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UK Politics – Progressive Conservatism

3. Why Thatcherism?

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How did we get Margaret Thatcher? This lecture considers another dominant strand in conservative thought – one that is individualistic, anti-statist and libertarian. Returning to our notion of “messy ideologies”, we highlight here the overlap with the ideas of classical liberals such as Herbert Spencer. We consider W. H. Mallock’s claims concerning the importance of ‘great men’ and inequality, as well as right wing thinkers from other spheres, such as T. S. Eliot. We think too on the political philosophy underpinning this shift in the late 1970s, with philosophers such as Hayek and Oakeshott drawing attention to claims of human imperfectability, worry over rationalism and scepticism around state planning. Finally, we consider how these influences combined to generate Thatcherism, influencing not only Thatcher herself but also conservatives around her, including Enoch Powell, Geoffrey Howe, and Keith Joseph.


In this course, Dr Simon Griffiths (Goldsmiths, University of London) discuss the ideolog(ies) of the contemporary Conservative party in the UK. We begin in the first lecture by exploring the complex relationship between party and ideology, before in the second lecture putting contemporary conservatism into context through an exploration of the “One-Nation Conservative” tradition. In the third lecture, we ask “How did we get Thatcherism?”, considering another dominant strand in conservative thought – one that is individualistic, anti-statist and libertarian. In the fourth lecture, we explore the ways in which Cameron, as party leader, attempted to distance himself and the party from electorally unpopular Thatcherism through a rebranding as a “progressive conservative”. But what does being a progressive conservative entail? We answer this question by drawing on the historian E. Robinson’s three definitions of “progressive”, and explore the difference between Cameron’s “rediscovery of the One-Nation tradition” rhetoric and his actual policies in office. Then, in the fifth and final lecture, we explore the extent to which Boris Johnson’s tenure as leader of the Conservative party has continued – or departed from – that strategy.


Dr Simon Griffiths writes about and teaches British politics and public policy. In 2010-11, he was a Visiting Research Fellow at the Centre for Political Ideologies at Oxford University. Simon has also taught at Queen Mary, University of London, and the LSE. He has written for newspapers such as The Independent, Times and The Guardian, and regularly appears on TV and radio to discuss British politics. In 2018 he wrote "British Politics" with Robert Leach.

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APA style

Griffiths, S. (2022, January 25). UK Politics – Progressive Conservatism - Why Thatcherism? [Video]. MASSOLIT.

MLA style

Griffiths, S. "UK Politics – Progressive Conservatism – Why Thatcherism?." MASSOLIT, uploaded by MASSOLIT, 25 Jan 2022,

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