Tuesday, May 5

Thirty Years Ago

The media and the blogosphere are buzzing with that anniversary. Thirty years ago the Conservative Party, led by Margaret Thatcher, won the first of four elections and began a government that proved to be the most radical in its reforms than any since Attlee's 1945 one that sealed this country's socialism.One can discard the left-wing canard that Mrs Thatcher destroyed this country's economy and political life. Britain in the 1970s was not a happy or efficient country.

A more insidious myth is propounded by some of the younger Conservatives that in 1979 the country deliberately voted for radical reform. Absolute rubbish. The country rather hesitantly voted for the Conservatives, anyway, and nobody outside the immediate circle around Thatcher knew that she had any ideas beyond the widely shared rather vague assumption that "something needs to be done" with a country that had, apparently, reached rock bottom.James Callaghan who lost in 1979 also promoted the idea that there was a sea-change in opinion because it suited him to say so. In actual fact, he lost the election because he was perceived to be a bumbling incompetent.The third question that needs to be asked is whether those radical reforms have really changed the country or were they as Mark Steyn says in a recent article, largely about Obama, just a blip, a slowing down in the collapse?

In retrospect it can be argued that Mrs Thatcher was not a conservative – she was a liberal. Her free market ideology was influenced by the economist Milton Friedman and the author Friedrich Hayek, both of whom described themselves as liberals. Furthermore, conservatism has not traditionally supported the ideas of any particular type of economic system, free market or not. Traditional conservatism has sought to maintain social stability through maintenance and gradual progression of the current social order. The market system which Thatcher imposed upon Britain radically altered our society in a very short period of time – some of the effects of which we are only just beginning to feel now. It was an economic revolution rather than a slow and gradual process.

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