masarykova univerzita v brně
Katedra anglistiky a amerikanistiky
BAKALÁŘSKÁ DIPLOMOVÁ PRÁCE
2005 Iveta Frízlová
Masaryk University in Brno
Faculty of Arts
Department of English and American Studies
English Language and Literature
The Impact of Margaret Thatcher’s Reforms in Britain
B.A. Major Thesis
Supervisor: doc. Mgr. Milada Franková, CSc., M.A.
I declare that I have worked on this thesis independently, using only the primary and secondary sources listed in the bibliography.
I would like to thank my supervisor doc. Mgr. Milada Franková, CSc., M.A. for her kind help and valuable advice.
the first Term: 1979-1983 17
The New Economic Approach: Monetarism 19
Nationalized Industries into Private Hands: Privatization 21
War over the Falkland Islands 25
The Reasons for War 25
Political Impact of the War 28
The Second Term (1983-1987) 31
Third term (1987-1990) 35
Margaret Thatcher became the leader not only of the Conservative Party but also of the whole of Great Britain. She stood behind the national and foreign policies that influenced the course of the economic and social progress of British society not only for the eleven years she had been in office. Undoubtedly, Thatcher sharply divided British society into those who loved her and supported her and those who criticised her steps from the beginning.
The aim of this dissertation is to trace Margaret Thatcher’s political reforms and their influence on British society. I will focus mainly on the economic elements of her politics – monetary policy, privatization, unemployment, Falkland War, and the trade unions – and present the reaction of the society.
I will open this dissertation with Margaret Thatcher’s biography where I focus not on her private life but on her political career. Second, I introduce Thatcher’s first term as the Prime Minister in detail focusing on the economic situation of Britain, which was in a deep crisis. I will point out several inevitable steps Thatcher made in order to start her “revolution“ because it represented her political approach in subsequent years. Towards the end of her first term, Thatcher led war over Falkland Islands so I will focus on the course and impact this event had on Britain. The way Thatcher dealt with the crisis led, undoubtedly, to her re-election in 1983. The fifth chapter will present Thatcher’s second Premiership and will picture how tense the times were focusing on the main event – miners’ strike. The last chapter describes the social mood in British society in the late 1980s and the last major reforms Thatcher’s government introduced. Intentionally, I will not discuss the difficult situation in Ireland or Thatcher’s attitude to Scotland and will only focus on the issues mentioned.
There are lots of words “first“ in the connection with Margaret Thatcher. She was the first and the only female Prime Minister of Great Britain ever, the first Prime Minister and a party leader who won the election three times in a row and the first Prime Minister who stayed in office for more than eleven years. Despite being a woman, she was much stronger, competitive, and decisive than lots of men. She had no other choice when being a leader in a „men’s world“, and longing for power.
Margaret Hilda Roberts was born on October 13, 1925 in the town of Grantham in Lincolnshire in eastern England. Doing well at school she went to girls’ grammar school and then to Somerville College, Oxford from 1944 where she studied chemistry. While studying at Oxford she identified herself with the post-war generation and became fascinated by politics so the next logical step was to join the Oxford Tories. She was elected president of the student Conservative Association at Oxford and met many prominent politicians as well. However, she could not devote her life to politics because she was doing science. It was her friend Airey Neave, who persuaded her that law was essential for the grasp of politics (Sampson 45). Her perception and fascination with politics were shaped by her father’s activity in local politics, since he had been a Mayor of Grantham in 1945 – 1946 and held many visits of local politicians and lawyers. Having support in her family and her future husband Denis Thatcher, rich industrialist whom she met while standing as the youngest female Conservative candidate in Dartford in 1950, she joined the Inns of Court and studied for her law exams in the evenings. She qualified as a Barrister in 1953, the same year that her twin children, Carol and Mark were born.
This first election she took part in started her political career. Although she lost both elections in 1950 and 1951, she enjoyed the experience of campaigning and became known as a confident and persuasive leader. She was able to address even workers (from Dartford) who suffered post-war shortages, taxation and state regulation. After that her career had a rocket start and her self-confidence was her advantage which can bee seen on the statement she made, “Since I first stood for parliament in 1950 when I was twenty-three I have not doubted I could cope with whatever I was doing” (Sampson 44).
She was elected to Parliament in 1959 as a Member of Parliament (MP) for Finchley, a north London constituency, which she continued to represent until she was made a member of the House of Lords (as Baroness Thatcher) in 1992. By 1967, she was in shadow Cabinet, by 1969 a shadow Minister of Education. When the Conservatives returned to office in 1970, under the premiership of Edward Heath, she achieve Cabinet rank as Education Secretary. She had a hard time in the office facing student radicalism, protesters disrupted her speeches, and the opposition press vilified her. Heath’s government, elected on promises of economic revival through taming the trade unions and introducing more free market policies, executed a series of policy reverses – nicknamed the ‘U turns’ – became one of the most interventionist governments in British history. It negotiated with the unions to introduce detailed control of wages, prices, and dividends.
