Thatcher and Blair

With the campaign New Labour Because Britain Deserves Better, it appeared
that the new look of the Labour Party was so promising that most Britons
have poured their votes for the Labour Party, and Tony Blair and his family
moved to stay at the 10th Downing Street.
It is said that the New Labour won the election, because they have tried to
understand what British people wanted. Like it or not, the New Labour has
simply followed Margaret Thatchers achievements. Moreover, Tony Blair and
his aides have consistently used Thatcherite rhetoric to strengthen his
New credentials such as the use of No turning back and No, no, no.
(The Guardian, April 20, 1999)
Thus, based on the assumption that the Left Wing has adopted the Right Wing
policies, this report attempts to find differences and similarities of Mrs.
Margaret Thatchers and Mr. Tony Blairs domestic and foreign affairs
policies as well as the impacts on Britain.
The United Kingdom is a constitutional monarchy and a parliamentary
democracy. Its constitution is partly unwritten and flexible. Also, politics
in Britain is a two-party politics, and the system of British government is
built around the existence of competing political parties, having
distinctive policies and views, particularly The Conservative Party and the
Labour Party, which are the dominant parties nowadays. To understand the
management policies, it is worth looking into the political philosophy of
both rival parties.
The Conservative Party?
The Conservative Party or formally National Union of Conservative and
Unionist Associations is a right-of-centre political party. It is the heir
and continuation of the old Tory Party, members of which began forming
Conservation Association after Britains first Reform Act of 1832, extended
electoral rights to the middle class. Formed by Sir Robert Peel in 1834, the
first Conservative government announced the reform of abuse; the importance
of law and order and of the police; orderly system of taxation, and the
importance of both landed interests and of trade and industry.
Among former Conservative Prime Ministers, there are two well-known persons,
who shall be mentioned here. Firstly, during World War II, The Conservative
Party dominated national office and Winston Churchill (later became Sir
Winston) led Britain to victory in 1945. Secondly, Margaret Thatcher (b. 13
Oct 1925) and later being made as Baroness Thatcher of Kesteven was the
first European and British Prime Minister (1979-1990). Not only did she win
three consecutive terms in the 20th century, but she also was Britains
longest-serving Prime Minister since 1827.
Being called as Iron Lady, Thatcher pursued the policies mainly on
reengineering of public sectors, monetarism, and privatization of state-own
enterprises. In 1990 her policies regarding European monetary and political
integration caused doubts within the party and forced her resign from the
Conservative Party leadership.
The Labour Party?
Founded in 1906, The Labour Party was originally formed to provide a
distinct Labour group and interests inside Parliament. The party is
comprised of trade unions, socialist and co-operative groups, providing its
membership and income. The party dogma and beliefs are based on the idea of
equality (classless society), the state involvement in society, public
ownership of major industries, and high level of public expenditure and
taxation. (Sallis, 1982: 47)
It is noteworthy that the party has put the notion of the system of welfare
benefits in form of the National Health Service into operation, including
the system of social securities benefits.
However, when Blair has become the party leader in 1994, he has adjusted the
Labour Party standpoint by calling for the party to move to the political
centre (no longer a left-centre-party) and de-emphasize its traditional
advocacy of state control and public ownership. Plus, colourful policies
were announced: free enterprise, anti-inflationary policies, aggressive
crime prevention, and support for Britains integration into the European
economy. Based on the assumption that Britons were getting fed up with the
Conservative Party, ruling uninterruptedly for 18 years and wanted a change,
the Labour achieved a landslide victory over the Conservatives in the
General Election on 1 May 1997 and Blair became the Prime Minister.
Differences and Similarities
It is likely that although the political beliefs of the Conservative and the
Labour Party are on the opposite corners, their policies do have, more or
less, some similarities. Topics of domestic & foreign affairs policies of
both parties and the impacts on Britain, particularly during Thatchers and
Blairs periods will be discussed hereunder.
1. Domestic Policies
Basically, the British government will take care of their people since they
were born, go to school, get sick, get sacked and get old. To extend this
point, Britain has the social-securities system, which provides financial
aids for sickness, maternity, disability, unemployment, old-age, invalidity
and survivor pensions. The National Health Service (NHS), established in
1948, offers free medical services to the public through a network of more
than 2,000 hospitals. The Environmental agency sees to air quality since
1956. The government also handles the housing. Education is compulsory and
free for children between the ages of 5 to 16. Even business, several
important industries belong to the government. It is obvious that the
British governments have had close involvements with their people for years.
Margaret Thatchers Home Policies?
