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Margaret Thatcher Literature Review

By charliebg92 Aug 19, 2013 2083 Words
My proposed field of research concerns Margaret Thatcher, The Falklands War and the 1983 General Election. In the early months of 1982 a poll was conducted into how the public viewed the job that Margaret Thatcher was doing as Prime Minister, with the results showing that only 25% of people were satisfied with her, thus making her one of the most unpopular Prime Ministers ever. Despite these disastrous poll results, Thatcher managed a complete turnaround and, in the June 1983 General Election succeeded in leading the Conservative party to a victory that returned home a majority of 144 seats, a landslide. My research will concern whether the Falklands War, a conflict that took place in the intervening months and boosted Thatcher’s popularity, was the main reason behind this dramatic turnaround or whether other factors were more salient such as a successful economic policy or a weak and divided opposition. This essay is a review of the literature that has been written about this particular area of history and will inform the reader which authors have made significant contributions to this field of study and will dissect the connections, contentions patterns and trends that exist within this body of work.

The logical place to start, when analysing Thatcher’s turnaround, is by dissecting the impact of the so called ‘Falklands Factor’; a term used to describe any benefits that Thatcher might have received from what is widely considered to be her successful handling of the conflict. Furthermore, according to David Sanders, Hugh Ward and David Marsh, the Falklands Conflict is: ‘In Popular Discourse, the favoured explanation for this transformation.’ Indeed, all the authors on this period of history give the Falklands at least some credit for Thatcher’s transformation and many of them believe the ‘Falklands Factor’ to be the overriding influence in the turnaround. In his discussion on ‘Thatcherism’ Eric Evans describes The Falklands Factor as the ‘single most important factor in the large Conservative election victory of 1983.’ One of Thatcher’s biographers, John Campbell declares that: ‘with the successful conclusion of the Falkland’s War… (Thatcher) could now look forward to almost certain re-election.’ Andrew Marr goes as far as giving almost total credit to the Falklands Factor in the turnaround and subsequent election victory. Although he does briefly mention other relevant factors, he does not go into great detail about them. A weakness in Marr’s work is that his book is a more general text looking at a wider period of history and so he has perhaps not researched this topic in as much depth as other writers and may miss some important nuances to the arguments.

Some of the scholars researching this subject, such as Earl Reitan, have given the Falklands factor credit in marking the beginning of Thatcher’s turnaround, writing: ‘just as Thatcher’s popularity had reached its lowest point, she was given a new lease on her political life by General Leopoldo Galtieri.’ Here is where we begin to see contention emerge between the authors, as there is some debate as to whether actually it was the economy showing signs of improvement started the turnaround. Thatcher herself has written that: ‘The Conservative Party had begun to recover its position in the opinion polls before the conflict, as people began to realise that economic recovery was underway.’ Evans backs Thatcher up on this assertion, pointing out that: ‘the tide of popular opinion was beginning to turn with the economic recovery underway at the beginning of 1982, before the war began.’ The fact that these two contrasting sources agree on this matter gives credence to their claims. Thatcher is writing in her autobiography and so it is a primary source with the added benefit of her having been the pivotal figure in all the events and actions being discussed, while Evans work is a piece of secondary literature – a study of Thatcher’s career and impact written 15 years after the events.

The impact that any economic improvements might have had on turnaround is another hotly disputed subject in this field of research. Psephologist Helmut Norpoth, writing in his meticulously detailed statistical analysis of the 1983 election has reached the conclusion that: ‘The Falklands War was not an issue ranking near the top of voters concerns in 1983,’ as well as writing that ‘economic issues were extremely salient to the British public in 1983.’ This is a viewpoint that is strongly asserted by Sanders Ward and Marsh. In their essay on this subject they conclude that: ‘the renewed popularity enjoyed by the Thatcher government from the spring of 1982 onward was largely the result of intelligent macroeconomic management.’ It is worth pointing that the sub-heading to this essay reads ‘A Contrary Viewpoint’ demonstrating that this piece goes against the general tide of thought on the subject, but nevertheless it is a well-argued and thought provoking essay. Margaret Thatcher backs up this argument, running through her economic policies from the years 1981-2 and explaining how low inflation and rising wages contributed to a confident public mood. She goes on to write that ‘I had no doubt that the result (of the election) would ultimately depend on the economy.’ However, within her text there is a blatant contradiction as earlier on in this chapter she writes: ‘It is often said that elections are won and lost on the issue of the economy and though there is some truth in this, it is plainly an oversimplification.’ This contradiction creates a sense of unreliability about Thatcher’s work despite the fact it is a very useful primary source.

