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NEO-LIBERALISM AND MORALITY IN THE MAKING OF THATCHERITE SOCIAL POLICY*

  • FLORENCE SUTCLIFFE-BRAITHWAITE (a1)
Abstract
ABSTRACT

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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Corresponding author
St Catharine's College, CambridgeCB2 1RLfas35@cam.ac.uk
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*

Many thanks are due to Dr Jon Lawrence, Professor Peter Mandler, James Stafford, the two anonymous referees, and to the organizers and participants at the ‘Neo-liberalism and British Politics’ workshop in Oxford, June 2011, for their extremely helpful comments on earlier drafts of this article.

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This list contains references from the content that can be linked to their source. For a full set of references and notes please see the PDF or HTML where available.

S. Brittan , Capitalism and the permissive society (London, 1973)

J. Bulpitt , ‘The discipline of the new democracy: Mrs Thatcher's domestic statecraft’, Political Studies, 34 (1986), pp. 1939

M. Francis , ‘“A crusade to enfranchise the many”: Thatcherism and the “property-owning democracy”’, Twentieth Century British History, 23 (2012) (first published online on 31 Aug. 2011. doi: 10.1093/tcbh/hwr032)

N. Thompson , ‘Hollowing out the state: public choice theory and the critique of Keynesian social democracy’, Contemporary British History, 22 (2008), pp. 355–82

S. Granville , ‘Downing Street's favourite soap opera: evaluating the impact and influence of Yes, Minister and Yes, Prime Minister’, Contemporary British History, 23 (2009), pp. 315–36

Searching for an explanation of unemployment in interwar Britain’, Journal of Political Economy, 87 (1979), pp. 441–78

E. P. Hennock , ‘Poverty and social theory’, Social History, 1 (1976), pp. 6791

S. Evans , ‘The not so odd couple: Margaret Thatcher and one nation Conservatism’, Contemporary British History, 23 (2009), pp. 101–21

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The Historical Journal
  • ISSN: 0018-246X
  • EISSN: 1469-5103
  • URL: /core/journals/historical-journal
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