It took a severe financial crisis to do it, but ‘Thatcherism’ is losing its grip on the nation’s body politic.
If this financial crisis is as bad as the experts suggest, then future histories of Thatcherism may date the Conservative ideology from approximately 1964 to 2008.
From the failure of Alec Douglas-Home in 1964 to the triumph of Margaret Thatcher in 1979, Thatcherism was on the ascendency. From 1979 to 1990 it was on the offensive. From 1990 to 2008 it became the consensus. And thereafter it was forced onto the defensive.
Plunging share prices, Nationalisation, contracting world trade, rising unemployment, collective guilt and moral outrage, are pushing Thatcherism back. ‘Property Ownership’, privatization, market deregulation and the credit boom, all look a bit inappropriate these days, maybe even culpable.
This may be overly dramatic. The damage done to the Thatcherite edifice is yet to be surveyed. However, if we assume the worst where does it leave the Conservative Party?
Broadly speaking, I agree with the view that British Conservatism possesses four possible reflexes. For any political geeks reading, it might be fun for you to pick which Tory reflex or combination of reflexes you might employ if you were David Cameron…
There are three ‘defensive’ reflexes: 1) Resist, 2) Take a timely concession to avoid more extreme measures, 3) Adopt the opposition’s policies on the basis that you can implement them better.
There is also one ‘offensive’ option: To devise an entirely new scheme of ideas to force the opposition back on the defensive.
My own conclusion is this. The offensive option of ‘devising an entirely new scheme of ideas’ is impossible. This takes intellectual articulation and public support, and at the moment both are moving against us. Alternatively, to ‘Resist’ looks like snipping from the side-lines and risks emphasising the fact that the government are at least doing something. To ‘adopt the opposition’s policies on the basis that we can implement them better’ is more plausible. However, to give ‘timely concessions’ may in turn give us the political influence to moderate government policy. An example of these might be Cameron’s proposal to temporarily support struggling businesses.
Either-way, we should be prepared for defensive politics. No longer are the voters ‘all Thatcherites now’.