When Conservatives lost second general election in 1974, Thatcher was appointed shadow Environment Secretary again. In this job, she promoted a policy of abolishing the rating system that paid for local government services, which proved a popular policy within the Conservative Party. Due to Heath’s second loss of the election in the same year, Thatcher decided to run against Heath, to general surprise, in February 1975 defeated him on the first ballot and became the first woman to lead Western political party and to serve as Leader of the Opposition in the House of Commons. Margaret Thatcher had been an MP for only fifteen years when she challenged Heath, therefore, she was considered a newcomer but it was not for her economic views, which were already known, that she was elected eventually but because there was no one else but her who could bring the Conservative Party to a successful election.
Labour government in 1974 – 1979 was one of the most unsuccessful in the British history, it led to that Britain balanced on the edge of bankruptcy in 1976, and the government had to negotiate a credit from the International Monetary Fond, which enforced expenditure controls. It was the year 1976 as well when Thatcher received the nickname that became associated with her personality of a strong leader. In January 1976 she made a speech at Kensington Town Hall in which she made a scathing attack on the Soviet Union. The most controversial part of her speech ran as follows:
The Russians are bent on world dominance, and they are rapidly acquiring the means to become the most powerful imperial nation the world has seen. The men in the Soviet Politburo do not have to worry about the ebb and flow of public opinion. They put guns before butter, while we put just about everything before guns (Wikipedia).
In response, the Soviet Defence Ministry newspaper Red Star gave her the nickname The Iron Lady, which was soon publicised by Radio Moscow world service. She acquired many other nicknames such as The Great She-Elephant, Attila the Hen, and The Grocer's Daughter (due to her father's profession, but coined at a time when she was considered Edward Heath’s ally; he had been nicknamed The Grocer) (Wikipedia).
In her shadow Cabinet, she appointed not only her supporters but also Heath’s old allies who were even sceptical to her leadership. However, as Sampson states, “She knew she had been elected because she was more resolute and combative than her rivals; and as she projected herself to the country on television she became more confident of her supremacy” (47). Over the winter 1978/1979 the Labour Party ran out of a good luck when they faced severe disagreements with their traditional allies – trade unions – which resulted in a nation-wide strike and showed that the government had little power over the situation in the society which was “sick – morally, socially, and economically”, as Margaret Thatcher described (Ibid. 47). Being a strong leader, she led the Conservatives towards a victory of the Parliamentary majority of 43 in the election in 1979.
Thatcher formed a government in May 1979 and became the first woman to be the Prime Minister in British history. She was re-elected twice and stayed in office until 1990 when her own party removed her from office.
The first term (1979-1983) offered two major challenges for the new Conservative government – the economic recovery of the country and wining the Falkland war in 1982.
The second term (1983 – 1987) was as hard and challenging as the first one beginning with yearlong miners’ strike during the 1984-1985, and Thatcher surviving a terrorist attack committed by the Irish Republican Army in 1984, which left five of her cabinet members dead. The aim of this paper is to evaluate the influence of Thatcher’s domestic (national) policies on British society, therefore, I will mention her foreign political achievements just briefly.
Concerning her foreign policies, she created a special relationship with the USA and President Ronald Reagan. In this context of the relationship between the two countries, Thatcher allowed US warplanes to fly from British bases to attack targets in Libya in April 1986 and accepted American nuclear cruise missiles on British soil, which she was strongly criticised for by her own party. The Eastern hemisphere was also in Thatcher’s concern. In December 1984, she visited China and signed the Sino-British Joint Declaration with Deng Xiaoping, stating the basic policies of the People’s Republic of China regarding Hong Kong after the handover in 1997.
The third term (1987-1990) showed the most ambitious government formed by Margaret Thatcher which had to deal with many radical and controversial reforms that I will discuss in detail later. The relationship with the European Economic Community cannot be forgotten because Britain had been part of it for nearly ten years when Thatcher started showing her Euro-scepticism. Her attitude towards Western European countries, France especially, was rather offensive and reserved. On the one hand, she believed in voluntary cooperation and free trade of sovereign states, on the other hand, she stood against Brussels central and bureaucratic management. Thatcher was against deeper integration of the European states. Her persistence and inflexibility resulted, in contrary, in many advantages that Britain received – the most important was lower financial contributions to the European budget (Fajmon 22). Furthermore, Thatcher played very important role during the Cold war, particularly at its end. She stood side by side to Ronald Regan supporting his defence policy, although, when Mikhail Gorbachev became the leader of the Soviet Union, she pronounced him person who she can cooperate with. She played a constructive part during the process of break-up of the Soviet Union in 1989-1990. One of her final acts in the office was to pressure US President George H. W. Bush to deploy troops to the Middle East to drive Saddam Hussein’s army out of Kuwait in 1990.
At that time, process of European integration was in its peak, the Community was finishing a project of a single European currency, and the position of Great Britain was once again very negative which was the major and particular reason that led the Conservative Party not to support its leader anymore. After Sir Geoffrey Howe’s resignation in 1990 and his bitter speech, Michael Heseltine challenged Thatcher for the leadership of the Conservative Party. She defeated him in the first ballot; still, he received surprisingly large number of votes from those members of the party who feared to loose their seats in Parliament in case Thatcher did not succeed for the fourth time in general election. The second ballot was necessary but seeing that the Party did not support her strongly enough, she resigned as Prime Minister on November 22, 1990.