As previous stated, Marr gives almost total credit to the ‘Falklands Factor’ and he disputes the fact there was much improvement in the economy at all, citing high unemployment for evidence of this fact. Marr claims that: ‘In an ordinary election the state of the economy would have had the governing party rocking back their heels. But this was no ordinary election.’ Marr is fairly isolated in this viewpoint as even Paul Whiteley, writing an account of the 1983 election from the point of view of the Labour Party, concedes that economic factors played an important role in ensuring the turnaround explaining that ‘economic performance was decisive in influencing voter behaviour.’

Whiteley’s analysis of the subject is mainly discussing how far a weak and divided opposition aided Thatcher’s turnaround. Whitely book is called ‘The Labour Party in Crisis’ and he presents a convincing case that the Labour party was indeed experiencing a crisis, arguing that ‘there were grave problems with Labour’s campaign.’ This claim is strongly backed up by Thatcher who denounces Labour’s tactics claiming that ‘they were not only catastrophically unsuitable for Britain: they also constituted an umbrella beneath which sinister revolutionaries, intent on destroying the institutions of the state and the values of society, were able to shelter.’ The idea that it was the opposition’s weakness which caused the turnaround is also espoused by Campbell who writes: ‘Throughout the campaign she (Thatcher) offered little that was interesting or new but concentrated instead on attacking Labour relentlessly.’ This analysis suggests that it was opposition weakness that caused the turnaround because the Conservatives discovered that is was through pointing out the opposition weakness which gave them success as opposed to highlighting their successes; whether that be in the Falklands War or in bringing about an economic recovery. Many of the writers allude to another critical weakness in the opposition, a lack of leadership qualities possessed by Michael Foot, the Labour party leader. Reitan argues that Foot’s ‘inability to control his own party diminished any claim he have to lead a government.’ The assumption being that the public were unwilling to elect a man as a leader who lacked the vital qualities of leadership needed for the job.

To go alongside a weak opposition, there has been a general consensus reached that a divided opposition also played an important role in assisting Thatcher’s turnaround. The divide coming from strength of the Liberal Alliance which took 25.4% of the popular vote, which many of the historians claim came largely from Labours vote. Evans believes that ‘the Conservatives had the enormous good fortune to be faced by a divided opposition.’ Campbell writes: ‘by splitting the anti-Conservative vote, the would be mould breakers only served to inflate thatcher’s majority’ Whitely however disputes the significance of the Alliance’s gains informing us that: ‘Poll evidence should be kept in mind by those who claim that Alliance had effectively replaced Labour as the party of opposition. It is clear that the Alliance star was already on the wane in 1982.’ It is also a widely considered view that The First Past the Post system severely weakened the Alliance and reduced their impact as shown by the poor correlation between the votes and seats gained for the Liberals.

Upon reflection, I have arrived at the conclusion that my dissertation can make important contributions to this field of research. I believe there should be more research into how long the ‘Falklands Effect’ lasted and the hypothetical question as to whether the Conservatives would have won without this boost. It would also be prudent to study how the public viewed the economic performance, and how the Conservatives managed to get around the issue of high unemployment. There needs to be more study on whether the Liberal Alliance did indeed split the left or whether they took votes equally from both parties. There are also several issues that this literature review has not looked into such as the impact of the media in the election given the fact that the majority of the national newspapers were on the side of the Conservative government. There is also another interesting factor at play, in the fact that it has now been 30 years since the events in question and so Thatcher’s private papers and official government documents will shortly be being released in time for me to critically analyse them; a privilege not afforded any of the authors that have been reviewed in this essay. This will hopefully lead to an interesting piece of research tht succeeds in highlighting new information and reaching challenging conclusions.

