Monday, 29 April 2013

Thatcher, the rejection of consensus and democracy

Re-blogged from the LSE British Politics and Policy blog 

Professor Martin Smith reflects on the claim that Margaret Thatcher was a politician who rejected consensustaking issue with the underlying assumption that this was a virtue of the former Prime Minister. He argues that this hostility towards consensus has important implications for democracy and policy which have tended to be overlooked.  

Of the many obituaries and reflections on Margaret Thatcher's premiership, the notion that seems to have been met with most approval is the idea that she rejected consensus and stood up for her beliefs. As she said in a speech: 

“The process of abandoning all beliefs, principles, values, and policies in search of something in which no one believes, but to which no one objects; the process of avoiding the very issues that have to be solved, merely because you cannot get agreement on the way ahead. What great cause would have been fought and won under the banner: ‘I stand for consensus?”

Her rejection of consensus is seen as a reflection of her leadership and her ability to stand by principles, unlike the modern day political leaders driven by opinion polls and focus groups. Indeed, for Tony Benn her saying and doing what she believed was an indication of her authenticity as a leader. Yet, in all this approval of her forthright beliefs little or no thought has been given to the democratic and, indeed, policy implications of this approach. What her approach illustrates is the problematic relationship of the British political system to democracy. 

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