Mrs Thatcher’s impact: how the public sees it now, how LDV readers saw it in 2008

The Guardian is the first off the blocks with an ICM poll asking the public’s retrospective verdict on Margaret Thatcher’s record in office. Here’s the topline figure of whether her 11-year premiership had been good or bad for Britain:

guardian icm thatcher

The paper also asked about specific policies, finding:

The sale of council homes and tackling of trade union power remain popular today, but people are less supportive of the fights she picked with Europe and tax cuts for the rich. Privatisation of the utilities and the poll tax remain deeply unpopular.

You can read the breakdown on the Guardian’s website here.

Five years ago, in July 2008, I posed the same question to LibDemVoice readers: “On balance, do you believe Margaret Thatcher’s time as Prime Minister was a good or a bad thing for the UK?”

And this is what we found:

    • Yes, Margaret Thatcher was a Good Thing on balance: 162 (37%)
    • No, Margaret Thatcher was a Bad Thing on balance: 272 (63%)

* Stephen was Editor (and Co-Editor) of Liberal Democrat Voice from 2007 to 2015, and writes at The Collected Stephen Tall.

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  • Interesting. Personally, In my opinion she was a demigod and the best prime minister of the last 30 years was actually John Major, He inherited loads of problems. Social unrest., War and an economic crisis, but delivered falling unemployment, stability and a more relaxed atmosphere,

  • Alex Sabine 10th Apr '13 - 2:21am

    Interesting findings. The wording of the ‘prioritising inflation over jobs’ question is misleading though. As Callaghan recognised in his famous 1976 speech, this was a false choice: in each postwar cycle, failing to tackle inflation had led to rising unemployment. By the 1970s there was no sustainable trade-off between the two. Taming inflation was a prerequisite to getting unemployment down in the long run, not an alternative to it.

    In fact in the election campaigns of the 1960s and 1970s, the clamour to ‘do something about prices’ was if anything the dominant refrain. Thatcher’s perceived soundness on this was one of the keys to her electoral success, even though inflation got worse (in 1979-80, admittedly in part due to lagged effects and the OPEC price hike) before it got better.

  • Interesting that gut reactions after her death were so positive, but most of her policies are widely disliked. I suspect that later poll, after a week or so of debate, may tell a different story. It is not good for a country to be so divided.

  • All I shall say Glad She Gone and sadly 40years to Late

  • @Glenn
    Major was a thousand times the leader Thatcher was. He instigated the peace process, which was a very brave and bold step given the history between the republicans and the Tory party and his dependency on the unionists. The peace process was unthinkable while Thatcher remained in office. He allowed house prices to fall without intervention, laying the foundations for a resurgent economy and enabling the younger generation to buy their own house at a sensible, economic, price. He balanced the books, albeit with a lower level of taxation and public investment than I would have liked to have seen. He was a strong leader whilst Thatcher was a weak and incompetent leader that relied on divide and conquer and gambling on the Falklands to remain in power – until her own party had to get rid of her because she was such a liability.

  • Paul Reynolds 10th Apr '13 - 11:21am

    Over the last couple of days I have read a fair amount of comment on Margaret Thatcher’s passing – newspapers, blogs, political websites, and of course LDV. The statist far left have strongly negative emotions about Mrs T – the devil incarnate almost – and the sight of ‘Thatcher’s dead’ parties which have featured a lot on Facebook reminds us of the strength of feeling.

    What is a dangerous thing for democracy it seems to me is the implication that the general British public were somehow just plain stupid in voting her into Downing Street more than once ! This rather smells of the ‘bourgeois’ democracy concept popular with followers of Hegel, Marx, Engel, Lenin and … Trotsky… who were dismissive of democracy itself, with their ‘dictatorship of the proletariat’ approach.

    The problem with being dismissive of democracy and the democratic decisions of the electorate is that it can be applied to any election for any party. If the British public was just hoodwinked into voting for Thatcher (Based on what ? Deference ?) what is the logic for assuming that they are not hoodwinked and stupid at every election ?

    Thus to paint Thatcher as the devil incarnate is to argue against democracy itself.

    Only the terminally naive believe that in national elections each party puts forward its manifesto and the public makes a rational choice based on their preferred proposals. Democracy is messy. It can be organised as a poor reflection of public – and expert – views (like Russia) or a better reflection, and some might point to Denmark, Switzerland or Sweden. The point is that democracy is not perfect and deserves a campaign of continual improvement. The point is not that democracy can only ever be about the imposition of opinions on a hoodwinked public and thus a one party state or no party state is preferable. The real point is that democracy can always be improved, and part of that process is understanding why the public voted a certain way….. the problems that the public were hoping that the government would solve.

    Many of the policies that Thatcher implemented did not address the problems that she claimed needed addressing, and other only addressed them partially. Thatcher spoke eloquently about competition, but then created highly monopolistic sectors after privatisation (albeit an improvement over state monopolies). Thatcher talked of openness and transparency in government and embarked on civil service reform but heavily centralised the state and introduced unreasonable protections against wrongdoing by the security services. Thatcher talked of freedom but then introduced a local taxation system that was the start of today’s ‘surveillance society’. Her supposed pro-market regulation was used to create pro-theft regulation in financial services.