Campbell, John, Margaret Thatcher Volume II: The Iron Lady, (Vintage, London: 2008) Evans, Eric J., Thatcher and Thatcherism, (Routledge, London, 1997) Marr, Andrew A History of Modern Britain, (Macmillan, London: 2007) Norpoth, Helmut, Confidence Regained: Economics, Mrs Thatcher and the British Voter, (University of Michigan Press: Michigan, 1992) Reitan, Earl The Thatcher Revolution: Margaret Thatcher, John Major, Tony Blair and the Transformation of Modern Britain, 1979-2001, (Rowman & Littlefield Publishers Inc: USA, 2003) Sanders, David, Hugh Ward and David Marsh, Macroeconomics, The Falklands War and The Popularity of the Thatcher Government : A Contrary View, in Helmut Norporth, Michael S. Lewis-Beck and Jean-Dominique Lafay (ed.), Economics and Politics: The Calculus of Support, (University of Michigan Press: USA, 1991) Thatcher, Margaret, The Downing Street Years, (Harper Collins E-Books: 1993) Whiteley, Paul, The Labour Party in Crisis, (Methuen: London, 1983)

[ 1 ]. Earl A. Reitan, The Thatcher Revolution: Margaret Thatcher, John Major, Tony Blair and the Transformation of Modern Britain, 1979-2001, (Rowman & Littlefield Publishers Inc: USA, 2003) Page 235. [ 2 ]. David Sanders, Hugh Ward and David Marsh, Macroeconomics, The Falklands War and The Popularity of the Thatcher Government : A Contrary View, in Helmut Norporth, Michael S. Lewis-Beck and Jean-Dominique Lafay (ed.), Economics and Politics: The Calculus of Support, (University of Michigan Press: USA, 1991) Page 161. [ 3 ]. Eric J. Evans, Thatcher and Thatcherism, (Routledge, London, 1997) Page 99. [ 4 ]. John Campbell, Margaret Thatcher Volume II: The Iron Lady, (Vintage, London: 2008), Page 160. [ 5 ]. Andrew Marr, A History of Modern Britain, (Macmillan, London: 2007), PP. 406-407 [ 6 ]. Reitan, Revolution, Page 46.

[ 7 ]. Margaret Thatcher, The Downing Street Years, (Harper Collins E-Books: 1993) Page 224. [ 8 ]. Evans, Thatcherism, Page 26.
[ 9 ]. Helmut Norpoth, Confidence Regained: Economics, Mrs Thatcher and the British Voter, (University of Michigan Press: Michigan, 1992) Page 103. [ 10 ]. Norpoth, Regained, Page 94.
[ 11 ]. Sanders, Ward and Marsh, Contrary, Page 161.
[ 12 ]. Thatcher, Downing Street, Page 229.
[ 13 ]. Thatcher, Downing Street, Page 224.
[ 14 ]. Marr, Modern Britain, Page 406.
[ 15 ]. Paul Whiteley, The Labour Party in Crisis, (Methuen: London, 1983) Page 211. [ 16 ]. Whiteley, Labour, Page 211.
[ 17 ]. Thatcher, Downing Street, Page 225.
[ 18 ]. Campbell, Iron Lady, Page 195.
[ 19 ]. Reitan, Revolution, Page 49.
[ 20 ]. Evans, Thatcherism, Page 26.
[ 21 ]. Campbell, Iron Lady, Page 200.
[ 22 ]. Whiteley, Labour, Page 211.
[ 23 ]. Campbell, Iron Lady, Page 203.

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