Decentring the Thatcher revolution

Research output: Contribution to conferenceConference Paper


Analyses of the Thatcher revolution, when not focused almost entirely on ‘the lady’ herself, tend to limit their cast of key actors to those ministers who formed the ‘dry’ wing of the Cabinet once the party entered government (Thatcher herself, of course, but also Keith Joseph, Howe, Lawson, etc.) There is, in addition to these central political figures, often some acknowledgement of the influence of monetarist economists (such as Tim Congdon and Patrick Minford), as well as an obligatory nod to Enoch Powell.
In this paper, whilst we analyse the attempted policy revolution within government, we pull the focus of analysis outwards in an exploration of policy development in the field of pensions – a policy area that epitomises what came to be called the ‘‘neoliberal’ revolution’. The Thatcher pension reforms sought not only to roll-back the State’s provision of pensions, but to sweep away the entire system of occupational pension schemes in favour of ‘Personal Pensions’. The latter aim was motivated by a belief that pension funds were antithetical to individual freedom and uniquely exposed to socialist take-over. This radical proposal was the sole product of two forgotten businessmen-activists – Nigel Vinson and Philip Chappell – working on behalf of the neoliberal think-tank the Centre for Policy Studies.
By decentring the analysis in this way we confirm the importance, first noted by Cockett, of think tanks in providing the core policy ideas of Thatcherism. We also, however, reveal the centrality of key ‘behind-the-scenes’ proponents of radical ‘neoliberal’ change within the government machine who sought to force those ideas through the policy-making process.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - 22 Sept 2017
EventDecentring Conservatism conference - St John's College, Oxford, Oxford, United Kingdom
Duration: 21 Sept 201722 Sept 2017


ConferenceDecentring Conservatism conference
Country/TerritoryUnited Kingdom


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