Full text: Wirtschaft und Gesellschaft - 1996 Heft 3 (3)

Wirtschaft und Gesellschaft 22. Jahrgang (1996), Heft 3 
A critical analysis of some of the main lines of development appears 
useful, not least because of the way various local versions of ultra-libe­
ral tenets and prescriptions appear to be spreading in the European 
Union and the individual countries of Europe, East and West, where of 
course similar social forces share similar material and ideological 
interests, and face similar global challenges. Not only this: thatcherism 
is presented by its British supporters as a social and economic model for 
the continent and has in fact acted as a trail-blazer and as an alibi for 
right-wing (revisionist) developments in Europe. 
Debate of the issues is also timely because Britain is in the throes of an 
- as yet undeclared - pre-electoral campaign, the outcome of which will 
decide whether, and to what extent, present policies will continue. In 
1990 these policies were widely expected to change dramatically when 
John Major succeeded Margaret Thatcher as party leader and Prime 
Minister. Mrs. Thatcher had to go as she and some of her more extreme 
policies had become so unpopular in the country that many of the back­
bench Tory MPs and of her Cabinet colleagues were convinced that she 
had, in the words of Nigel Lawson, the architect of her economic 
strategy, "become an electoral liability and that the Conservative Party 
could win the coming general election only under a new leader" (1) .  The 
opinion polls did indeed - if only temporarily - improve for the Tories 
after her resignation; they went on to win the 1992 election, although 
only just. 
Major was at first credited with having skilfully retreated from full­
blooded thatcherism (2). At that moment one analyst believed that the 
establishment of a new broad policy consensus was a realistic possibili­
ty between a Labour Party, that had discarded much of its former image 
- and some of its principles - in order to adjust to development in British 
society and to make itself "electable" , and a diluted version of thatcher­
ism more closely resembling traditional conservatism (3). But since then 
John Major has progressively readopted the entire Thatcher agenda 
partly under pressure of small but powerful - to an extent overlapping ­
groups of Thatcher super-loyalists, ultra-rightwingers and "euro­
sceptic" (really europhobic) Conservative members of Parliament. Their 
influence was given extra strength by the fact that the government's 
original overall majority in Parliament of about twenty was fast dis­
appearing as three MPs "defected" and as all by-elections arising out of 
the death of Conservative parliamentarians were lost, reflecting the 
government's present unpopularity and a public perception of the Tories 
as incompetent, divided and mired in sleaze. 
By April 1996 the government's majority was down to just one. As a con­
sequence, Mr. Major is dependent on the support of the Northern Ireland 
Unionists who are strongly conservative, but have their own tribal con­
cerns, and he may be forced into an election date in the Autumn of 1996 
intead of in Spring 1997, the latest that a poll has to be held. He had hoped 
that by that time improved economic conditions of the cyclical recovery 
would at long last call forth an up-to-now elusive "feel-good factor" . 

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