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1979 and All That: A forty-year reassessment of Margaret Thatcher’s legacy on her own terms

Albertson, Kevin and Stepney, Paul (2019) 1979 and All That: A forty-year reassessment of Margaret Thatcher’s legacy on her own terms. Cambridge Journal of Economics. ISSN 0309-166X

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Abstract

There is a growing disaffection with mainstream politics in the world’s liberal democracies. In particular, the UK has become an increasingly divided nation; as evidenced by, for example, increasing inequality, an emphasis on individualism, the so-called North/South divide and the polarised debate about the UK’s leaving the European Union. Many leading UK politicians claim inheritance of the “Thatcher legacy” to legitimate their proposed policies, yet it is not clear what is that legacy. Thatcher’s policies, instituted in the 1980s and broadly pursued by subsequent governments, changed the economic and social outlook of the UK. Criticism of her record is taken to indicate one is a left-wing ideologue. Our contribution in the following is that we judge Thatcher’s policies by no standards other than her own. Utilising an holistic approach, we consider whether neo-liberal policies facilitated or undermined the UK’s achieving Thatcher’s stated moral outcomes: the growth of democratic capitalism and the strengthening of the moral economy. We demonstrate, in contrast to contemporary narratives of her “saving the country”, the neo-liberal economic experiment has failed to deliver, even on Thatcher’s own terms. This analysis has contemporary domestic and global implications as generally Thatcherite policies continue to be applied in the UK and in other nations around the world.

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