Thatcher did not loose the place in high politics because in 1992 she became Baroness Thatcher and entered the House of Lords, was preoccupied with giving speeches around the world, criticising European Union, and supporting the Conservative Party.
Margaret Thatcher belongs to those politicians who left a significant footprint in one nation’s history. As she said about herself:
The inevitable loneliness of power had been exacerbated in my case by the fact that I so often had to act as a lone opponent of the processes and attitudes of government itself – the Government I myself headed. I was often portrayed as an outsider who by some odd mixture of circumstances had stepped inside and stayed there for eleven and half years; in my case the portrayal was not inaccurate. (Thatcher 467)
In March 2002, doctors ordered her to “take things easy” following a series of small strokes. Although she has made public appearances since, they have become less frequent. However, 650 guests witnessed her speech on her 80th birthday party in London on October 13, 2005. Most of the people paid tribute to the former Prime Minister including current Conservative leader Michael Howard whose words I will use to conclude Margaret Thatcher’s biography, “The UK had been on its knees in 1979. The bulk of the credit for the turnaround that has taken place since then belongs to her” (“Thatcher marks”).
the first Term: 1979-1983
Margaret Thatcher led the Conservative Party to an electorate victory as a lonely leader in 1979 defeating the Labour Party. The Conservative Party did not have the best support from the electorate; it was not even considered the best party to handle social issues like unemployment or trade unions. There was, however, a significant shift of those voters (the trade unions and skilled workers) who were interested in issues like taxation and law and order.
Margaret Thatcher was the only leader who could fulfil the public expectations. Her mobilising style, combativeness and lack of compromises were not the usual characteristics of the previous Conservative leaders who defended the welfare state, trade unions and taxation. It was Thatcher who criticised all the above and was willing to go against her own Cabinet members or the party majority. In such cases, she liked to use the power of television and the media. It was as if “political goals are what she decides and the role of ministers, civil servants, and advisors is to help implement them” (Kavanagh 247). She is quoted as having said, “The Old Testament Prophets did not say: ‘Brothers I want a consensus.’ They said: ‘This is my faith, this is what I passionately believe. If you believe it too, then come with me.” (qtd. in Benyon 14).
The economic prosperity of Britain before Margaret Thatcher came to power was far below the European par. Thatcher recalls in her memoirs, “I came to 10 Downing Street with overall conception of how to put Britain’s economy right, rather than a detailed plan: progress in different areas would depend on circumstances, both economic and political” (Thatcher 569). According to her, Conservative government faced several challenges in order to stabilise Britain: privatisation, deregulation, tax-cutting, wider ownership, restoring self-confidence, building leaders out of poverty, strengthening British defence policy, securing Atlantic alliance and restoring the country’s morale and standing (Ibid 569). From the moment she entered the office in 1979, Thatcher decisively put her platform into action with the aim of bringing about dramatic change in Britain. She emphasized the individual’s right to use his potential and ability in order to actively participate on the nation and then rise to the top. Some opponents feared that this strong desire to encourage individualism and business would leave the disadvantaged behind.
When defending her policies and future unpopular steps, she had to be credible and persuasive in presenting her story that “Britain had once been a great nation; it had lost its way in recent decades; but it was possible for Britain to recover its genius” (Gardner 44). Thatcher was a great orator, supported by her colleague Keith Joseph, influenced by the ideas of liberal economist Frederich Von Hayek, and knew how to introduce her arguments to any audience. As a leader, Thatcher had to address a large number of diverse electorates whom she had to present the right embodiment of her own life. On the one hand, she was a self-made woman with the lower-middle class origin, used her skills to obtain the highest education and while reaching the top social post, she managed to be a good mother and wife. On the other hand, she was the most powerful woman in the country – the leader of the Conservative Party. Her message to the electorate was clear on the campaign poster in 1979 – long queue of men lined up in front of the unemployment office with the slogan “The Labour does not work” written below. An important part of Thatcher’s embodiment was her confidence that her path was right and all the preceding paths did not work.
The Conservative victory of the general election in May 1979 secured the Parliamentary majority of 43 overall. Thatcher’s first government abandoned current Keynesianism and replaced it by monetarism as the basic economic policy. This economic policy was dominated by a focus on inflation rather than unemployment and preference for markets rather than managed economy. Industries that were nationalised by Labour government in preceding years were privatised in order to make them more competitive, strengthen private ownership, and in order to change the direction of British economy from the industrial sector towards the light industry and service. This was the general approach of all the Western countries.
As previously said, there are many disputes about Thatcher’s legacy, “Judgements differ about whether she carried through an essential modernisation of the British economy or merely succeeded in destroying the manufacturing industry, whether she expanded freedom by reducing the role of the state or created a more unequal and divided society” (Benyon 15).
In the following sub-chapters, I will examine the crucial features of Thatcher’s first term politics, which formed the whole eleven years of her premiership,
The New Economic Approach: Monetarism
Influenced by Hayek’s economic philosophy, Lady Thatcher considered monetarism as the right economic approach for the British economic development. Monetarists believe that an excessive increase in the supply of money cause inflation, a case of too much money chasing too few goods (Kavanagh 9-10). Thatcher’s aim was to cut the public spending and taxes that would liberate the market. By controlling the money supply, government would squeeze inflation and would not intervene into the private sector. This sector would be encouraged by this liberation and would responsibly approach wage bargain. Reducing the public sector and regulation would shift the economy more to the market-oriented economy. It is inevitable to say that every government wants to find a balance of the economy but it was probably the assertiveness and radicalism of Thatcher’s reforms that caused problems as well as a long time profit.
