“Thatcherism represents something qualitatively new in British politics. ” `This statement, made by Stuart Hall in 1980, is a good starting point for a discussion of Thatcherism, raising as it does, several key questions. `Firstly, what is Thatcherism? Is it an ideology or is it, as Riddell believes, “an instinct, a series of moral values and an approach to leadership rather than an ideology”? (A view shared by Gamble, who regarded Thatcherism as being “essentially statecraft rather than ideology. “)
`Secondly, if Thatcherism is an ideology (and the majority of political commentators clearly see it as being so) then is it, as Hall claims, a new ideology or is it simply a continuation of traditional Conservative philosophy? Is it possible to distinguish between Conservatism and Thatcherism or are we in danger of losing sight of them altogether under an “overelaborate edifice of theory”? `We might even ask legitimately if Thatcherism is purely a British phenomenon (a view Beetham regards as one – dimensional) or whether or not it forms part of what Douglas calls the “international New Right movement”.
It may seem a paradoxical question but it is important in identifying that some of the most significant influences on Thatcherism have an undeniably international outlook. `”According to Hall and Gamble, Thatcherism is a political formation that combines the principles of the “social market economy” with a new “authoritarian populism”. `Stuart Hall and Andrew Gamble are among the foremost contributors to the study of Thatcherism. Their definition therefore is a useful reference point when identifying and discussing Thatcherite ideology.
This is not to say that their view is unanimously accepted by other political commentators – of all the recognized components of Thatcherism, the two cited by Hall and Gamble as being central to it, are the two aspects most open to debate. `In order to understand the nature of Thatcherism, I feel that it is necessary to examine the relationship between Thatcherism and (previous) Conservative ideology – is there a degree of continuity or is Thatcherism a truly radical innovation?
`It may seem an odd thing to say, but Thatcher never saw herself as being anything but a true Conservative – as Aughey says, Thatcherism can be seen as “a distinctive reading of Conservative Party history. ” Thus Thatcherism is not so much a “new” ideology as simply the “correct” interpretation of Conservatism. `Thatcherism as “true Conservatism” (the party of the nation, as envisaged by Disraeli) is not a perspective I would agree with and this is the view of most commentators. Of course Thatcher had a very good reason for adopting this stance and I shall return to it later, but it is enough for the moment to say that the two are different.
However there remains an argument for an element of continuity between the two. `In order to develop this argument it is necessary to define the economic aspect of Thatcherism. Hall and Gamble used the phrase, “social market economy” but what does it actually mean and can we expound upon it? `In retrospect it appears redundant to make this obversation, but it is important to remember that at its core, Thatcherism was a reaction against the philosophical bedrock of the Labour party, notably Neo-Keynesianism (its economic aspect) and Statism (its social aspect).