The politics of Thatcherism, S Hall, M Jacques

Tags: David Currie, Mrs Thatcher, Thatcherism, Martin Jacques Lawrence Wishart, Stuart Hall, James Callaghan, politics, Party conferences, Tory Party, Labour Party, proper attention, front bench, competition policy, Conservative Party, electoral reform, political journals, William Whitelaw, common parlance, British industry, David Howell, Andrew Gamble Party, the Conservative Party, Ludwig Erhard, relative economic decline, economic indicators, electoral system, Andrew Gamble, working classes, rhetoric, full employment, Sir Keith Joseph
Content: July 1983 Marxism Today 43
THE POLITICS OF THATCHERISM Ed Stuart Hall and Martin Jacques Lawrence Wishart in association with Marxism Today 1983 pbk Ј4.95 ISBN 85315 535 6 To start with the compliments: Marxism Today, in which the bulk of these essays had their genesis, has become incomparably the most interesting of British political journals. Nowhere else will you find such a sustained depth of analysis. The piece by David Currie, for example, on 'World Capitalism in Recession' is a masterly objective statement that belongs to no obvious political stable. Note the way he demolishes the argument that the first oil crisis is the sole or even the main cause of present economic problems. Note too the proper attention given to the fluctuations of exchange rates and the new sources of competition from the newly industrialised countries. All this is streets ahead of anything that has recently come from the Labour Party, or from the Conservative Party either for that matter. Moreover, the pieces in general are extremely weir-written and a pleasure to read. Now for the criticisms. There is a passage in the introduction which first gave me pause. 'Thatcherism,' it is said, 'has deep roots in the political traditions of the Right.' There is then a reference to the backwoods of the Tory Party, 'who, in the era of permissiveness, regularly turned out at Party conferences to embarrass the front bench modernisers by their faithful support for hanging, Law and order, censorship, the virtues of competition, and racist programmes.' I read that sentence three times. It is the words 'the virtues of competition' which stand out. I have attended many Tory Party Conferences over
the years and never have I noticed the backwoods baying for competition, nor even the front bench modernisers either come to that. Indeed it is one of the characteristics of the contemporary Party that competition policy has been one of the issues that it has always shied away from. Mr Cecil Parkinson, now the Party Chairman and Secretary of State for Trade and Industry besides, was supposed to produce a paper on it while in opposition, but never got round to it. The Party had still not got round to it by the time of the 1983 election manifesto. That may seem a small point but it is, I think, indicative of the approach of Marxism Today. What you have done, and at times done brilliantly, is to construct a bogey that does not exist. The bogey is, of course, called Thatcherism. It is worth noting in passing that almost all politicians of note get an -ism attached to their name: eg, Powellism. It is a habit of mind to think in terms of ideologies rather than individuals. What, one wonders, would have been made of Helmut Schmidt in West Germany? 'Schmidtism' hardly means anything at all. So you have created Thatcherism. I do not say that to flatter. The editors are quite right to say that they drew attention to this
phenomenon long before anyone else, and it has become common parlance. Yet in having created it you have made it sound both better and worse than it is. Thatcherism is endowed with a quality of intellectual consistency that can hardly have been observed in practice. Thus Andrew Gamble refers on page 127 to the 'social market strategy' of the Conservative Party, presumably a reference to the economic model worked out by a few German liberals in the 1930s and then applied by Ludwig Erhard. There are, in fact, very few British Conservatives who are even aware of the full extent of the German model, and allusions to it in Conservative writings and speeches are extremely rare. One of the few exceptions is Mr David Howell, and he has just been sacked from Mrs Thatcher's new Cabinet. The Thatcherism that I have observed from watching the Prime Minister for four
44 July 1983 Marxism Today
years in office and for some time before is overlook the element of chance.
developments in recent years: that is the
something quite different. Indeed it is There are also ways in which the authors decline of internationalism. This is a very
touched on in the essay by David Currie and Mrs Thatcher appear to have a certain British book, almost as British as the Tory
when he refers to a 'conscious aim of amount in common. Thus Andrew Gamble Party and as parochial as the Labour
withdrawing from involvement in industry, refers to the Conservatives in the 1950s Party. There is almost no discussion of
leaving it to market processes and the presiding over an 'economy comfortably developments abroad or of the need to
supposed incentives of lower taxation to afloat in the backwash created by the reform international institutions. Indeed
restructure the economy.' He then adds: boom in the world economy.' It was Professor Hobsbawm in his otherwise
'The practice has been rather different precisely that complacency which Mrs distinguished essay almost dismisses out of
from this objective. In the event, the Thatcher reacted against. Tories have their hand consideration of an international
precipitate collapse of British industry has revisionists too. The Macmillan period solution for the Falklands. He prefers to
forced government to provide substantial would be almost written out of Mrs see the Falklands war as a purely British
funds to major sectors such as British Thatcher's history of the Party, or at least phenomenon.