She gave inflation the highest priority over the rising unemployment but her rhetoric was usually sharper than her practical decisions. The government expected the monetary policy to reduce inflation but, unfortunately, there was a failure in the end. By 1982, the government was more concerned about the exchange rate and monetary growth than about the money supply as it was in the previous years.
Yet, in the beginning of her first term, she listened much to her advisors about the trade unions and nationalised industries, which she could not sell at that time for no one would buy them. The unemployment rose due to the world recession to 3 million jobless people. The strict monetary policy plus the high value of the pound was making British export temporally expensive so many smaller businesses went bankrupt. Still, much of this commercial hardship and unemployment would happen without Thatcher and monetarism owing to the climate of 1980 and 1981, Sampson suggests (51).
The power of the trade unions was regarded as being highly politicised. Thatcher planned to diminish their power and did so by the two Trade Union Acts. British unions were one of the most powerful in the world but they became highly bureaucratic and inefficient. The power was centred in the secretariat that did not want to make any changes in order to prevent negative effects. Thus, unions lost their primary function – to protect employers and their jobs. The loss of jobs meant a substantial outflow of the union members and funds, which derived from the number of members. This condition ceased to attract newcomers to join the unions.
Due to the transformation of the British economy, many traditional industries were reduced which led to many protests including the riots in 1981 in the inner cities of Brixton, Manchester, and Liverpool. Thatcher’s reaction was not relaxing her policies but she changed several key positions in the Cabinet for the people with the views closer to hers
(Sampson 54). Protests escalated with the minors’ strike that began in 1983 and lasted for a year, which I will mention once again in the second part of this paper.
Nationalized Industries into Private Hands: Privatization
After 30 years of a movement towards a large public sector in the economy, Conservative government went in the opposite direction. “Announced plans of denationalisation by Conservative government were usually jettisoned in the face of economic difficulties and both macroeconomic and microeconomic interventions continued apace” (Studlar 1080). State intervention in the 1970s was great, especially in the housing policy when the working class and the unemployed were offered living in the council houses, which were managed by the local governments. Thatcher blamed government interference for current economic, political, and social problems and planned to change this trend by selling much of the state property to the private sector. Council houses were being sold off at large discounts.1 As Lloyd notes, selling council houses meant to create property-owning democracy and brought ₤4bn. in the state finance (496). The privatization programme for state-owned and state-provided services was both denationalisation and liberation2. Thatcher believed that economy should rely more on a free market. As said, Thatcher started selling off state manufacturing assets and portions of service sector and this trend accelerated during her second term in office. During the 1979-1983 Parliament sold ₤1.4bn. of public owned enterprises. Over half of this came from the sale of oil shares and most of the rest from Jaguar Cars, and Cable Wireless. The following sale of British Telecom was intended to produce a share-conscious electorate. Over a million people became owners of shares for the first time in their lives (Lloyd 496). After all, Britol, Associated British Ports, British Gas and shares in British Airways were all privatized. Privatized assets comprised estimated 40 % of the previously nationalized sectors (Studlar 1080). The sale rose approximately to ₤24bn. By the end of 1988 and according to Kavanagh, “Over time the original emphasize of the programme has broadened from increasing liberalization and competition to raising money for current spending […] Sales of state assets helped the government to reduce the public sector borrowing requirements” (222).
Major criticism against Thatcher’s policy was: the first argument, shared mainly by the trade unions and Labour Party, was that the government sold the assets below their price, thus unprofitably for the state finance in a long run; the second point opposed that the public monopolies were simply transformed into the private ones (Studlar 1080). Although Labour Party and trade unions were generally against the privatization, they did not form a constructive opposition; many bought shares themselves and they questioned individual sales rather than the programme itself.
Nevertheless, privatization became quite popular among public who saw that plenty enterprises were unprofitable and that the world-wide trend was abandoning the heavy industry. By the 1988, the programme had shifted 600 000 jobs from public to private sector (Kavanagh 221). I think that supporters as well as Thatcher’s critics agree that privatization changed British economy as Guardian put it, “She [Thatcher] slimmed down a state which had become flabby and overstretched, reconciling Britain forever to the market. She effected the change brutally, and with great pain, but it was a change we had to make” (“Thatcher’s legacy”). Most of the European states underwent this unpopular change a decade later.
To sum up, in the first term Margaret Thatcher started all the necessary reforms she had planned to achieve. She started to reduce the public spending as well as the power of the trade unions, and began the process of de-nationalization and liberation of the market that led to business efficiency and competition on the world market. She preferred individualism over collectivism, which was reflected in areas such as welfare, where the aim was to break the “dependency culture” and limit the role of the state. Thatcher promoted the “Victorian values” such as thrift, hard work, traditional family life, etc.
