by Samuel Rubinstein
Friday, 22
July 2022
Idea
16:29

Truss and Sunak are not true Thatcherites

Thatcher believed in innovation, not zombie ideology
by Samuel Rubinstein
Stop digging up my corpse! (Credit: Mattbuck/ Wikicommons)

When Margaret Thatcher was ousted in 1990, no-one mourned her more than the satirists. Unwilling to dispense with their most iconic puppet, the writers at Spitting Image contrived to keep her on. They did so by presenting John Major, perhaps unfairly, as nothing more than her stooge. In one episode Thatcher surgically removes his brain and replaces it with a transmitter, to ensure he does her bidding. The John Major of Spitting Image walks around robotically declaring: “I am a Thatcherite, I am a Thatcherite.”

One would be forgiven for thinking that a similar fate had befallen the current cohort of Tory MPs. The small inconvenience of Thatcher’s death has done little to dislodge her drawling voice from their minds. When Mike Freer, Thatcher’s successor as MP for Finchley, resigned from government two weeks ago, he wrote that he was doing “what Mrs Thatcher would have done”. Earlier in his letter, he admonished the Johnson ministry for “creating an atmosphere of hostility for LGBT+ people”; presumably the Thatcher he was invoking wasn’t the same Thatcher who introduced Section 28.

In the manner of religious zealots, Rishi Sunak and Liz Truss are locked in battle over which of them is the “true Thatcherite”. It’s worth remembering that Truss was four-years-old when Thatcher became Prime Minister, and Sunak wasn’t even born. As they vie with one another for Number 10, they are further removed from Thatcher’s accession than she was from Neville Chamberlain’s.

This is today’s Conservative Party: invoking Thatcher ad nauseam, to the detriment of actually making sense. Each of the two remaining candidates have a different sense of who Thatcher really was: Sunak’s Thatcher is a deficit hawk; Truss’s a dogged tax-slasher. Truss infamously works hard to emulate Thatcher’s appearance. Not wishing to be outdone, Sunak is promising to deliver “a 21st-century set of Thatcherite reforms”.

Since I’m not a Tory MP, I don’t conduct séances with the Iron Lady — but I suspect she would be unimpressed by the intellectual vacuity of the party that she led for 15 years. Thatcherism, after all, was never intended to be dead dogma. It was a radical response to the problems of the time. Nobody seems bothered to articulate a response to ours.  

In the leadership elections of 1997 and 2001, the Tories complied with Thatcher’s will by anointing William Hague and Iain Duncan Smith. The former lost to Tony Blair in a landslide; the latter was unceremoniously dumped two years later. Thatcher’s ghost might appeal to Tory MPs and members, but elsewhere it still carries a stench. To become Prime Minister, Sunak and Truss may need to kneel at Thatcher’s shrine, but to remain in post for long, they’ll eventually need to attract voters in parts of the country where she isn’t much revered. Failing that, the Tories will limp like zombies into opposition, where — as Thatcher did in the late Seventies — they might even come up with some new ideas.  

Join the discussion


To join the discussion, get the free daily email and read more articles like this, sign up.

It's simple, quick and free.

Sign me up
Subscribe
Notify of
guest
12 Comments
Most Voted
Newest Oldest
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Katharine Eyre
Katharine Eyre
2 months ago

Agreed. Watching this vigourous and yet vacuous jousting contest among the Tories, I’ve developed a bit of a Pavlovian reaction. Every time the Iron Lady comes up, I just want to yell “STOP SAYING THATCHER!!!! NO ONE SAY THATCHER!!!” Like something you might shout at a group of boisterous kids on a sugar high.
Honestly, it shouldn’t matter who is the biggest fan or the perceived worthy heir to the first female PM of the United Kingdom. The question shouldn’t be “what would Maggie have done?” There should be a statement: “this is what I, as the first and only [Liz Truss/Rishi Sunak], am going to do”.
Imitation may be the sincerest form of flattery, but it’s also a big flashing neon light planted on the top of your head that you are devoid of all originality.

Prashant Kotak
Prashant Kotak
2 months ago

How has it come to this?

It’s like signing Elvis Presley, then removing him from all active duty because of one riotous hotel room smash-up too many, and sending him on a Morris Dancing tour of the UK instead, while you audition a couple of Cliff Richard tribute acts as replacements.

Meanwhile, as successors fighting over the true version of the one true ‘truth’, I view Sunak and Truss as heading the Shia and Sunni sects of the religion that Thatcherism has become. Arcane and pointless differences for outsiders, but for the true believers, worth fighting a continuous fratricidal war over, clearly – as modernity completely passes them by.

Richard Calhoun
Richard Calhoun
2 months ago

The contest has just started … both candidates will need to come up with some hard policies to tackle the energy crisis and the huge State that was enlarged during covid
We need to grow our economy and you won’t do that by increasing taxes from the highest they have ever been, at least Truss get’s that!

Derek Smith
Derek Smith
2 months ago

I don’t want another Thatcherite. I just want an actual conservative, for once.

Robert Routledge
Robert Routledge
2 months ago
Reply to  Derek Smith

Surely all that is required is a Prime Minister who will be guided by pragmatic common sense

Frank McCusker
Frank McCusker
2 months ago
Reply to  Derek Smith

Too late, the Conservatives are no longer conservative. They’re a radical English nationalist party, happy to destroy and to innovate on the hoof. They’re actually pretty opposed to conservatism.

Justin Clark
Justin Clark
2 months ago

Great article – esp. this “Thatcherism, after all, was never intended to be dead dogma. It was a radical response to the problems of the time. Nobody seems bothered to articulate a response to ours.” So true.

Dermot O'Sullivan
Dermot O'Sullivan
2 months ago

‘History repeats itself, first as tragedy, then as farce.’

Frank McCusker
Frank McCusker
2 months ago

Thatcher had a pragmatic approach to Europe. She believed in being part of a trading union. The irony is that Thatcher’s views on Europe would disqualify her for membership for the modern Tory party. See my short blog:
https://ayenaw.com/2022/06/04/triumph-of-hysteria/

Alex Stonor
Alex Stonor
2 months ago

We really need a Tory leader who responds to the issues of today. I cannot begin to understand why her name is even coming up; she’s history.

Nicky Samengo-Turner
Nicky Samengo-Turner
2 months ago

For God sake, Unheard when will you ” get” that 99 pc of people do not give a damn about lgbt!!

Martin Smith
Martin Smith
2 months ago

Ideological purity is a fantasy; even Thatcher wasn’t a true Thatcherite.