December 8, 2023

The 70s 80s 90s Blog

Three Decades of History with TV historian Tony McMahon

Thatcher: the lady is not for turning

2 min read
At the 1980 Conservative Party conference Margaret Thatcher declared that the lady was not for turning but turn she did on economic policy

At the 1980 Conservative Party annual conference, Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher made one of her most infamous speeches when she declared that the “lady was not for turning”.

This was coupled with her “There is No Alternative” declaration – or TINA as it was described at the time, for short. Since then, both statements have been held up by her supporters as an example of steely resolve and even, in some quarters, as a statement of feminist boldness by a woman leader.

For the record, Thatcher was no friend of feminism in her own words. As one female journalist described Thatcher, she didn’t smash the glass ceiling but climbed up the ladder and then pulled it up behind her. Her cabinets were almost entirely male and her legislation wasn’t at all empowering for women and completely reactionary for LGBT people.

As for her gutsy resolve, the “lady is not for turning” statement was made as manufacturing industry collapsed across the Midlands and North of the country. Thatcher had embraced the monetarist economic credo of Milton Friedman and turned a recession into a thumping near-depression. Many regarded it as callous obstinacy.

I lived in the north-west – Liverpool – in the early 1980s and I can assure you that men, women and even children hated the very word ‘Thatcher’ regardless of their gender. With investment in manufacturing plummeting by 20% and official unemployment soaring to over two million, communities were gasping for a U-turn.

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But Margaret Thatcher told the party faithful that even if the media wanted her to do a hateful “U-turn”, the lady was not for turning. I should note that her speech was one of several occasions where Thatcher referred to herself in the third person.

Towards the end of her term in office, she emerged from Number Ten Downing Street to announce: “We are a grandmother”. This was viewed as compelling evidence she’d gone quite mad.

As for her refusal to turn, Thatcher was more than capable of turning – she just spun it better. For two years, she held to a rigid view that monetary tightening was the basis for a sound economy. In 1982, she discreetly abandoned what the Labour politician Dennis Healey described as “voodoo economics”.

Bumping up taxation on consumption (in order to lower income tax) and the impact of monetarism took inflation up to 23%. And this was a Prime Minister who had come to power in 1979 promising to slay inflation. So turn she did – when the pain for the economy proved too much for the private sector to bear.

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