However, there have been many critics who disapproved of her reforms. As Young put it in 1984:
Political domination extends from Whitehall far across the public service […] The rules of engagement in public life have been rewritten, in particular, the concepts of neutrality and objectivity. […] Starting with Whitehall, they [Conservatives] think, and spreading through the entire sediment of British cultural, political and economic assumptions, is a set of beliefs, masquerading as neutrality, which must be exposed and destroyed. In another parallel with Marxism, Thatcherites presume that anyone who is not plainly with them is secretly against them: an enemy of the state. When governments start attacking the consensus and show they mean to wreck it, other people - its custodians, if you like – start behaving differently as well. For them too, the rules of conduct, which previously dictated smoothness and inoffensive caution, alter. When government has ceased to be a healer and becomes for its own good reasons, a fighter, others begin to fight back accordingly (Young).
This was one of the views on Thatcher’s political style. She was known for a dislike to consensus on her policies, even within her own party. She was more a ‘conviction’ politician. Ministers who disagreed with her decisions and who she did not convince were fired and many were called enemies as Young pointed out. Despite the Conservative Party claimed to be the party for the rich as well the poor, Thatcher’s obsession with the reduction of the state and “her promotion of self-help and enterprise meant little to those 3 million unemployed or the inhabitants of desolate inner cities” (Sampson 56). Those who fought back the government the most, as Young said, were the minors, whose industry was in a gradual decline. I will present how Thatcher handled this crisis in the second part of this paper.
The Prime Minister’s resolute style of leadership and emphasize on nationalism was admired, especially, during the Falkland conflict in 1982. In spite of that, a few weeks after the conflict was over The Times wrote that under Thatcher’s government, the Conservative Party became unpopular, the country was humiliated, and the Social Democratic Party was in the ascendant. But the economy would rise slowly and the unemployment rate would remain on the plateau rather than on the increase (Critchley 8). Owing to the Falkland crisis, Margaret Thatcher was once again close to winning the second general election in 1983.
War over the Falkland Islands
The Reasons for War
War does not mean only death, misery, and disillusion. It is generally understood that it brings economic rehabilitation and strengthens national pride. War that Britain took part in brought a good luck particularly for one person – Margaret Thatcher. For political purpose, war was plus and no minus. Ten Weeks War, as Falkland conflict is often called, performed a miracle for the Prime Minister who was the year earlier viewed as the “worst Prime Minister” by 48 % of the British population (“Patriotism”).
The 1,800 inhabitants of the Falkland Islands were numerically less significant than for example the population of Gibraltar, nevertheless, the islands had a particular strategic importance that would have risen in case the Panama channel had been closed. However, it was not probable that Falklands would be the cause for a war in the 20th century.
The first settlers of the Islands were the British sailors in 1690 who named it Falkland’s Sound. The islands had been disputed between Britain and Spain in the late 18th century, and Argentina stood as the successor to the Spanish claim. British people who had settled on the Islands in 1830s showed no interest in relations with Argentina. By 1982, the military government ruling Argentina was very unpopular and needed a success of some sort; a transfer of the Islands was not approved in the House of Commons. “So the government of Argentina decided that seizure by force would show its power more effectively, a decision that led to its downfall and transformed the political situation in Britain” (Lloyd 491).
As expected, diplomatic negotiation failed when Argentina’s rulers were not able to decide what concessions could be offered to enable Britain retake the Islands and the British government needed to win some concessions for the Islanders before withdrawing. On April 2, 1982, Rex Hunt, governor of the Islands, sent a message that Argentina seized the Falkland Islands and South Georgia that is more to the east. British government had to take into consideration international political climate of the Cold war; therefore, attempted to obtain United Nations resolution condemning Argentina’s invasion.
British diplomacy was centred on arguing that Falklands Islanders were entitled to use UN principle of self-determination and willingness to compromise. However, Argentina rejected such settlement basing their arguments on rights to territory based on actions before 1945 and the creation of the UN. Many UN members realised that if territorial claims this old and such invasions would be unchallenged, their own borders were not safe. As a result, United Nations General Assembly on April 3 passed the resolution 502 “calling for the cessation of all hostilities, the withdrawal of Argentine troops from the Falkland Islands, and the resumption of sovereignty talks between Britain and Argentina” (“A brief history”). Americans took an important part in shuttle diplomacy between Britain and Argentina as well, but without any success. Furthermore, despite the British-European cold relations, the European Economic Community supported Britain by approving trade sanctions against Argentina on April 10. In the second half of April, government advised a British national to leave Argentina, the shuttle diplomacy was abandoned and American President Reagan announced full support for Britain. The campaign against the invasion involving economic and other sanctions began.
Thatcher’s government had to deal with two crucial problems: diplomatic strategy and public opinion. It seemed that Cabinet had a support of the combat but how long would it last? Government allowed war correspondents to be aboard of the ships to provide objective news. Parliamentary discussion Margaret Thatcher opened on April 3, 1982 was one of the worst ever, she remembered. She had to not only defended her Cabinet from the accusation of Britain not being prepared, but also to persuade The House of Commons to send the naval force as a quick and determined response. Critchley, reporter from The Times, described Thatcher’s appearance as:
…she seemed shattered; and the lameness of her explanation was compounded by the silly attempt to blame the Labour Party for what had happened. The Conservative benches listened to her in silence. She was in deep trouble and the lobbies hummed with the prospect of her departure (8).