During early 80s, Britain was faced with the effects of a world economic
recession, with high unemployment rate and strikes from the unions. It was
Mrs. Thatcher who set out to end socialism in Britain, after the Labour
Party ruled the country for 6 previous years. She tackled the problems step
by step- making secondary strikes and boycotts illegal, providing for fines,
allocation of union funds, for the violation of law and taking measures for
ending the closed shop .
As the Prime Minister, she declared manifesto promises, which were reducing
inflation, keeping independent nuclear deterrent, remaining a member of EC,
and lowering the rates of income tax.
Being a neoliberal wing of the party, Mrs. Thatcher took a new line of
policy called monetarism and later internationally known as Thatcherism
(Metcalfe & Richards, 1987: 1). It means authorities should control the
supply of money and any attempts to tune the economy by fiscal means should
be abandoned. At the same time, the PM planed to reduce the number of civil
servants and privatize selected areas of government activities.
Notably, these policies can be considered as innovations of the century
and continue to having impacts on Britain today. Not to miss, further
details are as follows:
Monetarism or Thatcherism?
It was believed that once the inflation was tackled, the unemployment
problem would be automatically solved. Thus, the reduction of inflation was
her main priority. By stating Rolling back the frontiers of the state, The
PM had commitments that the government should get off the backs of its
citizens and taxpayers and every effort should be made to give incentives to
private sectors wealth creation as against public sector wealth consumption
Now, questions may be raised as to where the policies were from. It is
interesting that during Mrs. Thatcher sat on the frontbench in the Green
Room, she had a terrific backup team. She set up Policy Unit at the 10
Downing Street as her own private think tank. There were Keith Joseph, Sir
John Hoskyns, David Wolfson (a computer expert), Sir Alan Walters, an
economic professor and Sir Derek Rayner (CEO at Marks & Spencer).
In making the control of inflation, the Thatcher government adopted
Keynesian economic policies and monetarism. It is assumed that a Keynesian
approach will use public sector resources to stimulate economic activities
through the investment in the infrastructure, whereas a monetarist approach
will neutralize the economic effects of public spending so that market
forces could operate more freely (Derbyshire, 1984: 168).
Administrative Reform?
Thatcherism also included a clear political commitment to reduce the size of
the civil service and increase the efficiency of government. The programme
to improve management and efficiency in government was led by Sir Rayner,
and later was known as the Rayner Unit or Raynerism. First of all,
100,000 civil service jobs were cut. Secondly, senior officials had to learn
skills of managing resources and improve departmental performance. The
matter of fact was that the Prime Minister herself wanted to see both the
improvement in government departments and the attitude & behaviour changes
of the civil servants (Metcalfe & Richards, 1987: 2-3)
The British government has an important stake in industry, such as British
National Oil, Atomic Energy Authority, British Steel, British Shipbuilders,
or British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) and others. Some major public
enterprises have been privatized, and others are in the process of being
prepared for privatization. The privatized ones were British Rail, British
Aerospace, British Telecommunications, as well as British Petroleum.
The Conservative Party believed that not only the public sector of industry
was largely inefficient and lacks the cutting edge of competition, which
private enterprises had, but the government should not own industry. To
reduce the subsidies for them (and to provide additional sources of finance)
and to produce considerable revenues for the government, Mrs. Thatcher
promoted the privatization of these industries.
Hence, it should be noted that the term public enterprise refers to those
industries, which produce good and services for sale and owned by the
government, in other words, the governments ownership on behalf of the
general public. Unlike public limited companies, the term public means
that shares in them are available for sale to the general public. However,
some government-owned industries, like Roll Royce, British Leyland are in
the form of public limited companies.
It is obviously seen that Mrs. Thatchers policies had a close relationship
to each other and each affected one another, and because of this
single-party rule over a long period, it was possible for the government to
implement a series of reforms.
In her later years, she extended her Thatcher revolution from the
economics of finance and industry into new area of social policy, through
the further privatization of education, health care, and housing.
Tony Blairs Home Policies?
To bluntly put, when Mr. Blair became the Prime Minister in 1997, most works
have been done, prepared to be done or in the process, since Mrs. Thatchers
time. It was likely that the fundamental structures of the country were
already laid. Although problems and conflicts happened, they were finally
solved, by either Mr. Major or even Mr. Blair.
Therefore, there were little changes in the policies, except the sequences
of priorities. Based on the Labour Partys manifesto promises for the last
General Election, the Labour stated that education was the first priority;
the rates of income tax would not change; a stable economic growth with low
inflation would be promoted; the young unemployed should be off the benefit
and into work; the National Health Service would be rebuilt; strong families
and communities would be promoted; environment would be safeguarded, and
last but not least the House of Lords must be reformed.