    There are many with more sophisticated analyses of her era and her policy failings than mine, but to portray her as ‘hated’ as if the fact that she was elected more than once by the general public should be dismissed, is to argue against democracy itself.

    But the truth is, in much of the trendy left in UK politics today, it has become fashionable to argue against democracy per se. It is not just the trendy left either. Blair was instinctively anti-democratic too. His emphasis on running the government on spin, and his wonderful (attrib) phrase ‘Preparing public opinion’ implied that the government told the population what to believe not the other way round.

  • “(Based on what ? Deference ?) ”

    Based on flogging off public assets at sub-market value to bribe voters. Short-term electioneering with long-term disastrous consequences.

    “If the British public was just hoodwinked into voting for Thatcher what is the logic for assuming that they are not hoodwinked and stupid at every election ?”

    It’s a fair assumption. I voted for Nick Clegg’s party in 2010. I was hoodwinked and therefore anyone else can be.

    “Thus to paint Thatcher as the devil incarnate is to argue against democracy itself.”

    No it isn’t. Democracy works best at removing people from power on the basis of their performance rather than electing them on the basis of their promises. In the case of Thatcher, her own party removed her before the electorate could.

  • Malcolm Todd 10th Apr '13 - 11:48am

    Paul Reynolds
    Your argument doesn’t hold at all. Thatcher was hated — hence the “party” response of some to her death, long after it could matter. The fact that rather a lot of people didn’t hate her, and many of those voted for her, doesn’t mean that she wasn’t hated.
    To argue that “the people” made the wrong choice isn’t to argue against democracy — unless, that is, you believe in a sort of Trotskyist “democratic centralism”, whereby everyone gets to argue about what the decision should be until it’s made, and then everyone is obliged to support the decision. Democracy means accepting the decision of the majority, even when you believe it is wrong; and freedom of speech means being allowed (and indeed, if you really believe in democracy, you should be positively encouraged) to continue to express your disagreement even after you have lost.

    What was the Lib Dem pitch at the last election? Was it “You were quite right to re-elect Labour in 2005 and we were wrong to oppose the government, but this time you should vote against them — unless you decide not to, in which case you’ll have been right again”? Please.

    By the way, at the end of your comment you seem to say that Blair was anti-democratic because he relied on “spin” and believed in “preparing public opinion” — almost as though you think that the people were hoodwinked into voting for him three times … but you couldn’t possibly believe anything so “dangerous for democracy”, could you?

  • Alex Sabine 10th Apr '13 - 1:19pm

    Malcolm: Your (valid) point that an election result should not be the final word for 4-5 years was perhaps most famously expressed by the High Tory Lord Hailsham, who warned about the ‘elective dictatorship’ conferred by a Parliamentary majority in a system with no codified constitutional longstops.

    Or, as the late lamented Conrad Russell used to say, ‘a Parliamentary majority is a steamroller; we have to put a few pebbles in its path.’

    The point Hailsham and Russell were making wasn’t so much that our democratic system in Britain was imperfect (like all the other democracies in their different ways), but that democracy itself is an insufficient guarantor of freedom. Liberty and democracy are indeed quite different concepts.

    Nonetheless, as Churchill observed, the least bad way we have of mediating between competing views and agendas as to how the country should be run is a general election, and the result of an election serves to highlight or dramatise shifts in currents of opinion, as well as providing a mandate to govern.

    Of course people should be free to express dissenting opinions from the majority view as expressed (however imperfectly, and whatever your misgivings about the voting system) in a general election. They should do so as strongly as they wish. (In fact, Thatcher – along with other prominent female politicians of the time like Barbara Castle and Betty Boothroyd – was an ardent believer in progress through the clash and competition of ideas, not fuzzy consensus. )

    It seems to me Paul Reynolds isn’t arguing for Trappist silence from those who lose a general election, but a recognition that democracy is a deliberative process, and a pragmatic recognition that in order to succeed in it, a party aspiring to government must be able to interpret the message of the electorate as repeatedly expressed in the re-election of its opponents.

    The alternative – as with Labour in the 1980s and 1990s and the Tories in the 2000s, and the Liberals/Lib Dems for rather longer than that – was satirised by Bertolt Brecht, to ‘dissolve the people, and elect another’…

  • I agree there was and remains a large body of opinion which expresses visceral ‘hatred’ of Margaret Thatcher, but this must be balanced against similarly widespread and strong sentiment that she represents an inimitable ideal.

    Personally, I think the truth is somewhere in between, and I’d much rather explore those areas than get into the damaging polemics.

    I didn’t warm to her, but I respected her ability to express a clear opinion founded in unshakable conviction, something she equally inspried her opponents to. Sadly for each side, they are discovering that opinions based on personal experience and belief aren’t enough on their own, and that the other must be accounted for too.

  • Simon McGrath 11th Apr '13 - 8:58am

    “not heard anyone remind us of the ‘selfish society’ that emanated from that period. Everyone turned to ‘what’s in it for me’.. or the price of everything and the value of nothing. Perhaps Cameron sort-of understood that in his ‘big-society’ idea, a pity it hasn’t lasted”

    Fantasy. there as just as much greed and selfishness before her.

  • Thatch did what had to be done and Major gets less credit than he deserved.

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