Eventually, the House of Commons agreed with the Cabinet’s war plan and sent naval forces to defend a distant territory against the aggressor. In total, 110 ships and 28, 000 men sailed south.
Later on April 25, South Georgia was recaptured without any British casualties and the expedition turned west to the Falklands. On May 2, a British submarine sank an Argentinean heavy cruiser, the General Belgrano. The British newspaper The Sun famously greeted the sinking with the headline GOTCHA, although the accompanying story carried no news of 321 Argentine deaths.3 The sinking of General Belgrano had more strategic effect. Argentinean fleet withdrew from the area, ending a direct thread to the British. On May 21, the British troops made a landing on the northern coast of East Falklands. Argentina faced well-trained and well-equipped force about three-fifths the size of its own. Argentinean forces surrendered on June14, and the British commander of land forces Major General Jeremy Moore sent a message to London stating, “The Falkland Islands once more are under the government desired by their inhabitants - God save the Queen” (“A brief history”).
The Falkland war cost 255 lives of British service personnel and approximately 300 people were injured, six ships, thirty-four aircraft, and more than 1.6 billion pounds, but the campaign was considered a great victory for the United Kingdom (“Falklands War”).
Political Impact of the War
There is no doubt that the war had a significant and positive impact on how the rest of the world viewed Great Britain, which was formerly regarded as fading colonial power. During the Cold war British victory was essential for keeping an important role in NATO and being an ally to the USA. In spite of that, the victory was more significant for its effect on nation’s mood, pride and self-confidence.
The popularity of the government and of the Prime Minister rose sharply compared to pre-war times when it was not sure whether Conservatives would be able to defend their chairs in the House of Commons in the next general elections. The campaign satisfied everyone who hoped the country would assert itself. Despite the crisis in the Conservative Party, which was divided between the Thatcher’s supporters and her rivals, despite the question whether it was acceptable to solve this international problem with shown decisive force, the Opposition had to accept Cabinet’s course. Any criticism was unjustified particularly once the lives of British service members were at stake, Argentina violated international law, was denying basic right to the Falkland Islanders, and was ruled by a military dictatorship. These facts were imaginary shield for Thatcher’s lead of the war.
Force that remained very important was according to Marwick, “national pride, loyalty to the community, and its symbols ands surrogates (songs, flags, football, etc)” (283). On the other hand, the war released even aggressive patriotic emotion that was not expected by most of the politicians and commentators. Television and tabloids used the promoting language of the World War II and the Prime Minister fitted naturally into the role of a determined and supportive leader who was encouraging the “boys” to fight for liberation of the Falklands from the invader. Most of the political figures approved the armada and bombing of the Islands. Politicians and civil servants discovered once again the unity and decisiveness they lacked while planning Britain’s economic and industrial future. Surprisingly, this sudden mobilisation of the national pride was behind the military expedition, which made no real economic sense. How to keep this spirit of patriotism going was a very difficult task ahead of Thatcher. After the main British troop carrier Canberra returned to home base where it was greeted with great patriotic jubilation and pride, government continued to have a lead in opinion polls. According to MORI4, “Thatcher’s crisis-management rating soared from 64 % approval at the beginning of the affair to 84 % at the end. Interestingly, 54 % reminded dissatisfied” (“Patriotism”). The Times made the following comment, “The clash of arms has, not for the first time; brought about a political transformation. […] It will have been easier to win the war than to win the peace.” (Critchley 8).
The polls turnaround was not owing to the Conservative Party but to the Thatcher’s Conservative government. The Times depicts the situation with words, “The defence of British territory and the pursuit of national honour are the proper aims of Government, and Mrs. Thatcher has risen to the occasion” (Critchley 8). It was Margaret Thatcher who was praised for giving the nation a glorious victory, although the majority of the electorate did not agree with her social policies. Nevertheless, they perceived her to be offering toughness and leadership that could not been offered by anyone else in the political spectrum and which would be the right determinants of the social progress. Thatcher’s main political goals were economic recovery and making Great Britain great again.
To make a concise conclusion how did the Falkland conflict influence Thatcher’s government and what effect did it have on the British society, I will quote an apposite comment on Thatcher’s legacy made by Julian Thomas, commander of land forces during the Falkland war:
When Margaret Thatcher was elected, Britain was the sick man of Europe; long on advice and short on action. By her insistence on sending a task force to repossess the Falklands, she restored the people of Britain’s faith in themselves, and gained the respect of the rest of the world. It demonstrated that morale in key Western country was not nearly so low as they imagined (“Evaluating Thatcher’s legacy”).
The Second Term (1983-1987)
Despite the pessimistic mood of the British public in 1983 and the economic prognosis, Margaret Thatcher won the general election in that year. The Times reported that the British public in 1984 expected higher prices, higher unemployment and labour trouble (Watt 10). Winning the Prime Minister’s post gave Thatcher a second chance to continue the economic recovery of the country. Notwithstanding, Thatcher faced the same problems as when she first appeared at 10 Downing Street – the inflation rate was 4 %, or slightly below and 3 million people were still permanently unemployed.
