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UBC Theses and Dissertations

The metamorphosis of the Conservative Party under Thatcher Henriksson, Tracey


In the postwar era, there has been a change in the nature of the British Conservative Party caused by the adoption of classical liberal ideas antithetical to its principles. This trend rapidly accelerated during the leadership of the Party by Margaret Thatcher who appeared oblivious to the fundamental incompatibility of liberalism and conservatism. She attempted to weld them together in her economic and social policies creating strong internal tensions within what was dubbed "Thatcherism". This clash became more pronounced as her reign as British Prime Minister continued and was part of the reason for her eventual downfall at the hands of her own party. To illustrate the conversion of the Conservative Party to a more liberal standpoint we will consider two modern day political thinkers and the popularity of their positions. This approach is taken because their philosphies parallel the thinking of the postwar Conservative Party before Thatcher and under Thatcher's leadership. Michael Oakeshott, who fits into the conservative tradition and Friedrich Hayek, who embodies liberalism. Oakeshott's philosophy is in sharp contrast at important points to the ideas of Hayek, a self-confessed and proud liberal, whose ideas nevertheless found favour within the Conservative Party while many integral parts of conservatism, of which Oakeshott is a representative, were pushed aside. The stridency and harshness with which Thatcher preached the doctrine of economic liberalism and ideology and also tried to retain certain conservative ideals such as, authority, nationalism and militarism constituted a serious and damaging tension within her programme as well as demonstrating the depth of the change that had occurred in the Conservative Party. This thesis seeks to point out these changes and illustrate the adverse effects caused by attempting to turn the Conservative Party into a promoter of classical liberal ideology and thereby partially explain the increasing shakiness of Thatcherism in the 1980's. Even though its leader never lost faith in its convictions or her determination to translate them into concrete policies .

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