“Thatcherism gave opportunity to the few not the many”
One of New Labour’s soundbites is “Opportunity for the many not the few.” It is very clever. It implies that the previous government only provided opportunity for the few, and portrays them as stuffy elitists. This is a fallacy. In fact the Thatcher government was far more meritocratic than it is ever given credit for.
According to Karl Marx class conflict would end in the realisation of an economic utopia, or in his case Communism. He described this realisation as the dissolving of one controlling class into a free classless society. Thatcher also conceptualised a free classless society, although her’s would be achieved not by a dictatorship of the proletariat, but by the neutral, benign forces of the free market. Adam Smith’s ‘invisible hand’ would render background unimportant and merit all-important.
“There is no such thing as society” is often quoted. Instead Thatcher claimed there was a free market of individuals, families and perhaps communities. E. Hobsbawm, the eminent Marxist historian, interprets this how it should be. By taking on ‘society’ Margaret Thatcher was taking on the conservative establishment and the rigid class structure.
“No such thing as society” was a rallying call to the trapped and frustrated individual. Hobsbawm wrote that “The pillars of the British establishment rightly regarded Thatcherism not as a continuation of the old ways by other means, but as a striking and worrying innovation.” Thatcher herself was aware of this.
The free market meant competition, opportunity, professionalism, meritocracy and aspiration. Not the old boys network, gentlemen’s clubs, family connections and favours.
Through free market reform Thatcherism blurred class distinctions, expanded opportunity, lifted aspirations, and improved the prospects for social mobility. It provided opportunity for the many and scared the living daylights out of the few.