After a few months in office, Thatcher’s government seemed to be without any strength. She went the opposite direction to the preceding governments which meant fighting the trade unions, beating down inflation, strictly controlling money supply and keeping the unemployment high (Sampson 481). Public expenditures were slightly higher and her next intention was not to cut the expenditures but to hold it and let the growth go where it could (“What is Thatcherism now?”). The government needed to search for better value of money within the welfare state – how to finance and reasonably manage it. It was inconceivable to cut the public spending further because it would have affected areas like health care. Many external factors had a significant impact on the British economy – for example high value of American dollar and the movement of funds to the USA predominantly. In the contrary, The Times evaluated the beginning of Thatcher’s second term in a positive way, “Having successfully fought inflation in her first term, Mrs Thatcher must be firm in maintaining that advantage in her second. That requires a planned and radical strategy for the public sector and taxation” (“Ibid.”).
However, the first challenge for Thatcher’s government was the miners’ strike that began in 1984 and lasted for a year. It was a result of her attitude towards trade unions and the strike revealed the long time hidden frustration of the British people.
Coal was essential for British fuel supplies but it had been fluently reduced when oil became more valuable thus unprofitable mines were being shut down. Energy from coal and oil was sold for the same price due to the fact that about two-thirds of the oil price went to the Treasury tax. On the other hand, coal mines paid no tax. At first the National Union of Mineworkers and Conservative government cooperated quite well, however, Arthur Scargill, newly elected president of the NUM, searched for an opportunity to call a strike. The general strike was to be announced only if 55 % of the workers would have agreed in the national ballot. However, in 1983 it was difficult for a person to find a new job, thus it was not possible to ask the miners to jeopardize their current positions. The leaders came with the idea to call each picket separately which would have the same effect as the general strike. When Thatcher’s government learnt that the probability of the strike was high, it made necessary steps to obtain enough supplies of electricity and of the existing coal for the upcoming winter so the public did not feel it effects that much.
The strike began in March 1984 and involved 100,000 men for a year. “Some people welcomed it as an attack on the government, and the ‘radicalism of the communicators’ may have led the miners to overestimate the pressure of public opinion on the government” (Lloyd 498). The Guardian made a comment on the state British society was in: “The miners’ strike has become the dominating fact of British life this year: The social, legal, moral and economic questions it raises have by now become wholly apparent” (Young). Nevertheless, the Union did not act according to the morals: miners did not receive any strike pay from the union and there was not any national ballot held. The minority of men continued to work because they did not approve Union’s methods. Many people respected the strikers for their determination, endurance, and loyalty but the mood among the strikers was far from optimistic when having lost faith in their leaders. According to Margaret Thatcher, the most violent conflict between the miners and the police was in front of the coking plant in Orgreave in May 1984 when over 5000 miners attacked the police and 69 people were injured. The public criticized the fact that the nationalized industries did not use all means of the civil law that were available after the new union Acts. Eventually, the civil law began to function and there were minors who sued the NUM and the strike was termed ‘unofficial’ by the court (Thatcherová 244).
Mentioned previously, Thatcher has often been quoted for saying that there were enemies within whom she meant not all the miners but only the Marxist revolutionists who led the strike (Thatcherová 256). She was also known that she did not negotiate with the people who declared violence and terror.5 This is one of the reasons why Thatcher was so unyielding in the way she handled the miners’ strike. At the beginning of March 1985, the leadership announced the end of the strike, although there was no coveted settlement. During the miners’ strike “the Government was tough, consistent (on the whole), and victorious” (Marwick 342).
The weakening of the trade unions in the 1980s was caused by government legislation, rising unemployment, and progress in technology. According to Kavanagh, a significant growth of part-time, female, and self-employment as well as the growth in the service sector created groups of employers which the trade unions did not manage to incorporate in their structures (240). Those people were not dependent on the trade unions and were not their members either. Lack of the members weakened unions’ power.
As Thatcher promised, British economy caught a second breath and was growing faster than many European economies in the mid-1980s. Economy was held back in the beginning of the 1980s but at the time of the upturn, there was a general willingness to incur new debts because to borrow money was easier than before (Lloyd 510). It is necessary to say that despite the economic growth the social gap between the geographical parts of Great Britain widened and the differences between the rich South and the poor North became substantial. The North lost its heavy industry, coal mining and did not attract the light industry such as computer technology and electronics so the unemployment rose to around 14 %.6 Margaret Thatcher wanted to make Britain great again but the class, racial, urban, and religious tensions persisted and caused several riots and violence (Marwick 346).
Thatcher valued traditional principles and was ready to enforce them by all means. She was convinced that her way was the best one and the more years she stayed at 10 Downing Street, the more self-confident she became. Despite all the popular as well as unpopular policies, her strong leadership skills brought her and the Conservative Party the third victory in the election in May 1987.
Third term (1987-1990)
Margaret Thatcher’s role in politics was not decreasing after 8 years in office. She became important and respected on the world scene even more, which meant that people trusted her at home. However, the aim of this paper is not to evaluate Thatcher’s foreign policy therefore I will continue focusing on the national issues.
