After 1945, neo-liberal thinkers and think-tanks in the US and UK outlined different state welfare systems for the poor, such as Milton Friedman's negative income tax. These were underpinned by a rational, economistic conception of human nature. Between 1975 and 1979, Thatcher's Conservative party abandoned attempts to develop comprehensive, state-led, paternalistic schemes to tackle poverty. Thatcherites focused instead on creating what they saw as a rational tax/benefit system which would provide a safety-net for the poor, but encourage effort and thrift. They attempted to marginalize the importance of state welfare for the middle classes, to re-invigorate the ‘bourgeois virtues’ which had flourished in Victorian Britain. A family-centred, moralistic individualism underpinned Thatcherite policies; this individualism was not precisely congruent with that of neo-liberal theorists. Its roots lay in personal sources (particularly Methodism), as well as home-grown discourses on poverty and a Hayekian fear of the state. Though Thatcherites took ideas from diverse sources, their political project had a single guiding purpose: the moral (and, secondarily, economic) rejuvenation of Britain. Thatcherism was, thus, an ‘ideology’ in the sense used by Michael Freeden.
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