Leyland and steel to ensure their continued survival: but such help has been piecemeal and has not formed part of a conscious overall strategy.'
the central figures would be consigned to disgrace. Andrew Gamble writes again: 'Yet even if Thatcherism does collapse, the problem of
I do not think either that it is necessary to see any and every attempt to reform the law relating to the trade unions as an attack on the working class. Surely some reforms
Precisely. In industrial policy I do not Britain's economic decline will still be might actually be helpful: for example, a
think that the Government's behaviour has there. It will not mean that the social cooling off period in disputes. It cannot
been much different from that of its market strategy is dead or that it may not seriously be pretended that the present
predecessors. Andrew Gamble has a very be revived at some time in the future. The situation is satisfactory. Or perhaps it is so
good phrase when he says that the last two kind of decline that Britain is now pretended, for what we have is silence.
periods of Labour government were 'most experiencing cannot go on indefinitely. At There is an omission again on the
notable for defensive management of short some point it will precipitate a crisis which possible benefits of structural change. It is
term crises.' It is puzzling why he does not will decisively alter the balance of forces in happening in any case. It relieves drudgery.
apply that to Mrs Thatcher, for it is no less British politics.'
It can be life transforming. Yet there is a
accurate a description. It is in a way just as That sounds very like the thinking of Sir marked addiction in these essays to the old
much a crisis when the pound is going Keith Joseph. It is the theory of the manufacturing industries. What one would
uncontrollably up as when it is going precipice: sooner or later the decline like would be an examination of how
uncontrollably down, and one has detected becomes so sharp that the country falls over change might be harnessed in a more
very few improvements in economic man- the cliff. But, of course, that is nonsense humane direction. There might also be a
agement. In short, I believe that the when expressed that way. Countries don't search for some new definitions of such
authors have been bedazzled by the fall over cliffs. Decline can continue issues as full employment. Is it always going
rhetoric into believing that much more indefinitely. Look at other countries and to be defined more or less as a forty hour,
fundamental changes are taking place than other centuries. The interesting fact is that five day week more or less from leaving
is in fact the case. If you looked at the life goes on despite decline and that the ,school to retirement at 60 or 65? After all,
economic indicators alone, and ignored the continuation of the decline under Mrs it used to be far longer and it was widely
rhetoric, you would conclude that Britain's Thatcher has been simply concealed by thought to be a reform when it was
relative economic decline had continued rhetoric. It might be more helpful to look reduced. Has further advance been aban-
under Mrs Thatcher much as before, for the explanation in fields other than doned by the Left?
despite being cushioned by the revenues from North Sea oil. Indeed in general there is a tendency to overuse the word 'crisis'. As often as not, for crisis I would substitute 'same old mess'.
politics. Note, too, in passing the quote from Gramsci which is recommended by Stuart Hall to the Left: 'Pessimism of the intelligence, optimism of the will.' It is a
Not least, the question of financing the social services if there is to be little or no economic growth is an important one, even if the Tories have ducked it so far. One looks in vain for a socialist examination, or
There is another chronic giveaway in the splendid formula, but it seems to me to even for an acknowledgement that the
belief in a certain inevitability of events. apply just as much to some forms of problem exists.
The cock-up theory of history is entirely Toryism. Lord Hailsham would have loved Shortly after the election Mr Peter Shore
overlooked. In practice, Mrs Thatcher it for himself, and Harold Macmillan as appeared on television and said that
became leader of the Tory Party by a series well.
Labour had 'lost the 1980s'. He added that
of accidents. If Edward Heath had not gone We come now to some omissions. It is in future he would be referring to the
to the country in February 1974, he might surprising that so little space is given to the working classes not the working class. I
well have been Prime Minister for much of nature of the electoral system and its effect think both remarks are profound. Labour
the 1970s. If Mr William Whitelaw had on politics. The election produced a has lost the 1980s and it is absurd to cling to
stood against him in the first ballot, or even remarkable and not wholly unforseeable the old terminology of the working class. As
if the right wing challenge had been led by result in giving only 23 seats to the Alliance successive elections have shown it is
Sir Keith Joseph -- as Mrs Thatcher on around 26% of the vote. Should not the diminishing as a force in politics and in
originally wanted -- she might never have Left itself be embracing electoral reform, society -- a development that working
been elected. And if James Callaghan had even if only as a means of self-preservation? people themselves have welcomed. This
better timed the 1979 election the Tories At the very least, the subject should be book, for all its merits, is not for the 1990s
might even have had new leadership prob- discussed.
which is where the Left should now be
lems. It seems to to be a sound rule -- not There is also very little reference to what looking. wholly regarded in these essays -- never to to me is one of the most striking
Malcolm Rutherford

S Hall, M Jacques

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