When compared with Mrs. Thatchers policies, it was shown that the Labour
covered no change on income tax rates, low inflation, unemployment. On the
one hand, although these policies were quite similar with those policies of
Tory, the priorities were different. On the other hand, the home policies of
the Tory did not touch topics of education (despite of the fact that it was
the number one task for the Labour), health service, families and
communities (such as problem of homelessness), life in the rural areas and
environment, whereas the domestic policies of the Labour did not cover
privatization and the state reengineering.
It is explicit that the Labour Party emphasized social policies more than
the economic policies, and it was the government duties to work on them.
2. Foreign Affairs Policies
International relationships have always been essential to Britains
well-being In the past, it was due to its overseas Empire and its dominance
in world affairs. But today it is because of the importance of international
trade and finance to the economy.
It can be said that the international policies of Thatcher and Blair share
some similarities and differences. Consider the roles of Britain toward NATO
as an example.
The first similar view is about NATO. Mrs. Thatcher always affirmed
Britains strong commitment to NATO, and Britains independent nuclear
deterrent. Similarly, Mr. Blair also has made it clear that NATO will remain
the ultimate guarantor of Britains defense.
Another resemblance is the roles of Britain in the international conflicts.
In 1982, the governments response to the Argentinian invasion of the
Falkland Island, by dispatching a naval task force to replant the Union Flag
in Port Standley, restored it to popular favour, and helped Mrs. Thatcher to
win the General Election in 1983.
Likewise, it is Mr. Blairs intention to bring Britain to the front role of
the global situations. It is said that in the manifesto that Britain cannot
be strong at home if it is weak abroad. Recently, being called as an
American truer friend by George W. Bush, Mr. Blair supported and stood side
by side with the United States against the terrorists. Perhaps, this will
bring positive votes to the Labour Party for the next General Election.
As for the difference of the international policies, it can be seen from the
parties views toward British membership of the European Community. Britain
was reluctant to join the European Economic Community (EEC) since 1957, and
it took the country 16 years to make the final decision and became a member
of the EEC.
Again, history repeats itself. Although Britain has been a member of
European Union (EU), there are pro-European and Eurosceptic arguments. The
Conservative Party thought that Britain should remain a member, but with
caution. Mrs. Thatcher doubted and disagreed to integrate the Pound into a
common European currency. In contrast, the Labour Party held an extreme idea
by wanting the country to withdraw from EU. In addition, Mr. Blair said in
1997 that we would not join in any fudge single currency I know exact
what the British people feel when they see the Queens head on a ?10
note. I feel it too. However, this very Mr. Blair is changing his mind.
Recently, he and his party have launched several Pro-European campaigns by
putting that Europe today is not an ideology but a lived experience that
most people never want to do without again .
The root of the doubts is that Britain has never been fully in the EU from
the beginning, then they have never been able to have a chance to draw up
the rules – whether of the EU’s budget, the Common Agricultural Policy, the
European Monetary System, the Exchange Rate Mechanism or even the euro. For
these reasons, Mr. Blair has made it clear that even the idea of taking
Britain into the euro is unpopular, he will recommend it, if it is the
right thing to do.
3. Impacts on Britain
It is remarkable that the results of Thatcherism were so spectacular and
popular that it took the Labour Party 4 election defeats. Certainly, her
domestic policies management has various impacts on Britain and British
people more than those of Mr. Blair. To begin with, her commitment to
improve the quality and efficiency of the civil service creates benefits to
general public. Likewise, it helps the state organizations to compete with
the private organizations. Secondly, the privatization of the state
enterprises made a decade ago brings about better services to all walks of
life nowadays. For example, the services and fees of British Telecom are
more competitive to the public. Although British Rail usual causes problems,
the market mechanism will control the problems. No one likes changes, and it
takes time to accept them.
Inevitably, Thatcherism also caused social impacts. It gave birth to a
society of Filofax, and mobile phone yuppies- a new class drawn from a cross
section of other classes, backgrounds and educations. Most people enjoyed
new opportunities and well-beings.
In comparison, Mr. Blair has done many things, but nothing is new. Yet, his
policy toward the euro will surely affect Britain, and it remains to be
It is believed that all governments, no matter they are Conservative, Labour
or Liberal, have worked for the best interests of the country. Time changes,
and people changes. Changes are also seen in the Labour Party. Presumably,
it is for the best of the people. Later on, we will see changes in the
Conservative Party. Things and people have to change to survive. However,
power is mortal, but what people glory is immortal.
1. Derbyshire, J. Dennis (1984) An Introduction to Public Administration,
Berkshire: MaGraw-Hill
2. Metcalfe, Les and Richards, Sue (1987) Improving Public Management
London: Sage
3. Sallis, Edwards (1982) The Machinery of Government
Sussex: Holt, Rinehart ; Winston
4. The Guardian from the web.