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Did Thatcherism bring an end to the ‘post-war consensus?’

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  1. Introduction.
  2. The conventional point of view: The end of consensus.
    1. What was the 'postwar consensus'?
    2. The consensus and Thatcher's election as Prime Minister.
    3. Thatcher's policies and the end of the consensus period.
  3. Criticism to the conventional view.
    1. Consensus broken before Thatcher came into power.
    2. The postwar consensus: Not that strong and already broken in 1979.
    3. Thatcher's project.
  4. My opinion.
  5. Bibliography.

Since 1979 the so-called 'Thatcher experiment' or the 'Thatcherism' was at the centre of many debates, partly because Mrs Thatcher's government has broken with many features of the postwar consensus and partly because her government's record is contested (Kavanagh, 1987, p1). But above all, the term 'Thatcherism' need to be define. There are three main visions of Thatcherism. Generally, for the authors, this is a purely political phenomenon, characterized by Mrs Thatcher's personality and style of leadership and her way to govern (King 1985; Minogue and Biddiss 1987; Jenkins 1987), a breakdown with the postwar policy consensus (Kavanagh, 1990; Kavanagh and Morris 1994) and traditional forms of Conservative Party's way of governing (Bulpitt, 1986). Others emphasize the ideological dimension of Thatcherism (Hall, S. 1979; Hay 1996). To them, the Thatcher project represented an alternative to social democracy, set up around a New Right discourse. Finally, for some writers, Thatcherism is, in economic terms, a national response to international crises (Jessop, 1988; Taylor, 1992; Overbeek, 1990). Actually, I will consider 'Thatcherism' as the style of leadership of Mrs Thatcher, her ideology and her politics.

[...] If in 1979, Thatcher insisted in her rhetoric that it was necessary to break with the consensus and the social democracy; in reality she did not achieve this revolution as quickly as she wanted. She had to adopt a step by step policy, and the break was not as deep as some have argued. Thatcher's strategy was not a revolution but it was gradually set up and implemented Often, the literature about Thatcher did not consider the development of the Conservatives' strategy over time. [...]

[...] (Roberts p.46) To achieve the implementation of all these policies, the government centralised power and used an authoritarian stance. In his book Gamble explains that the need to centralise power came from a paradox: The New Right would like to be conservatives but they are forced to be radicals. They have to struggle against the force which have gravely undermined the market order and which, if left unchecked will destroy (1988, p. 32) Thus to apply her politics and break up with the consensus, Thatcher had to concentrate so much power as possible into her hands, for instance to struggle against trade unions. [...]

[...] To conclude, Thatcherism was a real breakdown with the consensus period in term of ideology and style of governing, that is why the conventional view considers Thatcherism as a break with the postwar consensus. Nevertheless if we consider her policies, they were pragmatically developed and adapted and so did no represent a sudden breakdown with the policies of the postwar consensus. They change was gradual and really visible in Mrs Thatcher's third term. She began a process of destruction of the welfare state and the social democracy, which will be deepened on under Major's leadership. [...]

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