Aidan Beatty
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The Iron Lady’s imaginary childhood
in Private property and the fear of social chaos
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The policies of the Truman era were emblematic of the Keynesian consensus that dominated the post-war years. Chapter Six examines the breakdown of that consensus and also explores late-twentieth-century, Anglophone conservatives’ particular obsession with their own childhoods. In their autobiographies, Ronald Reagan and Barry Goldwater both waxed nostalgic about their supposedly idyllic youth in rural Illinois and the Arizona Territory, respectively. Likewise Margaret Thatcher, who used her two volumes of autobiography and countless speeches and interviews to construct a rosy image of her pre-war childhood as a grocer’s daughter in provincial Lincolnshire. This imaginary world of a pre-welfare state and implicitly white, pre-Windrush Britain served to throw into sharp contrast her dystopian view of 1970s and 1980s Britain, a land of oppressive socialism, race riots and family breakdown. A key goal of contemporary British conservatism was the creation of a ‘property-owning democracy’ and in the Thatcherite imaginary, England could only be a green and pleasant land if private property were fully dominant. Thus, as with Reagan and Goldwater, constructed images of an arcadian childhood in the past helped to legitimise privatisation in the present.

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