As I said previously, the British economy grew faster than in most of the European countries that allowed the government to cut taxes in 1988-1989 and one year later had a surplus with which to replay debt. Most of the surplus came from the privatization. Despite the few years of a significant economic upturn, Britain was still according to Marwick a country of confrontation. I will mention a few negative reactions of the public on Thatcher’s reforms.
Britain is a multi-national and multi-religious country. By the 1980s the phenomenon of “multiculturalism” was not only a theory but could be seen in real life. Violent riots struck in 1985 and were caused by urban deprivation and racial tensions in the areas of mixed population, high unemployment and drug dealing networks (Marwick 343). Thatcher wanted to reduce the welfare state and reduce the public expenditures; job and income protection was not a priority and the personal social service was moved under the local administrative responsibility. Marwick’s characterization was, “The philosophy of encouraging independence appeared more like a philosophy of perpetuating deprivation” (355). The bureaucracy and so called simplification of the system caused that the groups of people in need got only the subsistence. For instance, social grants were replaced by loans which caused that people on the poverty line, with the lowest paid jobs, could not pay the loan off and got caught in the trap. The government claimed that it was only the interim period before the poor people moved to a better social position. Yet, the often mentioned phrase describing Thatcher’s reforms has been that she made rich people richer and the poor poorer. Health service was also reformed and partly privatized but in 1987 was failing. In the same year, patients, surgeons, and health districts had no other choice but to protest. In spite of that the government was spending more money on health service than ever, the prices of the new technologies and drugs went several times up and the government simply underestimated the wage rise, the number of people who needed intensive care etc.
The biggest demonstration and public disagreement with the government appeared when a new tax system for local government, the Community Charge, or “poll tax” was introduced and became a serious political problem. Local councils took advantage of the introduction of a new system to increase tax rates, blaming the increase on the Thatcher Government7 (“Margaret Thatcher” 2001). The community charge meant that all adults living in one property paid the same tax. People felt it was not fair and it was estimated that hundreds of thousands of people kept their names off the electorate register in order to be “invisible”.
Margaret Thatcher never doubted her decisions and was convinced that her path was right and that she had to stick to it. She admitted “I was utterly convinced of one thing: there was no way of achieving that fundamental change of attitude which was required to wrench Britain out of decline if people believed that we were prepared to alter course under pressure” (qtd. in Gardner 45). It has already been mentioned that Thatcher did not hesitate to dismiss any minister when he did not share the same views. On the other hand, her growing arrogance, intransigence and the fact that she relied on her advisors more than on the Cabinet caused that she had to face several disputes in her Cabinet particularly because she was strongly opposed pegging the pound to the Deutschmark through the European Exchange Rate Mechanism (ERM). It resulted in the resignation of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, Nigel Lawson, who was one of the longest serving Chancellors in Thatcher’s Cabinet. The second biggest dispute began when The Prime Minister found herself increasingly at odds with her Foreign Secretary, Sir Geoffrey Howe, on all questions touching European integration. At the end of the Cold war and at the beginning of the biggest European integration, she became Euro-sceptic about the process of integration and later in 1989 about the intentions to restore German union as well.
It was her attitude to the EEC and her stubbornness which made her unpopular and not wanted in the Conservative Party.
As it has been described earlier, Margaret Thatcher left 10 Downing Street on October 28, 1990 and as she wrote, “I was tormented by a whirl of conflicting and confused thoughts and emotions” (Thatcher 465).
Most people agree that today’s Britons are tougher, harder working, and more alert, but also less gracious, less considerate and less secure. The new Briton has “a sense of ‘what you own is what you are,’” said Hugo Young from The Guardian (qtd. in Blystone).
Margaret Thatcher served as a British Prime Minister for more than 11 years. Being re-elected twice, she never lost general election but it was her own party members who let her fall. Rawnsley described the mood among the Conservatives: “They have loved her never so much as when losing her. Her own backbenchers showered her with bouquets of praise” (“The Thatcher resignation”).
Moreover, what was the Thatcher’s legacy that forms even today Britain? More than twice the number of Englishmen own stock now as in 1979. The number of homeowners has increased; taxes are down dramatically, even as compared to Mrs. Thatcher’s first budget. Controls on economic activity were relaxed – opening of capital markets, for example, has made Britain the centre of the world’s finance. Unemployment, the long lime struggle of Thatcher’s government, has been significantly reduced.8. Income taxes, which were confiscatory – a top rate of 83% - in the late 1970s, have come down and stayed down (Arnold). Investments are on the rise, inflation has been tamed, and strike fever is a thing of the past.
However, the effects of Thatcherism have not all been positive. Despite her best attempts, Margaret Thatcher left office with inflation at nearly 11% but it began the decrease after her resignation, the infrastructure crumbling, and the nation facing a growing trade deficit. “The hundred-billion-dollar profits of privatization fail to show up in the country’s decaying infrastructure, in the living scrap heap on the streets” (Blystone).
Neil Kinnock, the leader of the Labour Party, claimed that Margaret Thatcher legitimised long-term poverty and deficit.9 On the other hand, her Conservative colleagues believed that she extirpated socialism, brought trade unions into the right limits, and put the economy firmly in the right lines. I would like to close this dissertation with the thought that expresses Margaret Thatcher’s attitude to politics the best, “I have always said if you want a speech, ask a man. If you want something done, ask a woman” (Davies).
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