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Study Notes

Margaret Thatcher: Thatcher in Control

AQA, Edexcel

Last updated 29 Oct 2018

Margaret Thatcher deliberately chose to take a presidential approach to leadership. While the prime ministerial model of government, described by ministers like Dick Crossman and Tony Benn, was developed to describe the cabinets of Harold Wilson, it was far more accurate as a description of the approach to cabinet taken by Thatcher, and later, Blair.

Margaret Thatcher had an early stand-off with the "wets" in her cabinet and stood firm, going ahead with her radical monetarist economic policies. She then proceeded to use her powers of patronage to sack and demote several wets and promote her supporters. From then on, she was the entirely dominant figure in her government.

While the phrase “elective dictatorship” had been used in the 1960s and 1970s it became more used in popular discussion in relation to Margaret Thatcher. Her complete dominance of the cabinet, and her government’s complete dominance of parliament seemed to well illustrate Lord Hailsham’s concept: the lack of a codified constitution and executive dominance of the legislature meant that Margaret Thatcher seemed to be in complete control of government.

Although the Thatcher government was very popular in parts of the country and remained dominant after each general election, large parts of the North of England and Scotland felt particularly resentful of the government’s dominance, especially as power became increasingly centralised and local government power was reduced. As a result of this, the popularity of Scottish nationalism increased, but also there was an increase in demands for constitutional reform such as devolution to Scotland, Wales, etc. but also calls for electoral reform.

Of course, with being such a dominant leader, Margaret Thatcher received much of the credit for the government’s successes but also received the bulk of the blame for when things went wrong or for less popular policies.

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