The Conservative Party in opposition, 1974–79
Author: Philip Begley

This book examines the Conservative Party’s period in opposition between 1974 and 1979, focussing on the development of policy in a number of important areas. It explains how Conservative policy changed and why it changed in the ways that it did, before going on to draw wider conclusions about Thatcherism and Britain in the 1970s. The central argument is that although this period has often been seen as one of significant change, with Conservative policy one part of much wider and more dramatic developments, if it is examined in detail then much of this change appears modest and complex. There were a range of factors pulling the Conservatives in a number of different directions during this period. At times policy moved forward because of these forces but at others its development was slowed. In order to understand this period and the changes in Conservative policy fully, we need to take a rounded view and have an appreciation of the intellectual, economic and social contexts of the time. However, this book argues that the short-term political context was most important of all, and helps to explain why Conservative policy did not change as much as might be expected. There was not necessarily a clear path through to the 1980s and beyond. The roots of Thatcherism may have been evident but it does not appear to have been inevitable in policy terms by 1979.

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Philip Begley

The aim of this book has been to examine the development of Conservative Party policy between 1974 and 1979. It has sought to contribute to two burgeoning debates about the significance of the 1970s as a decade and the origins of Thatcherism. This period has often been seen as one of significant change in Britain, with Conservative policy one part of much wider and more significant developments. However, if the 1970s, and this period in particular, are looked at in detail, then much of this change appears less dramatic than one might expect. Although the

in The making of Thatcherism
Laura Beers

10 Feminist responses to Thatcher and Thatcherism Laura Beers The self-­described ‘feminist stand-­up comic’ Bridget Christie published A Book for Her, in which the author attempts to make the politics and precepts of the modern women’s movement a­ ccessible – ­and ­funny – ­to women. The book includes a riff on ‘Tory feminism’. Christie’s point of departure is the phenomenon of Conservative women, including the Prime Minister Theresa May (then the Home Secretary and former Minister for Women and Equalities), wearing a T-­shirt with ‘This is what a feminist

in Rethinking right-wing women
Rich Cross

7 British anarchism in the era of Thatcherism Rich Cross British anarchism in the era of Thatcherism The late 1970s and early 1980s were a period of unexpected resurgence for the British anarchist movement, and for wider libertarian political initiatives circling in the orbit of an expanding anarchist core. The renaissance of anarchism in the UK was not something which many contemporary commentators on the British political fringe had anticipated. But British anarchism’s recovery and renewed confidence was not only unexpected, it took on political hues, adopted

in Against the grain
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Philip Begley

Conservative victory was widely seen as representing something more meaningful. The Guardian described the result as ‘as positive an affirmation of faith as the British people have contrived, for three decades’. 2 The future electoral success of the Conservative Party and the hegemonic success of Thatcherism during the 1980s and 1990s would give the strong impression that 1979 was a turning point, the beginning of a shift away from much that had preceded it; the post-war consensus; Keynesian economics; close co-operation between government and trade unions; a serious

in The making of Thatcherism
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Philip Begley

children born outside of marriage increased during this period. But women were also more likely to go to university and had much fuller participation in the labour force. That many earlier demands such as equal pay, equal education, free contraception and simply greater opportunity were now taken for granted could be seen to speak to the lasting impact of the women’s liberation movement. 74 However, as suggested, despite these advances many women still faced real unfairness. Thatcherism, which had been burgeoning during the 1970s but went on to reach hegemonic status

in The making of Thatcherism
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Philip Begley

previous thirty years. 1 The transfer of British Telecom, British Gas and many others from the state sector to the private sector helped to reshape the landscape of British industry and the nature of the British economy. 2 From the perspective of the early to mid-twentieth century these changes now appear permanent and a lasting legacy of Thatcherism. But what did the Conservatives think of the nationalised industries prior to 1979, and to what extent did they have detailed plans for privatisation, or denationalisation – the term used at the time – worked out

in The making of Thatcherism
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Philip Begley

been brought about. According to Findley, by failing to make Thatcherism adaptive to unionism and Scottish patriotism, ‘For many Scots, Thatcher’s Britishness was indistinguishable from Englishness’. As such, ‘it is hard to avoid the conclusion that Scottish Conservatives were authors of their own fate’. 66 However, some subtlety is required when examining this period. This outcome was not irreversibly decided by the end of the 1970s. The commitment to devolution may have become limited under Thatcher but it was not jettisoned altogether. That eighteen years

in The making of Thatcherism
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Philip Begley

’ p. 77; Davies, City p. 210; P. Sinclair, C. Ryan and M. Walker, ‘Continuity, Change and Consumption: British Economic Trends 1945–95’, Contemporary British History , Vol. 10, No. 4, 1996 pp. 36–7. 28 Thompson, ‘Ideas’ p. 77; Davies, City p. 210; Sinclair, Ryan and Walker, ‘Continuity’ pp. 36–7. 29 W. Keegan, Mrs Thatcher’s Economic Experiment (Harmondsworth, 1984) p. 88; Davies, City p. 220. 30 A. Gamble, The Free Economy and the Strong State: The Politics of Thatcherism (Basingstoke, 1988) p. 73; Gamble, ‘Economic’ p. 41

in The making of Thatcherism
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Philip Begley

On the developing left-wing alternative see for example A. Seldon and K. Hickson (eds), New Labour, Old Labour: The Wilson and Callaghan Governments, 1974–79 (London, 2004) or M. Beech, K. Hickson and R. Plant (eds), The Struggle for Labour’s Soul: Understanding Labour’s Political Thought Since 1945 (London, 2004). For a contemporary perspective see R. Bacon and W. Eltis, Britain’s Economic Problem: Too Few Producers (London, 1978). 7 This kind of impression has typified some influential accounts such as D. Kavanagh, Thatcherism and British Politics

in The making of Thatcherism