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New Left Review I/179, January-February 1990

Bob Jessop and Kevin Bonnett and Simon Bromley

Farewell to Thatcherism? Neo-Liberalism and ‘New Times’

There can be no doubt that the Thatcher government over the last year or so has encountered a crisis of public confidence: some even believe the end of Thatcherism is nigh. [1] Although Tom Ling could not co-author the present article, we are glad to acknowledge his continuing influence on our analysis. Signs of impending doom were already discerned in June 1989 when the Conservative party suffered its first ever defeat in elections to the European Parliament, in what was widely seen as a national referendum on ten years of Thatcherism. The ensuing Cabinet reshuffle in July 1989, the most extensive under any Thatcher government, brought more ‘wets’ into the front line and was so badly managed that it is said to have further undermined party morale. This was followed in November by the dramatic resignation of Nigel Lawson, the architect of the 1987 election boom and the 1988 tax-cutting budget which had promised so much for the party. Moreover, although Mrs Thatcher easily survived the first challenge to her party leadership last December, some commentators believe she may not be able to do the same this year if her problems continue to accumulate. Others suggest that, even if she does, she is already a lame-duck premier; and that the price of survival will be the abandonment, or at least moderation, of radical Thatcherism. Labour’s lead in the polls encourage shopes that, with or without Mrs Thatcher, the Conservatives can be defeated in the next election. In any event, for whatever reason and whether with pleasure, sadness or a tinge of Schadenfreude, Thatcherism has been declared ‘dead’ by forces on left and right alike and the post-Thatcherite era has been heralded along with the new decade. The purpose of this article is: (a) to criticize prevailing explanations (actual or implied) for the end of Thatcherism; (b) to outline our own explanation for its current crisis; (c) to discuss more fully the economic aspects of the crisis in their domestic and international dimensions; and (d) to consider how far and in what respects the impact of Thatcherism to date could be reversed and what this implies for a post-Thatcher politics.

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Kevin Bonnett, Simon Bromley, Bob Jessop, ‘Farewell to Thatcherism? Neo-Liberalism and 'New Times'’, NLR I/179: £3

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