The contested and contingent outcomes of Thatcherism in the UK

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Abstract

The death of Margaret Thatcher in April 2013 sparked a range of discussions and debates about the significance of her period in office and the political project to which she gave her name: Thatcherism. This article argues that Thatcherism is best understood as a symbolically important part of the emergence of first-phase neoliberalism. It engages with contemporary debates about Thatcherism among Marxist commentators and suggests that several apparently divergent positions can help us now reach a more useful analysis of Thatcherism’s short- and long-term outcomes for British political economy. The outcomes identified include: an initial crisis in the neoliberal project in the UK; the transformation of the party political system to be reflective of the politics of neoliberalism, rather than its contestation; long-term attempts at the inculcation of the neoliberal individual; de-industrialisation and financial sector dependence; and a fractured and partially unconscious working class. In all long-term outcomes, the contribution of Thatcherism is best understood as partial and largely negative, in that it cleared the way for a longer-term and more constructive attempt to embed neoliberal political economy. The paper concludes by suggesting that this analysis can inform current debates on the left of British politics about how to oppose and challenge the imposition of neoliberal discipline today.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)303-321
Number of pages19
JournalCapital and Class
Volume38
Issue number2
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 13 Jun 2014
Externally publishedYes

Keywords

  • New Labour
  • Thatcherism
  • Thatcher
  • neoliberalism

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