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The Lady’s Not for Turning

Want to know why conservatives revere Margaret Thatcher? Watch this clip.

If you want to get a sense of why conservatives in Britain revere Margaret Thatcher, check out this clip of her famous “You turn if you want to, the lady’s not for turning” speech at the Conservative Party Conference in October 1980.

The context: in the early 1970s, Tory PM Edward Heath was facing high unemployment and massive trade union unrest. Having come into office on a promise to break with the Keynesian consensus of the postwar era, he was forced to reverse course. Instead of austerity, he pumped money into the economy via increases in pensions and benefits and tax cuts. That shift in policy came to be called the “U-Turn.”

Fast forward to 1980: Thatcher had been in power for a year, and the numbers of unemployed were almost double that of the Heath years. Thatcher faced a similar call from the Tory “Wets” in her own party — conservatives who weren’t keen on aggressive neoliberalism — to do a U-Turn, and many expected she would. This was her response.

Incidentally, when I interviewed libertarian theorist Norman Barry — a member of the extended brain trust of the economic right in Britain — for an article I did for Lingua Franca, he had this to say about Thatcher:

I had thought she was just an election winner who wasn’t Labour. But when she lifted exchange controls, I thought, “This babe knows market economics.” So then I thought, “Yeah!” And then she began privatization and other things. And then she wouldn’t do a U-turn, I thought, “This is for real.”

A footnote: Two years ago, I wrote a post on Thatcher’s famous dictum that there is no such thing as society. The Left often gets that quote wrong, seeing it as a manifesto of untrammeled individualism.  It’s not, and our failure to understand what Thatcher really said makes it difficult to understand what neoliberalism is all about.