‘Manufacturing Capitalists’: The Wider Share Ownership Council and the Problem of ‘Popular Capitalism’, 1958–92

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Popular capitalism has been widely recognized by contemporaries and historians alike as an integral part of Thatcherism. The growth of the number of private shareholders was a defining feature of the 1980s, one undoubtedly facilitated by successive Conservative government policies such as privatization and deregulation. However, historians have yet to fully explore the underlying drives and mechanisms of Thatcherism in the realm of popular share ownership. This article takes a small pressure group, the Wider Share Ownership Council (WSOC), as a case study to demonstrate that Thatcherism entailed a set of institutional reforms which favoured certain interests in the City, at the expense of the individual consumer. The WSOC’s ideology was based on an ardent belief that wider share ownership was the best way to create a nation of well-informed capitalists, enfranchised in the economic life of the country and supportive of a free-market system. However, loyalty to this agenda eventually served to alienate it from the project of Thatcherism and certain financial institutions by the end of the 1980s. Although relatively small, the Council calls into question current narratives of the 1980s. Its alternative vision of wider share ownership demonstrates the institutionally constructed nature of popular capitalism as a vehicle for individual share ownership. Its institutional narrative also has implications for how historians perceive consumer society in the 1980s. It suggests that the consumer of financial services became increasingly inhibited by the range of products on offer by a small but dominant group of financial conglomerates.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)100-123
Number of pages24
JournalTwentieth Century British History
Issue number1
Early online date15 Dec 2015
Publication statusPublished - 1 Mar 2016


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