable, but special circumstances gave her an apparently irresistible momentum which carried her through two further general election victories. In 1983 she won a majority of 144 seats, which she followed up in 1987 with a third successive win, this time by 102 seats. She interpreted these results as a mandate to maintain a course which was so radical as to make some observers refer to the 'Thatcher revolution', a phrase which has aroused considerable controversy.

Then, in 1990, came a strange twist as Mrs Thatcher was elbowed out of power by sections of the Conservative party which feared that she had become so stuck in her ways that she would lead them to electoral disaster. John Major, widely considered a compromise successor, saw the Conservatives through a fourth consecutive victory in 1992. But, almost immediately afterwards, the party fell into crisis which was all the more serious as it coincided with the recovery of Labour. The two parties also began to compete more openly for the central ground, leading some analysts to claim that the politics of consensus were being revived.


THE MEANING AND MOMENTUM OF THATCHERISM

From the time she was elected leader of the Conservative Party in 1975, Mrs Thatcher made no secret of her dislike of political consensus between the parties, seeing it as 'the process of abandoning all beliefs, principles, values and policies'. 1 She expressed a commitment to 'conviction politics' which was so strong that she became the only

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