Mrs Thatcher’s key policies which influenced voting patterns
The Thatcher government implemented numerous anti-collectivist policies during its time in office. Yet the three policies identified below have been selected to best illustrate Sarlvik and Crewe’s class and partisan dealignment.
This is because housing and industrial relations were distinct class-based areas of Britain’s social world. Blue collar workers, tended gained their power through union membership while white-collar managers tended to be middle-class. A similar pattern was evident in housing, with blue-collar worker tending to live in rented council housing, while middle-class (or aspiring middle-classes) tended to live in owner occupied housing stock.
Therefore a clear class divide was evident across Britain, which is where the sale of nationalised industries comes in. By getting ordinary people to become share owners, their ‘mindset’ bought into what Nigel Lawson termed ‘popular capitalism’. This acted as a bridge between the class divide, helping to make the voter more volatile as to who they’d vote for as ‘the new-working class’ had acquired ‘a middle-class consciousness’. The objective of this new consciousness was to de-align the working-classes from Labour’s norms, values and beliefs. This is evident in the advert for the sale of British Gas shares.
Housing – ‘popular capitalism’ was a term Nigel Lawson used to describe Conservative policies aimed at democratising their New Right economic agenda. One policy, the 1980 Housing Act, attracted the headlines was Mrs Thatcher’s ‘property owning democracy’, where local authorities were forced to put council homes up for sale to their tenants at heavily reduced prices through her ‘Right to Buy Scheme’. For example in 1980 one family qualified for a 40 per cent discount and, after putting down a deposit of just £5, allowing them to purchase the house in August 1980 for the sum of £8,315.
The government achieved most of their objectives by increasing owner occupation and reducing local authority provision. To the extent in 1979 52% of the population lived in their own homes which increased to 66% by 1987.
Privatisation – with a significant number of industries being nationalised, the privatisation of industry was a significant component of the Tory agenda. What became known as denationalisation (via the sale of state shares and assets). Ideologically, privatisation was driven by neo-liberal (new-right) ideas of economic freedom by rolling-back the state’s involvement in key areas of the social world.
Nationalised industries were unpopular (according to Mrs Thatcher) particularly as they were seen to eliminate consumer choice, were poorly managed and unprofitable. Nevertheless the UK public had to be convinced selling companies to tax-payer already owned was a good idea. This was largely achieved by advertisements like the one below.
Lord Stockton famously claimed the ‘family silver’ was being sold off ‘to the few family members who could afford it’. This claim stemmed from undervaluations of nationalised industries such as British Gas.
Despite public resistance by 1987, 20% of the population were share owners (up from 7% in 1979) netting the Conservative government billions of pounds.
The impact of this was similar to the selling the council housing stock (state housing). Privatisation proceeds (around £4400m in 1986-87) increased funds for government tax cuts to improve Tory prospects in the 1987 General Election. This also aided class dealignment..
Industrial Relations – this was the Conservatives final piece in the jigsaw. Now in power the Conservatives forced unions, by law, to hold secret ballots on proposed strikes, hold more frequent union leadership elections by postal vote in order to reduce union ‘activist’ pressure as well as follow strict procedures when conducting industrial action. For example unions were no longer able to discipline union members who refused to comply with majority decisions. Secondary picketing was made illegal as were closed shop arrangements. Finally and arguably most importantly companies no longer had to recognise unions or collective bargaining. Once implemented union membership fell from 13.3m in 1979 to under 9m in 1993. You can watch the clip the clip below to get a sense of union power in the 1960s. Peter Sellers plays the union leader.