The number of adults owning shares rose from 7 per cent to 25 per cent during her tenure, and more than a million families bought their council houses, giving an increase from 55 per cent to 67 per cent in owner occupiers from 1979 to 1990. The houses were sold at a discount of 33–55 per cent, leading to large profits for some new owners. Personal wealth rose by 80 per cent in real terms during the 1980s, mainly due to rising house prices and increased earnings. Shares in the privatised utilities were sold below their market value to ensure quick and wide sales, rather than maximise national income.
The 'Thatcher years' were also marked by periods of high unemployment and social unrest, and many critics on the left of the political spectrum fault her economic policies for the unemployment level; many of the areas affected by mass unemployment as well as her monetarist economic policies remained blighted for decades, by such social problems as drug abuse and family breakdown. Unemployment did not fall below its May 1979 level during her tenure, only marginally falling below its April 1979 level in 1990. The long-term effects of her policies on manufacturing remain contentious. Speaking in Scotland in 2009, Thatcher insisted she had no regrets and was right to introduce the 'poll tax' and withdraw subsidies from 'outdated industries, whose markets were in terminal decline', subsidies that created 'the culture of dependency, which had done such damage to Britain'.
Political economist Susan Strange termed the neoliberal financial growth model 'casino capitalism', reflecting her view that speculation and financial trading were becoming more important to the economy than industry. Critics on the left describe her as divisive and claim she condoned greed and selfishness.Leading Welsh politician Rhodri Morgan, among others, characterised Thatcher as a 'Marmite' figure. Journalist Michael White, writing in the aftermath of the 2007–08 financial crisis, challenged the view that her reforms were still a net benefit. Others consider her approach to have been 'a mixed bag' and 'a Curate's egg'.
Thatcher did 'little to advance the political cause of women' either within her party or the government. Burns states that some British feminists regarded her as 'an enemy'. Purvis claims that, although Thatcher had struggled laboriously against the sexist prejudices of her day to rise to the top, she made no effort to ease the path for other women. Thatcher did not regard women's rights as requiring particular attention as she did not, especially during her premiership, consider that women were being deprived of their rights. She had once suggested the shortlisting of women by default for all public appointments, yet had also proposed that those with young children ought to leave the work force.
Thatcher's stance on immigration in the late 1970s was perceived as part of a rising racist public discourse, which Barker terms 'new racism'. In opposition, Thatcher believed that the National Front (NF) was winning over large numbers of Conservative voters with warnings against floods of immigrants. Her strategy was to undermine the NF narrative by acknowledging that many of their voters had serious concerns in need of addressing. In 1978 she criticised Labour immigration policy with the goal of attracting voters away from the NF and to the Conservatives. Her rhetoric was followed by an increase in Conservative support at the expense of the NF. Critics on the left accused her of pandering to racism.
Many Thatcherite policies had an influence on the Labour Party, which returned to power in 1997 under Tony Blair. Blair rebranded the party 'New Labour' in 1994 with the aim of increasing its appeal beyond its traditional supporters, and to attract those who had supported Thatcher, such as the 'Essex man'. Thatcher is said to have regarded the 'New Labour' rebranding as her greatest achievement. Shortly after Thatcher's death in 2013, Scottish First Minister Alex Salmond argued that her policies had the 'unintended consequence' of encouraging Scottish devolution. Lord Foulkes of Cumnock agreed on Scotland Tonight that she had provided 'the impetus' for devolution. Writing for The Scotsman, Thatcher had argued against devolution on the basis that it would eventually lead to Scottish independence.
Cite this Essay
To export a reference to this article please select a referencing style below